I have always been fascinated with ants. As a child, I could happily spend hours watching the activities going on around an anthill. I was always amazed at just how organized they were! Those bits of leaves in the photo are being carried by leaf cutter ants!
There are between 12,000 and 14,000 known species of ants living on earth! They live everywhere on land except for in the arctic regions. And can lift up to 50 times their own weight which is comparable to me lifting up a couple of cars!
Ants give real meaning to the word cooperation! They communicate by using smell and their bodies contain many different chemicals, called pheromones, which they secrete from special glands in their bodies. Each chemical secretion has its own smell and meaning. When an ant is attacked or killed by something, the secretion that is released warns other ants nearby, and ant soldiers quickly appear, ready to fight and carry the body home!
There are all kinds of fascinating ants; I find weaver ants, leaf-cutter ants and army ants all to be quite fascinating! Some leaf cutter ants actually make compost heaps under the ground piling up pieces of the leaves that they cut and cultivating mushrooms (fungi) for food!
Ants and acacia trees have a symbiotic relationship – the ants protect the tree from intruders and the tree feeds the ants by providing them with small protein filled capsules called beltian bodies.
Ants are a mostly female society; at certain times of year the queen will produce male and female eggs that birth as ants with wings. These winged ants fly off to mate and begin new colonies elsewhere. The males die shortly after mating.
1. Take the kids outside and watch a colony of ants! (Don’t get too close if they’re fire ants!) Encourage the students to make observations like – do they follow the same pathways; can they tell what role they are playing – are they soldiers, guardians, egg carriers, food gatherers?
2. Make an ant farm so that your students can actually watch how the ants make their tunnels and live as a society.
3. What other species collaborate like ants? Some examples would be bees, termites.
4. How do pheromones work? They are used for different reasons – sometimes as an alarm, sometimes to attract a mate. Do humans use pheromones?
Story: Here is the legend of Ant Woman and Bear
Interconnections: There are lots of ways in which ants interconnect with other species; some of the examples I have already given show this such as the ants and the acacia tree.
The photo here shows honeypot ants collecting nectar and storing it; These ants live on the edges of deserts. Ants play an important role in the breaking down of leaf matter into soil and they also turn over and aerate the soil. While ants are beneficial in many ways, they can be considered pests in some regions. If you've ever stepped on a fire ant nest you certainly know how painful that can be!
Songs: I have uploaded the Ant Song and also the Cooperation Song to my MySpace page – creatures like ants and bees can teach us a lot about cooperation! We have many challenges to face on this earth and we will need all the cooperaton we can find!
Enjoy exploring ants!
In gratitude to life and the earth,