Aimless? No youth? This Man Hates Selling Ants, But It Doesn’t Deter Him, Lifestyle News

Why I Do What I Do is an original AsiaOne series in which we show people with unusual professions and what it takes to do so.


While most people try ways and means to keep ants out of their homes, so much the better for John Ye.

The 42-year-old is the founder and owner of Just Ants, which he claims is the only physical ant shop in Singapore.

At first glance, you might think that Just Ants, located in a cozy corner of Yishun, is a run-of-the-mill neighborhood aquarium store thanks to the multiple tanks that line the store’s interior and exterior.

However, upon closer inspection, you would realize that all these house ants rather than fish.

As well as being blown away by the sheer number of ants in the place, we also share a fun conversation with John who tells us that his passion for the little critters started in 2017 when his brother-in-law gifted him an ant colony.

“After receiving it, I was completely stunned by how fascinating ants are,” he enthuses.

Soon this little hobby grew and John eventually took the plunge to turn it into a business because he wanted more people to get acquainted with ant keeping.

However, like most entrepreneurs out there, John’s journey didn’t go as smoothly as he’d hoped.

The company almost didn’t make it

Before embarking on this passion project, John had a commercial sales job involving electronics distribution.

Leaving a stable career to open such a unique company was definitely a huge risk, especially since it was, as John says, “passion over profit”.

Of course, he did wonder if it was sustainable, especially when he had two kids at home to worry about. However, he also felt a strong push to pursue his dreams.

“We only live once. How many years in life do we have? I’m 42 and I don’t have much time in the future to try,” he muses.

“I think being forty and trying something new is quite a challenge, but I have to do what I have to do. Life comes to a standstill so maybe I should try to take the time to smell the flowers, and slowly go for a while.”

Unfortunately, his worst fears came true during the company’s first few months in 2019.

“It really stood still, every day it was just open shop, close shop.

“And we don’t see any interested people at all. Many would just be curious and shocked to see an ant shop somewhere nearby,” admits John.

The low visitor numbers lasted for five to six months. Things also got worse when the pandemic hit and the store had “almost zero foot traffic.”

Understandably, this was extremely demoralizing for John and he calls it a “mental block” in his life.

“I was crushed and I was really lost about what to do next,” he confesses, adding that he wondered if it was a sign that he should just close the company and find another job.

However, he was inspired by his ants and decided that he should not give up.

“I kept thinking about the life lessons of the ants. No matter how many times you try to kill an ant or wipe out an ant colony, they still come back, and they come back even stronger.”

So, with that mindset, John made some rescheduling and decided to spread the word about Just Ants by contacting schools and kindergartens to see if they were interested in an “ant exploration session”.

And to his surprise, some of these schools agreed. As word spread, the company picked up.

“It was a big turning point for us. We didn’t expect so many schools to learn about the life cycle of ants,” he says humbly.

He’s looking for the ants himself

Fun fact – although the ants in John’s shop look very exotic, they are all from Singapore and he hunts them himself!

“At first glance, most people only know black ants, red ants, small ants, large ants, ants in your kitchen and ants in your wardrobe, but there are so many species that we have yet to discover. That is why there are many ants in our store look very strange to people,” he explains.

He shows us one of his favorite ants, the Dinomyrmex gigas, or giant forest ant, which is about the size of a 50 cent coin.

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The species actually lives in the jungles of Singapore, but is not easy to spot, he says.

“Probably, if you take a walk in Sungei Buloh or Bukit Timah Nature Reserve, you might come across them. But they are quite elusive and quite shy, so sometimes you need luck to actually see them foraging.”

While attracting ants to your home may be as easy as leaving some food behind, buying the ants John sells isn’t as easy as you might think. Besides physical it is also a matter of luck.

“Finding ants usually requires a lot of patience,” he says, adding that the best time is during nuptial flights, a season when winged ants go out into the world to mate.

Honeymoon flights usually take place after a few hours of heavy rain, John says. So as soon as the clouds clear, he usually sets out and jumps from neighborhood to neighborhood looking for ants.

He usually looks for queen ants, which are responsible for establishing ant colonies and laying eggs.

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“There is no fixed place or place where I can guarantee that there will be queen ants, even if I found them the previous night. So it’s a trial and error process.”

Haters gonna hate

While a number of people are fascinated and behind John’s career choice — including his wife, who helps out in the shop — he admits he’s received his own share of the hate.

“A lot of people judge us, especially people who haven’t really understood what we’re doing,” he says.

Some of them have called his career and hobby “aimless”, adding that it indicates that he has “too much time on his hands”.

Others say that John “has no childhood” and there were also those who joked about giving John the ants in their backyard or kitchen.

John remembers a naysayer said of him, “Why doesn’t he just start a pest control business so he can get the ants for free?”

Understandably, the comments initially affected John.

“For the past two years I was very upset and it would affect my mood all day long.

“But as the months and years went by, I tried to build up my skin and I have thicker skin now. I just let people say what they want to say.”

Despite this, he hopes that people can be more compassionate and understanding when it comes to his hobby.

“Don’t be so hard,” he begs.

“A person just tries to do what he likes. He follows his heart. Don’t judge by the surface.”

melissateo@asiaone.com

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