Western MA Families Can Help Scientists Learn About Diversity of Ants Across the United States While Discovering Local Ecology
Ants are amazing…. and sometimes a nuisance – they’re attracted to food when you snack outside, they crawl on your feet when you sit in the grass, and sometimes they’re so brazen as to venture into our homes, snagging sweet treats from our floors, counters, and cupboards. Nuisance though they can be, ants are also fascinating: they can lift enormous amounts of weight, they create a very intricate social structure, and they can live in the most unlikely of places, like cracks in busy city sidewalks.
Ants are one of the least understood crawly critters found around us. There are numerous species of ants found all over North America (and the world!), yet the habits of many of these species have not been extensively researched. Of particular interest to researchers are invasive species of ants – types that have been brought in from other parts of the world and are adversely affecting other populations that they now share an environment with…
Adventurous, bug-loving families can help to contribute to ongoing ant research and identification of species by participating in a project called School of Ants. Families are asked to collect ant samples from at least two locations near their home (one green space and one blacktop or concrete space) and mail their specimens to an entomology research center. Ant collection is easy, and can be done by kids of almost any age. To lure ants to congregate in an exposed space, collectors bait them with Pecan Sandies (packaged cookies). Then, ants are collected in bags and frozen (in order to humanely preserve them) and mailed off for identification!
The project is particularly good for young citizen scientists, as ants are easy to find (in large quantities) and are not especially delicate – they can easily survive being picked up by small fingers. Before collecting, be sure to know how to identify any species of biting ants that may be in your neighborhood. These should, of course, be approached with caution when little ones are involved!
To extend family studies of ants, try reading one of these great ant-themed children’s books with younger kids:
- Two Bad Ants by Chris Van Allsburg
- Hey, Little Ant by Phillip and Hannah Hoose
- One Hundred Hungry Ants Ants by Elinor J. Pinczes
- The City Under the Back Steps by Evelyn Sibley Lampman
- Find Anthony Ant by Lorna and Graham Philpot
Other reference titles:
[Photo credit: (ccl) jamelah e.]