School of Ants

In July, we signed up to participate in a new citizen science project called, School of Ants.  We received our collection kits late last week and were anxious to get started.  We received 4 complete collection kits.  Each kit contained 9 collection vials (4 red for sidewalks and 4 blue vials for green spaces, and 1 large orange vial for anything else we might collect). 

We took out and read the instructions.  The instructions stated that all 4 vials of one color (blue or red) from one kit should be placed in one area, approximately a foot apart.  When we were comfortable with what we were expected to do, we brainstormed where we wanted to place the collection the vials.  Because we had 4 distinct kits, we decided upon the following 4 locations locations:  RED – sidewalk in front of our house, cobblestone area of our driveway, the asphalt road in our community, and the concrete surrounding the pool deck.  BLUE – our lawn, beneath the roses in the the landscaped area of our house, in the shrubs across the road from our house (pictured below), and in the backyard.  
I then  asked the kids to write out their prediction or hypothesis.  “Where do you think we will collect the most ants?”  Both of the kids predicted we would see the most ants in the backyard.  “Ants make their homes and build colonies in the dirt, so I think that is where we will find them.” As it turned out, this wasn’t how things turned out.  

I had divided up the vials for the kiddos and indicated where they should place them.  We then frolicked in the pool for an hour and then proceeded to retrieve the vials.  Surprisingly, only a few vials had any ants.  The vials we placed at the pool were inebriated with tiny little ants … so many in fact, crawling every which way … that I had difficulty putting the lids on and many escaped our capture as a result.  

When the kids returned from the other areas where they’d placed the vials, I discovered that several vials were completely empty … there wasn’t even any cookie crumb (or whatever it was that had been placed in the vials to attract the ants). Come to discover that my little guy had inadvertently dumped out the contents.   
After several interrogations, he insisted that he placed the vials on the ground with the food but it was upon the return that he dumped them out.  “There weren’t any ants so I didn’t think about it,” he said.  Ah well.  Our mistake provided good points of discussion for our conclusion when I asked, “If you were to do this experiment again, what would you do differently?”

“The School of Ants project is a citizen-scientist driven study of the ants that live in urban areas, particularly around homes and schools. Collection kits are available FREE to anyone interested in participating. Teachers, students, parents, kids, junior-scientists, senior citizens and enthusiasts of all stripes are involved in collecting ants in schoolyards and backyards using a standardized protocol so that we can make detailed maps of the wildlife that lives just outside our doorsteps.” 


For more information on studying insects with children, check out this Squidoo lens:  Bug Collecting.  It was awarded a Purple Star!!  

Update 28 Aug 2012 –  The species we found was identified as the Argentine Ant (Linepithema humile).  Check out what species were found across the country by following this link,  School of Ants – Result Map.