Make an Ant Colony from a Recycled Soda Bottle
In this science activity, kids will make their own ant colony out of a recycled 2 liter soda bottle.
Ants are fascinating creatures. They are insects, having six legs and three body parts. Small male ants and queen ants also usually have wings. In fact, ants are related to bees and wasps! Can you see the similarities?
Ants are one of the oldest animal species on earth, and can be found almost everywhere. It’s not surprising that there are more than 11,000 varieties – big, small, red, black, etc.
Ants are very social animals that prefer to live in large groups. Each group is called a “colony.” Colonies sometimes have more than a million ants! Colonies are started by a single queen ant who lays eggs; all of the other ants in the colony are assigned a specific job. Ants work very hard and are very organized.
Ant hills are usually made of mounds of sand and dirt carried to the surface and dumped by the ants themselves as they dig out underground tunnels. Inside an ant hill are tunnels and special “rooms” where the ants store food and rest. These tunnels sometimes reach more than 15 feet into the ground. Though most ants live in ant hills, some live in wood and some (such as army ants) never build a hill, but instead spend their entire lives marching around in large groups looking for food.
Ants tell each other how to find their way to food by leaving a smelly trail that the other ants follow. They also communicate by rubbing their antennae against each other. Through their antennae, ants can smell, taste, touch and hear.
- Recycled 2-liter bottle - 1 per student
- Sheet of dark construction paper - 8.5 x 11 - 1 per student
- Sand (several cups)
- Fruit, syrup, or other sticky substance
- Small recycled plastic container
- Pantyhose or similar
With the help of a grownup, cut the top off of your plastic 2 liter bottle.
Roll the piece of dark construction paper longwise into a tube that is about 3” in diameter. Place the tube inside the bottle; there should be between ½ and 1” of space between the outside of the bottle and the paper tube.
Holding the tube in place with your fingers, use the funnel to add sand to the space between the tube and the outside of the bottle. Fill up the outside ring all the way up to the top of the paper tube. Spritz it with water and add a small piece of fruit. Now you are ready for some ants to move in!
To attract residents for your hill, place a plastic container outdoors -- near a spot where you’ve seen ants -- with something syrupy inside. Check back in a few hours – you should have at least a few ants crawling around. Be sure that all the ants look the same; you don’t want to mix up different types in your colony.
Carefully introduce the ants you’ve caught to their new house (and do this outside, in case some of them escape!), then close off the top by stretching a piece of panty hose or similar over the opening. Be sure the cover you use will allow in oxygen for the ants to breathe, but is a small enough weave that the ants cannot escape.
Within a few days, depending on the number and type of ants in your colony, you should be able to them tunneling down the sides! Be sure to watch them working, and examine them closely through the plastic with a magnifying glass.
Be sure to spritz your colony with water daily, and add leftover fruits and vegetables for them to eat.