Meet the Singaporean entrepreneur whose ant farm business has boomed during pandemic

Live worms, used for ant feed, in a tray outside the Just Ants shop in Singapore.
PHOTO: Reuters

For many they are simply a pest, but for Singaporean entrepreneur John Ye his personal interest in the humble ant prompted him to launch a business selling insects that he believes have a lot to offer.

Ye opened the city state’s first shop specialising in pet ants, Just Ants, in late February as lockdown measures to curb the spread of coronavirus came in. But despite the initial obstacles during the pandemic Ye said sales have picked up since July.

“The ant itself is just really amazing,” said Ye, 41, who used to sell wholesale electronics and started raising ants as a personal hobby in 2017.

John Ye, the owner and founder of Just Ants. PHOTO: Reuters

While ant farms are more common in some Western countries, they are a rarity in Singapore and Ye is trying to change negative connotations associated with the insects.

“They are so important in the ecosystem, they are actually here for a reason, and then if we could actually just learn from the humble ant, there are so many things that the ant could teach us, like perseverance, being headstrong,” Ye said.

He hopes to collaborate with institutions such as schools, to teach children about ants and their life-cycle.

The ants he sells are locally acquired by him and his staff around the island, noting they often emerge after rainstorms.

His shop offers 30 species of ants sold in starter kit ant farms, or formicariums, which include ants and a queen.

Ants in a formicarium at the Just Ants shop. PHOTO: Reuters

Prices range from $13.90 (U$10) to around $200 - $300 depending on the type of formicarium and ant species. His business also sells live worms as food for ants, although Ye says they are also fond of honey and fruit.

Ye’s business has drawn ant-lovers and curious onlookers alike.

“It’s crazy, definitely it’s crazy,” shopper Alvin Teng said.