Digging in the Dark

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Updated on Feb 08, 2012

Grade Level: 5th - 6th; Type: Earth Science

In this project, students will manipulate the amount of light that ants are exposed to as a means of discovering if light and dark affects ants’ productivity digging tunnels.

Will ants dig more effectively in the dark or the light—or a natural cycle of the two?

Ants are everywhere around the world. They are social insects that live in a highly organized community and nesting architecture. Among the worker ants’ duties is tunneling to create chambers in the intricate, interconnecting structure.

The independent variable is the amount of light that the ant colony is exposed to during its digging session. The dependent variable is the rate at which ants dig based on light and dark. The constants include the conditions of the ant environment.

  • Three ant observatories. (These can be bought or built at home.)
  • A collection of ants.
  • Logbook.

  1. Plant 25 ants in each observatory.

  2. Place one observatory in a dark place.

  3. Place one observatory in constant light.

  4. Place one observatory in a spot where it will get 12 hours of light and 12 hours of dark.

  5. Observe the three observatories at the same time each day and record the progress of tunnels.

  6. At the end of a week or 10 days, make conclusions about the environment that is most conducive for ants’ productivity.

A simple logbook will record observations over time:


Half & Half


Minor digging.

Several tunnels begun.

Several tunnels begun.


Digging continues, but rate too shallow to measure.

Tunnels progress at depth of .8 mm.

Tunnels progress at .5 mm.


Tunnels dug to .5 mm.

Tunnels dug to 1.5 mm.

Tunnels dug to .8 mm.


A line graph can record the depth of the ants’ activity over time:

Terms/Concepts:Division of labor; Drones; Communal living


1. Ant, John Woodward (2010).

2. National Geographic Readers: Ants, Melissa Stewart (2010).

3. http://www.pestworldforkids.org/ants.html.

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