Investigate the behavior of ants.
Group Size: any size—could be done individually, but groups of 8-12 for each ant colony work well
Suggested Age: 10 and up
Time: 40-60 min for instructions, activity, and discussion + travel time to site.
- Site: Anyplace where there are ants and active ant trails, the more the better. The activity works best with common house ants. You will not have as much luck with larger carpenter or red ants.
- Safety: Try to AVOID fire ants.
- Prep: paper cups with food and popsicle sticks to dispense food, sprinkler can or spray bottle of water, medicine droppers, soda straws and pieces of cardboard for wind, cotton swabs, several Action Cards
How do ants respond to different situations?
- Develop techniques for investigating the behavior of ants.
- Begin to ask questions that can be answered by the ants.
Ants is a good activity to stimulate curiosity about an organism and its interaction with the natural world. The investigation starts with the participants trying to find a “superfood” for the ants—one that they will prefer over other choices. From here they move on to investigating how the ants respond to simulated rain, to being removed from their trail and placed nearby, to wind, to a blocked trail, to a shortcut, being placed on the trail of ants from another colony, etc. By now youngsters usually have become fascinated by the response of the ants and the “purpose” behind the ant behavior. Frequently they spontaneously begin suggesting other variables, designing additional investigations, and asking more questions that the ants will ultimately answer.
If you have become fascinated by ants, Google “Edward O. Wilson,” “Discovery Channel,” and “ants.” E. O. Wilson is the world-renowned expert on ants and social insects and in general is recognized as one of the great scientific minds of our time. He has made several fascinating discoveries related to how ants communicate and how their society works, and has appeared on the Discovery Channel.
Do you know of other similar places that you could explore? (a park, around your home, around a campsite, around a school)
Design experiments to determine which food ants seems to prefer, to see if ants can follow a trail as well after it has rained, or any other behavior the kids would like to investigate. Do other types of ants respond the same way?
What was the most interesting thing about ants? What do these ants depend on in this study site? What depends on them? What else can you learn from other resources about ants?
What other insects or critters could be studied in a similar way?
Click on a category for other similar activities.