September-October 2008 Selected Content
Hands-On Learning - Kathy Ceceri
Two-Jar Ant Farm
There are some kinds of bugs you don't want in your home. Then there are the bugs people like to keep as pets. Crickets, earth worms and ladybugs are just some of the creepy crawlies humans deliberately try to attract to their homes and gardens because they can help make things grow or are just plain fun to watch. Ants fall into this category. An ant farm is a great way to learn about the lives of insects and take responsibility for a pet without too much of a commitment of time or space.
Ants are social insects that live in colonies of thousands. But only the queen lays eggs, which makes her the center of any colony. Ant colonies can have one or more queens, which are easy to spot because they are much larger and shinier than the worker ants, and queens may have wings. But queens like to hide deep down, so they're not easy to catch.
To collect an ant colony, look for trails of ants heading toward a hole in the ground, or carefully turn over large rocks or logs. Some ants sting - they're releated to wasps -- so be careful. Black ants are generally safer than red. With a pail and shovel, gently dig around the colony. If you see larger ants, a queen ant with wings, or little white eggs and larvae, scoop up as many as you can, along with about two or three cups of soil, into your pail. An ant farm that has a queen can last through several life cycles. Here's what to do:
1 small jar, like a jelly jar
1 large jar, like a mayonnaise jar, at least an inch larger around and at least half an inch taller than the small jar, with a wide opening and a lid
Sand or dirt (if necessary)
Netting, such as an old piece of pantyhose
Pie pan or old dish big enough to put the large jar in
Dark-colored pot that fits over the large jar, or black paper
1. Clean all food out of both jars with soap and water and remove the labels.
2.If the smaller jar has a lid with a removable center, take out the center and cover it with netting. If there is no lid, you can stretch a piece of netting over the top of the jar and hold it on with a rubber band.
3. Put the smaller jar inside the larger jar. There should be about and inch of room all around.
4. Fill the smaller jar at least halfway with water. You may have to press gently down on the netting with your finger to get the water to flow through.
5.If you have ants but no dirt, carefully pour some sand or dirt in the space between the two jars. Stop 2-3 inches from the top. Use a spade or a funnel made from a piece of paper to guide the dirt where you want it.
6. If you collected dirt along with your ants, carefully pour this dirt with the ants in it as described above.
7. Put the lid on the large jar. You do not need to make air holes, but if you do cover the lid with netting so the ants can't escape. You can also put your ant farm in a dish of water. This will serve as a "moat" that ants can't cross.
Keep your ant farm covered and dark when you're not looking at it. Open the lid at least once a day so fresh oxygen can get in. Ants like bread crumbs, tiny bits of fruit or vegetables, and drops of honey. Very, very small amounts will do, and take out any leftovers before they become moldy. If your ants are meat-eaters they may like a crumb of uncooked hamburger.
Resources: The books Pets in a Jar by Seymour Simon, Pet Bugs: A Kid's Guide to Catching and Keeping Touchable Insects by Sally Kneidel, and Bugs as Pets by Jay F. Hemdal are all good sources of information on making bug homes. An online source of bug info is The University of Arizona Center for Insect Science Education Outreach. Two Bad Ants by Chris van Allsburgh is a picture book most kids will find strange and hilarious. And be sure to visit the ants at London's Natural History Museum online via their Antcam (http://www.nhm.ac.uk/kids-only/naturecams/antcam/)
© 2008, Kathy Ceceri