Experimenting with Ant Food: Do Ants Have Favorite Flavors?

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Author: Suzanne Johnson
Topics: First Grade, Zoology

Some people love salty potato chips, others love super sour candy. Some of us load jalapeño peppers on our food, while others prefer no spice at all. We know that people have favorite flavors, but what about other animals? In this experiment, you'll test for taste in a very small animal: the ant.

Ants are attracted to sugar, but most sugary foods contain other flavors as well. When ants can choose between different flavors in their ant food, which will they choose? Let's find out!


Do ants like plain sugar, salty sugar, spicy sugar or sour sugar best?


  • 1 clear, plastic 2-liter soda bottle
  • 1 small soda bottle
  • Black construction paper (enough to cover an area that is 8 inches x 14 inches)
  • Clear tape
  • Sharp scissors
  • About 2 quarts of dirt mixed with sand
  • A large spoon
  • Measuring spoons
  • Sugar
  • Salt
  • Cayenne pepper
  • Powdered lemonade mix
  • 5 small sealable baggies
  • 4 bottle caps, each a different color
  • Notebook
  • Pencil


  1. Before you begin, smell and taste each of your flavors. Which ones do you like? Which do you not like? Think about ants: Have you seen them in the kitchen before? If so, which foods were they in?
  2. After considering the questions in Step 1, make a guess—called a hypothesis—about which flavor the ants will like best. Write your hypothesis in your notebook.
  3. With the help of an adult, carefully cut around the 2-liter soda bottle, about 4 inches from the top. Keep the lid of the bottle screwed on, because you'll add the ants through this hole later.
  4. Place the small soda bottle inside the 2-liter bottle. Hold it in the center of the larger bottle while spooning the dirt-sand mixture all around it, filling the larger bottle with dirt. The dirt mixture should be moist, but not muddy. (The small soda bottle will keep the ants tunnels closer to the clear sides, where they are visible.)
  5. Cut the black construction paper 8 inches high and 14 inches long.
  6. Tape the paper around the bottle, making a cylinder that fits snugly around the bottle. Don't tape it to the bottle; you'll remove it to view the ant tunnels. Keep the paper on when you aren't watching the ants.
  7. Label your four small baggies: Salty, Spicy, Sour, and Sugar.
  8. Add 1 tablespoon sugar to each baggie.
  9. Add 1 tablespoon cayenne pepper to the Spicy baggie, 1 tablespoon salt to the Salty baggie, 1 tablespoon powdered lemonade mix to the Sour baggie, and 1 tablespoon plain sugar to the Sugar baggie.
  10. Pick a different colored bottle cap for each flavor; write the pairings in your notebook.
  11. Add 1/4 tablespoon of each flavor to its designated bottle cap.
  12. Place the bottle caps around the edges of the dirt in your ant farm.
  13. Place the top part of the bottle back on and tape it securely in place.
  14. With the help of an adult, find an anthill in your yard or a nearby park. Avoid any reddish-colored ants; they sting!
  15. Use the spoon to gather about twenty ants, along with some dirt from the anthill. Place them in the remaining baggie, and close it securely.
  16. When you are ready to add the ants to your ant farm, open the screw-top of the bottle and pour the ants and dirt through the opening. Be careful not to spill the flavored sugars in the bottle caps!
  17. Place the paper tube around the bottle, and set the ant farm in a shady spot. Your ants will need a day to settle in and start building tunnels before you check on them.
  18. Over the next week, check your ants daily by removing the black paper tube. Note any tunnels and any activity that you see.
  19. Compare the amounts of flavored sugar in each of the bottle caps. Which flavors have the ants avoided? Which have they eaten the most of?
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