The plastic conversation piece filled with aquamarine-tinted gel is missing a vital ingredient: ants.

The Antquarium puts a new spin on the old ant farm, filled as it is with a gel that gives ants something to both feed on and tunnel into. Put the ants inside and never have to worry about them again.

The Italian product has sold more than 70,000 units since its debut in June 2003, importer Outride Brandship Builder Inc. said. Ants are not included.

Takenori Shigetomi, 28, said, “As I live on my own, I wanted to have pets that are easy to take care of.” He said he also “wanted to feel close to nature.”

Shigetomi has kept six ants in his Antquarium at his home in Tokyo since April.

It costs 3,150 yen and is available at Tokyu Hands Inc., Lawson Inc. and other retailers as well as the Outride Brandship Web site.

Tokyu Hands also sells other no-fuss pet products at its 22 outlets nationwide.

Its Shibuya store started selling Holo Holo, a small plastic box that contains around five tiny Scarlet Shrimp, for 3,129 yen in June 2003. The 1-cm shrimp come from Hawaii, hence the product’s Hawaiian name, which means to stroll.

“We never expected the products to be such a big success,” said Masaki Okazaki, who works at a Tokyu Hands outlet in Shibuya Ward, Tokyo.

He said the outlet expanded the shelf space for such products threefold in January.

The Antquarium went on sale in Tokyu Hands about a month later, and was soon followed by products such as a kit to raise “tadpole” shrimp.

Okazaki said the Antquarium is popular with men in their 20s and 30s. Women in the same age bracket tend to favor the Holo Holo, he said.

The water in the Holo Holo contains algae and minerals that sustain the shrimp. There is no need to feed the shrimps or change the water.

“I think the Holo Holo has catered to the needs of people who wanted to have pets but were unable to do so for various reasons,” Autumn Corp. President Akihiko Miyajima said. Autumn has sold more than 140,000 Holo Holo units since its launch in October 2002.

Outride spokeswoman Mayumi Hayakawa has a different take on the products’ popularity: “Working people nowadays live in a world in which they don’t even have a chance to take notice of ants. (The popularity of the Antquarium) shows people’s thirst for ecology.”

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