Nature Lesson: Observing Ants
When you live in the city you take any nature you can get. I may not be able to walk out the front door to take my kids on a nature walk through the woods, but we can go out on the sidewalk and look at ants. And you’d be surprised how much fun that can be. In the book I Love Dirt (Trumpeter, 2008), author Jennifer Ward dishes the dirt on ants, here’s her advice on how to have a nature lesson whether you walking down the city sidewalk or enjoying a rural picnic.
Probably one of the easiest insects to watch in action is the ant, and what antics they perform as they go about their very busy workdays. Ants can be found in practically any outdoor environment–from sidewalks to playgrounds, from a small patch of grass to a large field.
Scientists who study bugs are called entomologists. A true bug is an animal that has a mouth part that can pierce and suck, like a mosquito or a ladybug. Ants are not true bugs, even though they have mouths and are in constant search for food. They are part of the insect family. Insects have three main body parts: A head, a thorax, and an abdomen. Insects also have six legs.
Take your budding entomologist outside and locate an anthill. (Warning: All ants can bite, ans their bites can hurt! Do not hold or handle ants of any size.) Spend time watching them in action. Follow their trail and see where it leads you.
Ants follow a trail because they are searching for food. When one ant finds food, it leaves a scent trail for the other ants in the colony to follow, telling them where they can find the food supply. When you see ants following a trail, it means they are off to get provisions for the colony.
Try this fun experiment to watch how ants communicate with one another by leaving a scent trail. Collect several small twigs and place them them end to end to create an enclosed space not too far from an anthill. Don’t create a high enclosure; make it flat and wide. Drop some sugar or cracker crumbs within the enclosed space.
Wait for the ants to discover your gift. Soon they will find the food you’ve left for them, and as they take it away, they will leave a scent trail so they can return for more. Other ants in the colony will quickly catch the trail’s scent and follow it to the food source too. Once you have a trail of ants in pursuit of the food, carefully remove the sticks. Observe what happens: The ants become confused because their scent trail has been removed.
Question: How do ants smell? Do they have noses?
Answer: Ants use their antennae–the two long, thin body parts on their heads–to smell with.
When you’re done watching ants, your kids might like learning how to feed butterflies!