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Digging Ants

Dr. Deborah Gordon explores how simple parts of organizations interact to create the behavior of the whole organization using ant colonies as the model example

Think About It

  1. Dr. Gordon says she wanted to explore "how simple parts of organizations interact to create the behavior of the whole organization." Consider your home or school. Can you think of any ways that the behavior of individuals within your home influences the entire family or school (or classroom)? How have you personally influenced your family or school?
  2. What do you think the reserve ants are doing?
  3. Dr. Gordon says the ant tunnels look like Hopi Caves. Why do you think that might be? If you had to design your own home based on the home of some other creature, which one would it be?
  4. What is making the older colonies more stable than the young ones? Can you think of anything that is less stable as it ages? More stable?
  5. Dr. Gordon says that one interesting thing about the ant colonies is that there is no central control — no one ant, even the queen, is directing the colony. Can you think of any other large organization that is like that? What would happen if our country operated like that?
  6. What do you think signals the winged females to leave the old colony and form a new one?
  7. Why do you think the queen never comes out of the mound again? Would you want to be the queen?
  8. Think about the task allocation (foraging, patrolling, nest maintenance, midden ants) within the colony. Which task would you want to do?
  9. If you could be one of Dr. Gordon's assistants, what would you want to research?
  10. The study of ant taxonomy is called myrmecology. An organism that lives with ants is called a myrmecophile (ant lover). Can you think of any other insects or animals that could benefit from living near ants?

Do It

  • Raise ants. Ant habitats (called formicariums) aren't just made of sand anymore! NASA developed a gel that feeds the ants and can be lit up in cool colors. Two reputable names are Antworks by Fascinations and Uncle Milton.
  • Take a close-up picture of an ant (or look at a drawing of one). Compare the structure of the ant to two other insects. How are they alike? How are they different?
  • Write a story or comic strip about a queen ant who leaves her old colony in search of a new home.
  • Design a task allocation chart for your family as if your family were an ant colony.

Read About It

  • Ant by Rebecca Stefoff (young readers)
  • The Ant Book and See-Through Model by Luann Colombo (young readers)
  • Ant Cities by Arthur Dorros (young readers)
  • Ants by Elaine Pascoe (young readers)
  • Ants at Work: How an Insect Society is Organized by Deborah Gordon (advanced readers)
  • Journey to the Ants: A Story of Scientific Exploration by Bert Hölldobler (advanced readers)
  • The Life and Times of the Ant by Charles Micucci (young readers)
  • Looking at Ants by Eleanor Christian (how to keep an ant farm for young readers)
  • The Magic School Bus Gets Ants in its Pants by Linda Beech (young readers)
  • The Superorganism: The Beauty, Elegance, and Strangeness of Insect Societies by Bert Hölldobler

Watch It

  • "The Lives of Ants & Bees for Students: Ant Homes and Communities" (available through the Discovery Channel store)
  • NOVA: Ants: Little Creatures who Run the World

Surf It

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