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Workers: What Kinds of Ants Live in an Ant Nest?

Author: Janice VanCleave

Problem

What kinds of ants live in an ant nest?

Materials

  • dressmaker's pin
  • 1-gallon (4-liter) resealable plastic bag
  • close-fitting gardening gloves
  • long-handled mixing spoon
  • anthill
  • sheet of typing paper
  • desk lamp (optional)
  • magnifying lens
  • adult helper

Procedure

CAUTION: Do not use fire ants for this activity. Also, be sure not to stand on or too near an anthill as you perform the activity. Take special care not to allow ants to get on your skin. If you are allergic to ant stings, do not perform this activity.

  1. Ask an adult to use the pin to make 20 to 30 small airholes through both layers around the top one-fourth of the bag.
  2. Put on the gardening gloves and use the spoon to stir the top of the anthill.
  3. When the ants run out of the ground, quickly scoop 2 to 3 spoonfuls of soil containing ants into the plastic bag. Immediately seal the bag and keep it sealed during the experiment.
  4. Brush any ants off the outside of the bag and spoon with your gloved hand.
  5. Lay the paper on a table near a window or under a desk lamp. Place the bag on the paper.
  6. Without opening the bag, spread the soil in the bag to form a thin layer that covers the lower three-fourths of the bag. The top one-fourth of the bag should have no soil.
  7. Move the bag around to encourage some of the ants to walk across the area of no soil. Carefully press the bag down to hold an ant still while you study it with the magnifying lens. Study as many different ants as Possible. Return the ants where you found them at the end of the experiment.

Workers

Results

The results will vary, but you probably found different kids of ants within the same nest.

Why?

Ants live in colonies, which are large groups of organisms of the same species living together and depending on each other. Each ant colony contains hundreds or even thousands of ants. The place where the ants live is called a nest, and most ant nests are made of tunnels underground. Some ants build a hill of soil at the entrance to their underground nest, called an anthill.

Three different kinds of ants live in each ant colony: queen, male, and worker.

You most likely collected only worker ants. Sometimes workers in the same nest are different sizes. The smallest workers are generally smaller than the queen and males. The largest workers are called soldiers, and have unusually large, strong jaws. The soldiers help guard and defend the colony against enemies.

Let's Explore

  1. How do worker ants of different species compare in size and shape? Repeat the experiment, collecting different species of ants. To find a variety of ant species, observe the ants outside different anthills in different locations where you live and in areas you visit. Remember to return the ants where you found them after observations are completed.
  2. Use insect books to find information about the different ants that live in colonies, such as The Fascinating World of Ants by Angels Julivert (Hauppauge, NY: Barron's, 1991, pages 6-8). Use this information to identify the ants in your samples. Science Fair Hint: Prepare two diagrams. Make one diagram comparing the queen, males, and worker ants. In the second diagram, compare different kinds of worker ants. Add information about each ant.

Workers

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