Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Creating an Ant Buffet and Homemade Ant Farm

Today's post is twofold, and both of the parts were completely spur of the moment. This, by the way, is one of the things I love about homeschool. As a teacher in a traditional school, there's a lot less room for spur of the moment ideas and activities. You can, of course, do some of that, and some teachers do. But I am really loving the freedom of learning and teaching at home. 

"Ah. You wanna see what ants like to eat? Sure. Let's look in the fridge."

"Oh, you want to make an ant farm like the one in our story? Well...I think I have some vases up here. Let's look." 

Since we're at home, everything we need is already here. It is nice to have a plan, but it's also nice to add things in...because we can. 

Anyway, on to the fun stuff. As we've been talking about ants, one of the questions that came up was, "What do ants like to eat?" Our story basically answered that question already: other insects, sugar, and honey. But I thought it would be so much fun to make an ant buffet to test out a bunch of different foods. So after nap, we did.

I cut out a piece of cardstock to look like an artist's palette (You know...a palette of food instead of colors. Is that cheesy? Maybe that's a little cheesy.). Then I raided our fridge to come up with a bunch of different kinds of foods for the ants to sample. It doesn't take much. Ants don't need a lot.

Here's what we came up with:

That's (from left to right): cheese, ham, sugar, honey, carrots, crackers, raisins.

Before we let the ants have a go at the buffet, I asked each child what they thought the ants would really go for. Natalie hypothesized that the ants would love the sugar and the honey. Daniel thought that they would go for everything. And my personal hypothesis (though I kept this to myself) was that the ants would be all over that pile of sugar. 

We searched for a few minutes for a good, active ant hill, and then set up camp. Within a few minutes, we had some action:

Bam! First surprise. The cheese (with this particular species of ant) was by far the most popular.

But the crackers and the raisins weren't far behind:

Whoa! They were all like, "Oh no. This is coming with us."

And after they'd explored those things, they found the honey:

Aren't they kind of cute? They kept reminding me of horses drinking at a trough.

They didn't touch the pile of sugar. In fact, I set this down at three different colonies, and none of them gave it a second glance. Interesting. 

I gave the kids their hypothesis pages (on which I wrote their hypothesis down for them) and instructed them to each draw what they were observing.

Natalie is drawing her ant here in yellow:

And Daniel chose orange for his ant. He was so cute - he was thinking out loud as he drew, and I could hear him say, "And this is the thooorax."

Okay, it was at this point that I remembered the kids wanted to make an ant farm. And here we had a bunch of worker ants ready to go.

The problem was, though, it wasn't set up yet. So I hurried inside and grabbed a few supplies. 

One large clear glass vase
One smaller vase or bottle. When we fit our bottle inside the larger vase, there was about a quarter inch of space all around.
rubber band


I carefully turned the bottle upside down and placed it inside the larger vase.

Then I gave Daniel the spade and instructed him to dig up some dirt near the ant hill (not on top of the ant hill, though) and put it into the sieve. After that I sifted the dirt into the vase. Most of it landed on top of the bottle and then I brushed it down into the sides. Sifting the dirt first makes it easier for the ants to dig their tunnels.

Not gonna lie. This was a tedious process. In the end though, It only took about 20 minutes to get all the dirt we needed.

Unfortunately, by that time the little black sugar ants had had their fill of our buffet and were all back inside their ant hill.

Er. So we picked up the buffet and went in search of a different colony. We found these little guys:

Who didn't touch the cheese at all. In fact, they were mostly excited about that ham and the honey.

But really, they didn't come out in droves like the ants at the last colony. So we picked up our buffet and went in search of another one. I did end up finding some pretty enthusiastic little ants by the sidewalk in our back yard, and we collected some of them, but they were bright red. Fire ants. 

Oh. You're probably wondering what that cloth was for. It's to keep those little guys inside:

Although I'm not really sure that it worked because when I checked on them this morning, I found a couple very lethargic ants and...nothing else. Where did the rest of them go? Could they have escaped??

Good thing I opted to keep that farm on the porch. The last thing we need is a bunch of angry fire ants running around our house. 

So. Back to the drawing board. 

Maybe it's a good thing that our ant collecting didn't go so well yesterday. Because, without a queen, an ant farm won't last for very long anyway. Not only that, but you won't be able to witness a true colony in action since the workers won't have much to do but dig. This kind of farm is useful and fun for watching the ants dig their underground city, but it isn't nearly as educational. After yesterday's unsuccessful attempt to gather some ants, I think I'll be reworking our technique, and will try to capture a queen. Either that, or we'll just send off for some ants. 

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