Toward the beginning of May, we had a rather large ant invasion in our kitchen.
We have a back door that isn’t well-sealed and a floor vent through which they somehow managed to make an entrance! Naturally, I launched a full-scale attack (oh you thought I embraced the presence of the ants in my kitchen? The great outdoors is their home, NOT my place of eating, drinking and sleeping!). Of course, being a green-mama wannabe, I tried all the natural methods of prevention and containment. When that failed to keep the ants from entering and advancing, I did what any good homeschool mom would do – an ant unit study. If you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em!
How to Turn a Home Ant Invasion into an Ant Unit Study
We started off by testing to see what different types of smells ants were attracted to or repelled by. In order to keep them from getting too far into the kitchen, we sprinkled baking powder, baking soda, chili powder and cinnamon in barriers along the wall they were coming in from. We also sprayed lemon, tea tree and peppermint essential oil along the floor. They paid very little heed to anything but the cinnamon barriers – in fact, it was the ONLY thing that stopped them from going any farther and kept them contained.
Next, we studied ant life and behaviours – the best place for observation is always your own backyard or neighbourhood!
We looked for different kinds of ant hills and entrances, followed their “paths”, observed the kinds of things they were carrying (did you know an ant can lift 50 times it’s own weight?). Then we learned about how they find food and bring it back to their nests.
How they communicate – their intricate “dances” and the long-lasting scent trails they leave behind (which can only be eliminated by a good vinegar scrub down – my floors were never cleaner ;D). The different jobs of the ants in the nest, and the stages of development. Though I’m an ant-hater when they’re in my house, they are incredibly fascinating creatures, and the intricacies of design that God has made evident in them are amazing! From the positioning of their legs to the “poison” some inject when they bite, to their behaviours and ability to communicate with their smells. Absolutely amazing evidence for a creator!
Our favourite book for our ant study was definitely Two Bad Ants -
it’s a hilarious story about a group of ants that enter a home to bring back to their nest these amazing crystals (sugar!). Two of them decide to hang around after everyone else leaves, and they get into a heap of trouble in the morning! The pictures are from the perspective of the ants, so it’s also a great lesson in perspective!
My mother-in-law had given us some ant farms leftover from her homeschool days. The kids jumped right on board with the ant capturing. We prepped the farms and dropped our ants in. However, either our ants were too small, or the farms had some gaps no longer sealed, but the ants kept escaping! We quickly put them outside and kept trying to keep them contained, but they refused. I guess we’ll have to be getting some new farms! This Insect Lore Ant Hill looks great!
Working in the back yard one day, we accidentally discovered an entire ant colony! We had been looking for an opportunity to dig one up to find a queen ant for our ant farm, but alas, most of the hills were located on our patio and we were not about to dig up the stones!
I had been lifting up one stone on the edge of our patio to remove a rather large planting from a rogue bush in our backyard, when I discovered these white things moving all over the ground. I realized they were the ants picking up and moving the pupae! We had read about this in our Handbook of Nature Study (honestly, if you get just one book to do nature study, this is the one!) - when a nest is disturbed, the ants pick up and relocate the pupae (not the larvae, because the pupae are more progressed in the growth cycle and will repopulate more quickly). It was so fascinating to watch! We could see a couple of the tunnels they had dug down into the dirt. What an amazing and intricate creature!
To go along with our ant unit study we also made a lapbook. Homeschool Share of course has all the resources for an Ant Lapbook! We added in a few extras from the Ant Preschool Unit from 2 Teaching Mommies. Keekers also did the Nature Study Printables for Preschoolers and Toddlers from Maureen Spell. This is a great ebook for ideas and getting your younger ones involved in nature studies!
Another science experiment we did involved sugar water, gelatin and food colouring. We tested to see if ants were attracted more to certain colours.
They seemed to initially like the blue the best, but it was hard to tell. Apparently, you can see the dyed liquid in the abdomen of the ants if your camera is good enough. We weren’t quite able to capture this, but it looks like it works!
Toward the end of our study, we watched this film from Nova called Lord of the Ants. It’s about Edward Wilson, an American biologist, who had a life-long fascination with ants. He is also known for generating of the term and idea sociobiology, and the father of biodiversity. His ideas are very deistic and secular-humanist, so this video was also a great discussion on evolution and how man has twisted science. We did skip over a chunk of it, but it’s worth a watch!
What unit study would be complete without a craft? Even the toddler can do this one.
Egg carton ants are fun, fast and easy!
Other ant unit study resources:
Check out some other great A Book and a Big Idea posts!