Ant experiments are loads of fun and perfect for spring and summer time! This unique experiment is totally safe for both your kiddos and the ants too!
Click on this picture. About half the ants actually have green gasters (the large part of their abdomen). Go ahead...take a look!
Ghost ants (Tapinoma melanocephalum) can be a nuisance, but outside they can also provide hours of educational opportunities. My daughter discovered a line of them busy carrying brood, and the other kids quickly gathered around. As we talked about things ants eat, I decided to let them experiment with feeding them. Ghost ants are particularly fun because their pale yellow/milky white gaster is partially translucent--you can see right through it! My kids had so much fun feeding the ants and turning them green that they wanted to try red! Yes, feeding ghost ants colored sugar water makes them look like they changed colors! And the best part is that you already have the supplies at home! It's the perfect ant experiment!
- food coloring (dark colors like blue show up better than red)
- spoon or dropper
- ghost ants (preferably outside!)
The Easy How-To:1. Make your colored sugar water in a cup by mixing about 1/4 cup water, 2-3 Tablespoons sugar, and 4-5 drops of food coloring together. Stir well. If some sugar settles in the bottom of the cup, that's okay. Just make sure you dissolve as much as possible.
2. Spoon or drop about 1 spoonful of the colored sugar water very close to a trail of ghost ants. We put ours on a brick about an inch away from the ant trail. In the more recent pictures, I put a drop on a piece of white paper close to a trail of ants.
3. Wait and watch closely! Your ant experiment takes a few minutes to get started because the ants need to find the sugar water. Also, ghost ants are only about 1.5 mm long, so you have to watch very closely to see what happens. After they start drinking the colored sugar water, it only takes about a minute for their gasters to change colors!
A Few Talking Points for Preschoolers:
Note: Many of these points compare ghost ants with fire ants. If you live in the South, most preschoolers can tell you quite a bit about fire ants. If you don't have fire ants in your area, compare the ghost ants to other ants your child is familiar with!
* Ghost ants like to eat things that are sweet (like sugar water and sap) and things that have a lot of protein (like dead bugs).
* After an ant eats finds the sugar water, it tells other ants by touching antennas. Can you see them "talking?"
* Fire ants have a dark gaster, and ghost ants have a dark head. You can see through the ghost ant's gaster.
* Where does the water go when the ghost ant drinks it? (To its gaster...you can see the color!)
* Fire ant workers come in many sizes, but ghost ant workers are all the same size.
* Fire ants bite and sting. Ghost ants do not.
* Older children may appreciate knowing that ants have two stomachs in their gaster: a crop (where they can store sugar water and regurgitate it later for larvae or other ants) and a second stomach that processes food for themselves. Food can move from the crop to the second stomach.
The University of Florida has a great information page about ghost ants. There are also many other resources about them and Fire Ants online.
See what ideas your child has and what he wants to learn. There are loads of ant experiments you can safely and kindly do! Support your little scientist as they try new things. Here are some ideas:
* Follow the trail and find the nest.
* Put out other "foods" and see which the ants like best.
* Try several colors and see if there is a preference.
* Draw a map showing the nest and the ant trails.
* What happens if you put out solid food? Do the ants eat it or carry it away?
* Carefully place a few ghost ants in a glass container and a few ants of another species in a different glass container. Compare and contrast them. Gently release them when you are done.
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