Art Series 1 – Fire Ant Painting

Apparently, ants can “paint.”

These paintings are done by letting a “ball” of aggregating fire ants (S. invicta) walk along with acrylic paint drops. As the ants diffuse outward, they create an exploding graphic pattern. Using different castes/sex/sizes of ants, we can get very different patterns. Each painting is thus infused with the ants’ instinct for survival and pursuit of freedom.

Erwin Panofsky stated in the 1940s that “man is indeed the only animal to leave records behind him, for he is the only animal whose products ‘recall to mind’ an idea distinct from their material existence”. However, in the seemingly boundless expression of the superorganism, art created by ants features a strong post-humanist element, such that the aesthetic dimension of being for humans as well as other animals (ants) is one of cooperation rather than conflict. We can no longer separate humans from other animals qualitatively regarding a creative identity and thus a reframing of our narrow perceptions of the creative spirit in the natural world is warranted.

Since 2022, I have started to collaborate with Eva Guo in the continuous creation of fire ant paintings. We are grateful and happy to receive the Idea Lab Mini Grand from the school of art here at UGA for this and other ant art projects.

Ant paintings were exhibited at the IUSSI 2022 meeting in San Diego

Media cover:;

TV interview:

8 responses to “Art Series 1 – Fire Ant Painting”

  1. Hi Horace!

    I just ran across your work as I looked up ‘artwork by ants’ on google…I becane fascinated by ants 25 yrs ago while in Costa Rica; I witnesses a slew of leafcutter ants walking down one side of a tree with cuttings, across the path we were on (we waited over 2 mins watching them all cross), then they walked up another tree on the other side of the path! In art school 7 yrs later, I did a project about ants – I purchased 3 different species and showed off the differences in their different tunnel schemes.🙂 As ants are among my fav creatures, I’m interested in learning of your pricing for projects. I am re-doing the wall over my mantle to include artwork by different animals & would love to have something done by ants!

    I loved your videos of creating the artwork – thank you for sharing!!

    Can you please reach out to me?
    Thank you!!!

    1. Dear Lisa,

      I’m very glad that you like the paintings! Would you mind emailing me real quick horace.zhl at gmail, we could discuss the further details.


  2. […] Horace Zeng creates paintings using fire ants dropped onto ink and the result is quite lovely. Via his site: […]

  3. […] Horace Zeng creates paintings using fire ants dropped onto ink and the result is quite lovely. Via his site: […]

  4. […] Horace Zeng creates paintings using fire ants dropped onto ink and the result is quite lovely. Via his site: […]

  5. I’m interested in either #4 or #7

    Can you email me pricing details?

    1. Hi Michael, I don’t know where to find your email, would you email me at horace.zhl (at)

  6. […] Ants use pheromone trails to signal to other ants to follow them to food or other desirable destinations. Inspired by this, entomology graduate student Horace Zeng dropped some of the fire ants he uses in his research into some paint pooled on canvases and watched them disperse, leaving behind these colorful patterns.[…] […]

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