• Dry erase/magnet board
  • Container with fake food
  • Container with job props
  • 2 mini tunnels
  • Large ant hill magnet
  • Large ant body part magnet
  • Pencil box containing:
    • Ant magnets
    • Eraser and dry erase markers
    • Ant job words magnets
    • Life cycle magnets
  • Book “Hey Little Ant”
  • Small envelope with game pick up piece examples
  • Big envelope with ant game pick up pieces
  • Pictures

An ant is an insect

List characteristics for an insect: three body parts (head, thorax, abdomen), six legs, most have wings, cold-blooded, exoskeleton

Use large ant magnet to show different body parts: head, thorax, abdomen. Go over the parts:

Antenna: taste, hear, smell, and touch (it’s like having your arms come out of the top of your head and your hands have noses on them)
Eyes: some ants have three small eyes in the center of their head. Insects have simple and compound eyes.
Mouth parts: jaws
Thorax: where six legs are attached and where the wings are attached.
Abdomen: contains organs
Two stomachs: crop is the 1st stomach
Spiracles: tiny holes on the side of each abdomen segment which the insects breathe through

Ant Life Cycle

Discuss an ant’s life cycle using model magnets — from egg to adult takes several months, process is called complete metamorphosis


Stage one: Egg – the queen lays a few eggs everyday. The baby ants are in their eggs for about 14 days. When they hatch from the egg, they are called larvae.
Stage two: Larvae – look like white worms. Shed their skin four or five times. They grow and shed for up to 20 days, then they spin cocoons and turn into pupa.
Stage three: Pupae – the ants live as pupae for two or three weeks. Sometimes the pupae do not spin cocoons.
Stage four: Adult

Various kinds of ants

Show ant pictures
Ants never live alone, they live in a group called a colony. The colony lives in a nest.
Kinds of ants – picture of fire ants, leaf eating, army, etc.

Leaf Cutter Ants

  • One colony can strip the tallest tree in a single day
  • Culture their fungus on leaf fragments cut form living plants. Have you ever left something in the refrigerator too long and it gets green and hairy? They feed on that stuff!
  • Will cut leaves and bring them back to the nest above its head giving them the nickname of umbrella or parasol ant. Will chew these leaf pieces up and feed them to the fungus.
  • Live in tropical areas.

Carpenter Ants

  • Large ants that are blackish in color. These ants live in Iowa.
  • Called carpenter ants because they damage wood by hollowing it out for nesting.
  • They don’t eat wood, feeding instead on living and dead insects, honeydew from aphids, sweets, meats, and fats.
  • Nest in both moist and dry wood.

Army Ants

  • Voracious predators that live in Central and South America and the southern US.
  • Cling tightly to one another (large groups of 10,000 to 500,000 individuals) as they travel across the land looking for food. Been known to kill tarantulas, lizards, birds, snakes, pigs, and even larger animals like horses.
  • A single colony may consist of one million ants that can eat 50,000 insects in a single day.
  • Continually moving in search of food, eating every animal in its path.

Fire Ants

  • Small ants that have coppery-brown heads and thoraxes with the abdomen being darker. Not many found in Iowa.
  • Fire ants inflict a fiery sting which causes a small blister. As these blisters heal, they become very itchy.

Honey Ants

  • Are found worldwide in arid and semi-arid environments.
  • These ants are scavengers and predators. They visit flowers for the nectar and “milk” aphids for surgery honeydew.
  • Surplus food is fed to specialized ants called bottle ants that store it in their abdomens. Their abdomens will swell tremendously to the size of small grapes.
  • These honey storage ants hang quietly in small clusters.

What are the enemies of ants?

Anteaters, frogs, lizards, woodpeckers, chimps.

Game 1: Ant Jobs

Ants live together in colonies and work together. They each have their own specialized jobs and work together to survive.
Queen: lays all the eggs. Queen has wings for a little part of her life to start a new colony, but once the colony is started, she loses her wings.
Nurse Ant: take care of the larvae and pupae, keeping them warm. During the day they carry the eggs to the warmest part of the nest, which is the top. At night they carry them back down to the bottom.
Guard Ant: stay on the outside of the colony watching so that no enemy ants can get in. These ants are larger than the other ants and have large pincher jaws.
Scouts: these ants search for food for the colony. They look for caterpillars, grasshoppers, etc. and then drag it back to the colony.
Housekeeping Ant: These ants carry out the leftover food and keep the nest clean. They also dig new tunnels and remove the dirt.

All ants except the queen are called workers.

***before the children arrive, spread the contents of the big envelope (pick up pieces) on the floor in the back of the classroom.

Using the magnets demonstrate jobs of ants and what it’s like in the ant hill.

Bring up groups one at a time, give them their props and explain their jobs, have them sit back down in their groups.

Ant Game

When you say GO each ant will go to the back of the classroom to find their item, pick it up, and bring it back. The ant groups that are the quietest and fastest win.

Have them hand in their props

(Number) Type of Ant – Prop – Picture of Food
(8) Scout – binoculars – Food
(5) Guard – Sash – enemy ant
(7) Housekeeper – feather dusters – dirt/waste
(1) Queen – crown – eggs
(8) Nurse – arm red cross – larvae
Total 29

Game 2

Make two teams (because ants need lots of team work) and have them do a relay race. They will crawl through the tunnel, go pick up a piece of fake food (carry under chin or in hand), and bring it back to the ant hill. Spread food out on ground so they don’t run into each other when getting the food. Important to stress that the quietest ant wins.

Read “Hey Little Ant”

Wrap up questions

Background Information:

Three types of ants in the colony: Males, queen, workers

Queen: largest ant in the colony, her function is to lay eggs. She is born with four wings but loses them after her nuptial flight. She can live quite a long time (10-20 yrs).

Workers: There are many workers, all of which are wingless. They are responsible for all of the nest tasks, and all are female but cannot lay eggs. They may travel far from the nest to look for food, leaving a scent trail to find their way back. Some gather food for the colony, some clean, guard, and repair the ant hill. The youngest take care of the queen and her young.

Males: During certain times of the year males are present in the colony. Their sole job is to fertilize the queen. Then they die.

An ant can lift five times its body weight.

The anthill is designed to trap heat (dark surface) and transfer heat down into the nest. An ant hill can be ten degrees warmer than the surrounding area. Ants dig deep enough to reach damp soil. They need the moisture so their bodies don’t dry out.

The floor of an ant hill is slanted so water drains off. The roof is curved to trap heat.

There is more than one egg chamber in the nest. During the day, eggs are moved near the entrance where it is warmer. In the evening, the workers shift the eggs to the lower chambers where the earth’s heat is slowly released.

Activities originally developed by:

Story County Conservation Board
Linda R. F. Zaletel
56461 180th St.
Ames, IA 50010
Story County Conservation

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✓ 4-5
✓ 5-6

Category: Group Activities

Iowa Early Learning Standards:
8.2, 9.1, 9.3, 9.4, 12.4, 12.5, 13.3, 14.3

Related Kindernature Resources: Other Resources: