Saturday, May 20, 2017

Adventures Among Ants (and Other Insects)

This is my own photo, taken of an ant herding aphids on a rhubarb stalk.
Okay, I stole this title from Mark Moffett's excellent photo safari that you should definitely purchase.  He inspired me to get better at photography, especially of one of my favorite subjects: Insects!  I've been photographing insects from all 12 orders of insects.  (Some have been a lot harder to find than others!  It took me over a year to find an example of Neuroptera, or lacewing!)

I've also returned to my previous art forms, drawing and painting.  After breaking my thumb last year in my "drawing hand", the first thing I drew was a Megachilid bee.  Now I'm photographing as many bee species as possible, crouching by my blueberry bushes to watch bumble bees buzz out the pollen or an Anthidium chew off some hairs from the fuzzy mullein I also keep in my garden.  I'm drawing bees as playing cards and having my 5th graders choose one of 19 Genera to illustrate in their own card design, then search for in the garden.  In June, I will be collecting bees and wasps for the RINHS BioBlitz.

Meanwhile, back to the ants.  I've seen "animal behavior" lists for nature explorers that cover such actions as preening, flying, eating, etc. for birds and running, burying, carrying, etc. for squirrels.  These are great for teaching individual children about animal behaviors, but with a class of 25, birds and squirrels take off.  So I made my own behavior list and illustrations for ants.  We tested them out with kindergarten and first grade.  They gave me great ideas for improvements too!

Below are the behaviors we noted, along with how many times each were tallied.  Although it's not a reliable count, as many ants were counted more than once and some behaviors were misunderstood, the students really enjoyed the experience.  Some got frustrated that the ants moved so fast and they couldn't draw them.  I instructed them to sit on the sidewalk, observing the ants in the bare soil and in the freshly planted annual bed along the walkway into the school, and let the ants come to them.  The ones who were able to sit still the longest saw the most behaviors.  When we returned to the classroom, many had stories to share of ants they've seen at home, some even IN their home!

Grooming (ant cleaning itself) 16 times
Carrying (we saw two ants carrying worms or caterpillars in one of the classes) 15 times
Herding (this is seen with ants herding aphids for their honeydew and I doubt this was actually observed) 15 times
Fighting (rival colonies may fight, or ants may fight ladybugs over aphids) 24 times
Swarming (more than a large group of ants, this is usually seen when a choice food is found or a colony is moving) 16 times
Building (there were numerous ant hills present) 43 times
Running (added by students) 260 times
Eating (perhaps carrying food?) 4 times

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