Thursday, January 08, 2009

We Have Ants!

Is it wrong that I think one of Hannah's Christmas gifts is the most cool thing EVER? My mom gave her AntWorks. Hannah opened it to find a Plexiglass box filled with this weird looking blue gel. The concept is based on a 2003 NASA Space Shuttle experiment to study animal life in space and test how ants successfully tunnel in microgravity. The experiment was designed and developed by students from a high school in Syracuse, NY and you can read about it here.

We had to order the ants from Utah as they did not come with the kit and we've been frothing at the bit, pacing the floor , patiently waiting for them to arrive. Yesterday, our mail carrier screeched up the driveway and tossed this box out the window with a look of sheer panic on her face. It did not state what was live in the box and she probably had visions of snakes or spiders or God knows what else attacking her on her mail route.

The ants (about 30 Harvester ants) arrived in a small tube, wrapped in a synthetic heat pack to keep them warm. They were still all sleepy and dopey acting, some actually looking dead, so I nonchalantly took the lid off the AntWorks and popped the lid off the tube. Instantly, the ants started to go nuts, trying to climb out of the tube. My ick-factor detector shot off the chart and I quickly dumped them onto the gel and slammed the lid on. I threatened Hannah with a beating if she so much as dared to take the cover off in the house. I hate bugs.

Here are the newly housed ants checking out their new digs.

After about three hours, they had settled in and where getting down to business. All the ants are females and they sure look like they know what they are doing and are extremely organized. I guess in the ant world all the workers are female and the few males are produced for breeding only and die shortly after. for them.

They started by excavating the side of the gel out. A couple of brave sisters went deep down the side of the glass and started burrowing. They tossed up little chunks of gel and other ants started carrying them up to the surface where a different ant would take it and move it to the other side of the habitat. Such organization and teamwork!

This little sister worked all by herself on the far side of the excavation. I'm guessing her job was to just stack up the gel chunks as high as she could get them.

When we went to bed last night, most of the ants where in one big pile on the top of the gel. It appeared that they were sleeping. A few ants still labored on the side excavation area.

This morning, we discovered that they made quite a bit of progress overnight. They reached the bottom of the gel and have started upward again.

All in all, I think this is a fabulous way to observe a small part of the animal world. The kit and ants cost about $30 all together and so far, we have really enjoyed watching them and discussing the different ways they work in harmony. Actually, I'm enjoying it so much, I'm thinking of ordering one for my desk so I can watch them while I'm at work. This gift gets a HUGE two thumbs-up from us!


NannyOgg said...

Wow! How super cool!

Hmmmm, Erik's birthday is coming up.


lime said...

that's wild! thanks for sharing. i bet my son would have loved this when he was younger.