We’ve talked about the first three introductory chapters of May’s
Crappy Old Book of the Month, Science in Your Own Back Yard (see here and here). The remaining 17 chapters discuss– and offer hundreds! thousands! of suggestions for experiments on– the abiotic stuff (soil, fossils, water, etc.) and kinds of life that make up your yard.
Chapter 13 is on insects and it’s here we learn how to make our own ant farm!*
Briefly (because I’m assuming you need less instruction than a kid), get a quart Mason jar, ring and lid. Cut two pieces of window screen the size of the lid. “Find an ant hill and with a large spoon [see list of laboratory materials here] carefully fill the jar about three-fourth full of earth from the ant hill.”
CAUTION! CAUTION! Do not try this with fire ants! The
crappy old book does not say this probably on account of the fact that fire ants– or as Wikipedia likes to call them, RIFAs (Red Imported Fire Ants)– had not spread as far in 1958 as they have now. This is for real. If you even think it’s a RIFA stay away.
Add more ants from around the hill to the jar by letting them climb on a twig and shaking them into the jar. Cover the top with both pieces of screen to keep them in while you finish up. Sprinkle with some water, add some grass seeds, “a bit of sugar” and a very small (about 1″ square) piece of sponge soaked in water. Then tighten the ring and wrap a piece of black construction paper around the jar.
Only take the paper from the jar when you want to observe them.
After you’ve observed them you can begin to experiment. Try different kinds of food (seeds, bits of crumbled bacon, etc.) and see how they respond.
And here’s my favorite experiment. “From time to time, add a few ants from different ant hills.” Watch the behavior of your ands and or the “newcomers.” Behavioral science!
The chapter ends by encouraging you to look at the ants a few minutes every day because you will think of other ways “of finding out about ants.” In other words, observation will suggest questions. “Whole books have been written about ants.”
*I would have stuck in a photo from the book here but my computer’s on the fritz. Everything is pink and gets progressively pinker. I didn’t want to push it.