In Singapore, ant-hunting is a hobby

SINGAPORE/JOHOR BAHRU - Late into the evening, a group of ant enthusiasts carrying torchlights scour under apartment building blocks in Singapore, looking for a six-legged tiny insect with wings and a swollen bottom - the prized queen ant.

Depending on one's luck, it will lay eggs and start a colony under the watchful eye of its keeper.

Once the queen ant sheds her wings, she will lay eggs, which will be the worker ants. When their numbers are large enough, they can moved into a formicarium -- an ant farm.

"It's like having your own baby, you say 'oh she's pregnant, I need to get ready', so you get nervous, you're afraid of making mistakes, afraid of killing her, so after listening to a lot of advice, you quickly get ready. After finally laying the eggs after a week, you start to get nervous again, how would she get into her home, live in her nest, etc., so it counts as a very good experience, a very good start," said Ho Jin Jee, 23, who currently has one queen ant and several worker ants.

Ant-keeping is a hobby that is catching on in the city state.

Chris Chan, 29, is a member of Ants Singapore, a Facebook group that started in December last year and now boasts over 300 members.

In May, he started organising ant-hunting trips to teach people how to look, catch and care for the tiny insects found in abundance in Singapore.

While most ants are harmless, they're often regarded as pests, something Chan and his fellow ant enthusiasts are hoping to change.

Chan remembers collecting them as a child and his passion for the hobby was re-ignited a year ago after watching a video on the insect. He even moved across the border to Johor Bahru in Malaysia, in order to afford a spacious room to keep his collection, as rent is a third of that in Singapore.

He now lives there with his girlfriend and her family.

Chan has 20-30 ant colonies, comprising of hundreds of ants from eight species. They are separated into around 10 different formicariums.

Chan feeds the ants, which are omnivores, a range of food, from honey to maggots.

His favourite are the trap jaws, which he says are aggressive and challenging to breed.

Chan, a part-time Uber driver, regularly answers questions about ants posted on the group's Facebook page and has started a YouTube channel in the hopes of reaching out to more people.

"I want people to look at ants differently. Now, a lot of people still think that ants are pests, but with enough education, I can educate them that keeping ants can be safe, they can stay in a tank," he said.

Chan has started selling formicariums and starter kits on the side, and hopes that one day Singapore will be the region's go-to country for ant enthusiasts.