Sunday, November 18, 2018

My Ant Dream Come True

I have dreamed about constructing an ant lab for years and years.  For one reason or another it just never happened.  This school year is the last year that I will be creating new labs.  From here on I will blow the dust off the labs I've taught before every three years or so.  So I had to do it now or never.

Did you know ants share food from their social stomach by kissing other ants?  Most ants have a chemical called formic acid in their gasters. They can squirt the acid out of their bodies when provoked.  Wood ants can even drive off large animals like cows from their colonies. They all group together and spray formic acid into the air.  Most ants are female worker ants.  The queen ant can live for up to 30 years and will lay eggs continually after mating only one time.

(we call her Ella Bella Petronella)
And wouldn't you know it, our granddaughter Ella will be presenting an ant collection in the Northern Illinois Regional Science Fair.  Ella and I plan to have lots of conversations about ants when we see each other at Thanksgiving.

Here is a soda bottle formicarium that I made about a week ago. It took four days for the ants to work their way up through the bottle connector to the top.

This formicarium is evolving daily.  I keep finding new plastic containers in the dumpsters that make awesome extensions to this priceless piece of ant real estate.

This amazing three room mini-mansion has a kitchen, a cemetery, a restroom, and lots and lots of tunnels.  I keep a jar of petroleum jelly handy to smear up at the top of the container.  This keeps the ants where they belong.  They don't want to get stuck in petroleum jelly and I don't want them all over my classroom.     

notice the mandibles extending from the head
This Red Harvester ant is quite hairy.  
This ant has two petioles.
Stinger protruding from the gaster.
We had a great time looking at ants under the microscope.  Ants have six legs, two claws on each leg, a head, mandibles, compound eyes, three ocelli, two antenna. one or two petioles, a gaster and stinger, two stomachs, and much, much more.

I walked out to our pasture and carefully dug up a fire ant colony.  It was cold outside so they were kind of groggy but still moving slowly.  Ants like all insects, are cold blooded. They don't get out much in the cold weather. We found some pupae and larvae in the jar of fire ants.  How exciting!

I can't wait for this summer when the queens and male ants take to the air for their yearly nuptial flight.  You might see me outside with a net trying to catch a queen.  I hope all my students have been stung by the ant bug and are ready to build all kinds of interesting formicariums on their own.

I know I've got the ant bug!

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