Personally I have always had a fascination with ants, and although I have never owned an ant kit, I have longed for one for many years! I am most envious therefore, of those children whose parents have purchased one of these kits. In case you haven't come across an ant kit, it is basically two tall pieces of transparent plastic fixed together so that they are very close, but not quite touching, and then sealed all round the edges. This stands vertically upright, and is filled with soil, sand or other compound provided. Ants are then inserted or released into this set up, and are then able to make it their home. As long as plenty of water and suitable food is provided, they will survive perfectly well, and prove to be a fascinating world to observe.
Ants have a very great deal in common with us as people, believe it or not. They are incredibly social animals, with very clearly defined job roles, such as worker ants, guards, food preparation experts, builders and so on. They even farm using other animals! They have been known to trap and keep other insects, and feed them to keep them alive and healthy, milking them for useful products, in much the same way as we ourselves do. They are brilliant builders, and are excellent at solving problems by using their team skills. It has often been said that a single ant is fairly useless, and will die very quickly, but together, a whole colony acts like a single creature, with remarkable intelligence and understanding. The warrior ants have such enormous tools on their limbs which they use for fighting, that they can't actually feed themselves. Worker ants will grind food up, and feed the warrior ants to keep them alive - a perfect example of how a body would work, with each part working to keep the rest of the body alive and working.
Because of the transparent plastic the ants will be almost always observable, and the tunnels that they dig through the soil, sand or whatever is used will allow you to observe how they structure their home, with storage areas for food, routes to the surface, including blind alleys and dead ends to confuse any wood-be intruders. If a large gap is created, forcing ants to try to cross it to reach food, then it is also fascinating to watch how they investigate the problem, how they communicate with each other to get a group together, and how they manage to bridge the gap. This could be by bringing resources to build a bridge, or even using each other as a bridge. It has been seen in the wild that sometimes hundreds of ants bond together to create a bridge out of their own bodies in order to cross a gap, such as a stream. This is a feat rarely seen in nature, with so many separate creatures all working together to achieve a goal.
Apart from the lessons it will teach children about how to respect nature, and that even the smallest of creatures can demonstrate remarkable skills, it might also teach children a valuable lesson in team work.
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