We recently became proud owners of an ant farm. Most people try to keep ants out of their home, not welcome them in. However, the ant farm was a really interesting experience. This particular ant farm is filled with a gel. Scientists designed the gel so that ant farms could go up on the Space Shuttles, and be observed tunneling in near weightless conditions. The gel serves as their food and water, as well as their tunneling material.
Within 48 hours of bringing our ants home, the unthinkable happened–the ant farm came into contact with a nerf sword. The whole thing came crashing down to the floor, spilling ants everywhere. Miraculously, we managed to scoop up the ants and gel and return them all safely to the farm.
Sadly, the type of ants that we ordered through the mail, have a life span of only 30-90 days. So this is also a lesson about the life cycle. However, the ant farm can be rinsed and reused with new ants (so the instructions say). The original ant farm comes with a a solid sheet of blue gel. Quickly, the ants were building tunnels in it.
Fun facts about ants:
- ants have two stomachs, one for their own food, and one for food to share with others
- ant fossils have been found that are over 100 million years old
- some ants can swim, and most ants can survive for 24 hours under water
- while worker ants typically live 30-90 days, queen ants can live for up to 30 years
- the ant is one of the worlds’ strongest creatures in relation to its size
- the ant has one of the largest brains among insects
- in some parts of the world, people eat ants
- the study of ants is myrmecology
- most ants crave sugar and can smell sweet things from a long distance away
- ants can move about 50 tons of soil per year in one square mile
This was a fun and easy project–after the ants went into the farm, all we had to do was watch them. The tunnels would change daily, so it kept the boys coming back to check on their progress.
We talked about how ants are hard workers, and what we can learn about hard work from the tiny insects. Also, how they are partially scavengers, and how they ‘clean up’ our environment. (On the flip side, it’s estimated that fire ants cause $5 billion worth of damage in North America every year.)
We read several books about ants, ranging from scientific fact books, retellings of Aesop’s fable the ant and the grasshopper, to the modern Marvel comic inspired Ant Man, for the older boys. (sigh)
The National Geographic Readers: Ants by Melissa Stewart is excellent for early readers. It’s filled with facts, has great pictures, and even has jokes. Animals of Mass Destruction: Carpenter Ants by Katherine Ponka shows how destructive tiny ants can be–it’s truly amazing. It’s for early readers also, and full of fun facts and great pictures. (These were good for my second grader).
The Ant’s Nest by Mirian Aronin and Ants by Sophie Lockwood are more for 3rd/4th graders, or younger eager readers. They have lots of information, and there’s quite a bit of reading, although still plenty of pictures.
We also read the classic Ant and Grasshopper fable, retold by Tom Paxton.
So that’s a summary of our ant farm experience–successful for the most part, and at some point, we’ll probably order more ants for it. Would you have an ant farm in your house?
If having ants in your home is just too much, check out my post on how to watch a caterpillar turn into a butterfly.