A closer look at the fluid inside the jar reveals that it is, in fact, alive. Magnetic ants have formed a colony within, and are living in extremely dense quarters, crawling all over each other’s bodies. It is difficult to discern at a glance where their tunnels end and the insects begin.

The substance from which they’ve carved their home is a red wine jelly that has been reinforced with iron shavings. Static electricity sparkles throughout as the insects form pockets of electromagnetic potential. While their heads are positive in polarity, their abdomens are negative, which strongly influences their patterns of motion.

This living material, known as fool’s blood to roboticists, can be used to construct extremely basic automatons. Hollowed, doll-like forms of cloth, rubber, or latex can be filled with this substance, which then begin to flail about wildly. The ants churn throughout their new container, and their subsequent pull on one another results in violent and haphazard motion of the limbs.

At first, there is only disorganization and chaos, for the ants have no conception of a humanoid body. The secret, however, is to give the husk into which they’ve been poured a mouth. If another pocket of fool’s blood is placed nearby, the ants feel the tug of its magnetic field, and collaboratively seek a way to integrate it into their colony. At this point, the ants quickly learn how to take control of their new limbs, and together, sprint feverishly towards the external reservoir, which they devour as quickly as possible.

Once feeding has ended, however, the automaton returns to its flailing idiot state. The only function that it is capable of performing is swallowing more fool’s blood with which to sustain itself. Further, when in the presence of any sort of conductive metal, it would rather motionlessly plaster itself against its surface like a dying starfish than perform any sort of locomotive task.

Attempts to train these automatons to perform more complex work have proven entirely fruitless. To make matters more frustrating, they are completely incapable of coexisting. Upon detecting the ants within one another, they tend to tear each other’s bodies to shreds in order to form a single colony.