Ants help kids become scientists

Esther Macalady, Lifetime of Learning
Posted

Ants! They are everywhere and can be annoying. They are also perfect science study material for children with the natural instincts of researchers. Young children have curiosity; like to observe, predict, experiment, collect and sort into categories; and report by talking and drawing. See grandparentsteachtoo.org for more ideas.

What To Do:

Make a plastic science kit filled with a notepad, pencil, magnifying glass, crayons, tweezers, fork, spoon and small collection containers.

Count anthills around your home. Their nests have many entries. Why? Are there some with entry holes bigger than others? Why is that? Scuff up a few anthills and check them the next day. Did the worker ants rebuild or make a new one nearby? Check under rocks or logs, too.

Ants are insects always on the move. Unless you find a large black carpenter ant, you might want to check out Google ant images to help children draw a picture. Use circles and ovals to draw a head with eyes, mandibles (jaws), antennae, thorax, abdomen and six legs.

While drawing, mention a few facts. North America has 1,000 different kinds of ants, and their anthills can be 4 yards deep. Ants often bite when disturbed, so use a stick to pick them up. They have acid venom that hurts.

Nest chambers hold eggs, larvae, pupa, and adults (four stages); the queen; food and garbage. Majors (old ants), minors, and minims, plus captured servants, are different colors. Ants with wings (kings and queens) usually appear in spring and have a marriage flight; then, most die. Queens will find a place to build a new nest and raise 2,000-10,000 female workers.

If ants were people, they could travel 16 yards in two blinks of an eye. Measure that out and let children run. How many seconds does it take them?

What Do Ants Eat?

Ants eat sugar, including honey and sap, for energy, and other insects and seeds for strength. An anthill can capture 2,400 insects per day. A worker can find a dead fly outside the nest within one minute. In 10 minutes the fly will be in the nest. Children can place a dead fly near the nest and observe what happens. An ant can walk with an object 5 times its weight and drag 25 times its weight. That is like a young child carrying 200 pounds and dragging 1000 pounds.

One morning, place a tin foil plate with small circles of watered honey, sugar, milk, meat, cheese and candy next to an active anthill. Check the plate in the evening. What did they take? Can you find a procession of ants? What happens when ants encounter aphids? There are many stories about ants, including ” The Ant and the Grasshopper” fable.

Esther Macalady is a former teacher, lives in Golden and participates in the Grandparents Teach Too writing group.