Engage Students with Creepy Crawly Hands-on Science

Launching your lessons with a hands-on activity is a great way to get kids re-engaged in your classroom after Spring Break!

Our most popular items for your students’ return are bugs and critters. Kids of all ages love exploring the world of creepy crawly bugs. Explore metamorphosis! Or teach about the critters’ roles in the ecosystem. Gather a variety of critters and host a bug show.

If you prefer to not have live critters, consider life cycle models for a hands-on, but not creepy-crawly, way to explore the life cycle of insects.

Caterpillars and butterflies.

We also provide classroom and individual student kits

Ants.

Harvester ants are HUGE and easy to observe. Keep them contained in a habitat.

Ladybugs.

Don’t forget a habitat!

Mealworms.

We also provide a growing kit with food, burlap, mealworms, pupae, and beetles; as well as an experiment kit to explore the mealworms’ sensitivity to light.

Praying Mantid egg case and habitat or individual egg case.

Pill Bugs.

These harmless roly poly bugs are a great choice for those of us who might be a tad bit squeamish about other bugs.

Snails: land and pond


Earthworms

Crayfish

Water Fleas

Crickets

Desert Millipede

Redworms

Hydra

Milkweed bugs and eggs

Planaria

Silkworms

Tenebrio Beetles

Vinegar Eels

Drosophila Fruit Flies

Brine Shrimp.

Shh, here’s a secret: Sea-Monkeys are actually brine shrimp.

 

What are your students’ favorite critters to explore?

Giant Ant Farm review


We received a Giant Ant Farm and some harvester ants from Heath Scientific to try.

The Ants

Harvester ants are HUGE. These aren’t your run-of-the-mill tiny sidewalk ants. Even without a magnifying glass, you can clearly see their mandibles and other body parts.

The Farm

The Giant Ant Farm is fantastic for more than one child. The large, double-sided viewing area gives plenty of space for kids to come close and observe the ants.

The only drawback is the base: we’ve accidentally knocked it over a couple times. Then again, we have a 4-year-old and a 2-year-old, so accidents are not unexpected. I expect that older kids wouldn’t knock it over. A large-base alternative–that won’t get knocked over–is the ant hill, which has a smaller viewing area but is more stable.

Taking care of the ants

Ants are low-maintenance. They just require a few squirts of water and crumbs of food. The ant farm came with a year’s supply of food, which makes it easy to feed them.

For all ages

My 4-year-old and a 2-year-old were absolutely fascinated when we set up the ant farm. Elementary aged kids will love the farm, as well–and they will be thrilled to see the tunnels the ants build.

I find it fascinating to watch the ants, too. You can see how they communicate and react to events–like water raining on their farm. It’s unbelievable that, even though no one ant is directing them, they still manage to get communal activities done. At first, they’d dig and refill each others’ tunnels, but now they’ve built several together.

5 Mind-blowing facts about ants

  1. Globally, ants weigh as much as all human beings. Seriously! Ants outnumber humans a million to one and, even though individual ants weigh next to nothing, their combined weight is about the same as the combined weight of all people.
  2. Ants are farmers. Leafcutter ants, like in the picture, aren’t bringing the leaves home to eat. They use the leaves to grow a fungus, which they eat.
  3. Ants herd and milk other bugs. People aren’t the only ones with domesticated animals. Some ants herd and milk aphids for their honeydew. They even protect the aphids from predators.
  4. The people-eating ants in Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull are real. Or, at least, modeled off of real ants: Dorylus ants from Africa. These army ants march in columns of up to 50 million ants and, like the Indiana Jones ants, kill and eat animals. The real Dorylus ants, however, usually limit themselves to large rats, though they have been known to eat small zebras.
  5. Slavemaker ants starve on their own. Slavemaker ants raid another species of ants, steal their larvae, and use the other species as slaves to care for slavemaker eggs and larave, to get food, defend the nest, and even to enslave more ants. However, the slavemakers are so dependent on other species that without their slaves, slavemakers will starve to death, even if there’s plenty of food around.

Observe your own ants

Try an ant farm or ant hill.

Learn more about ants

This post is part of a series on ants. Join us here and on Pinterest and Twitter to learn more about these fascinating creatures!

Teaching about ants

These resources, sorted by students’ ages, may help you in teaching about ants in your classroom or homeschool.

Pre-K

Ant unit: pre-writing, graphing, counting, craft, the letter A, patterns, and the ant life cycle

Explore ants in the salt tray, Hey Little Ant story, ant snack, and the ant life cycle

Ant egg carton craft

Ant life cycle model

Elementary

Ant lapbook

Ants: pests or pals poll

Ant anatomy coloring page

Ant life cycle model

Ant zoom gallery: see an ant up close

Ant farm

Middle school +

Behavior of Ants 4-week lesson series

AntWeb: database of ant images and specimen records

Ant anatomy

Build a simple ant farm

Hands-on

Of course, one of the best ways to teach about ants is to allow students to experience ants hands-on in an ant farm or ant hill.

Fascinating videos

Sticky feet: how ants walk

Fire ants making a living raft in water

Ants herding other bugs

Excavating a colony

Underwater ant nest

Death spiral

More Resources

Do you have any great resources for teaching about ants in your classroom or homeschool? Share them in the comments!

Learn more about ants

This post is part of a series on ants. Join us here and on Pinterest and Twitter to learn more about these fascinating creatures!

Zombie ants

Look out! Here comes the zombiepocalypse!
But they’re not after you. The zombies are coming to attack ants, in four different ways.

When Fungi Attack

One way ants turn into zombies is through a fungus which gives ants that peculiar stumbling, staggering zombie walk.

Infected ants, instead of returning to the canopy where they live, go down the leaves closer to the ground. They bite a leaf with a death grip, leaving the fungus in a perfect place to grow and reproduce.

Parasitic infections

In pop culture, zombies are often created through an infection. So are ant zombies. A particular kind of virus will invade an ant and make its gaster (the ant’s butt) turn red like a delicious, ripe berry. Birds, which don’t eat ants, come eat the infected berry-butts and then spread the parasite through the forest in their feces.
Brainwashed

Like the fungi attack we saw earlier, another fungus takes control of an ant’s mind and body. The fungus attaches to the ant and makes its way to the ant’s brain, where it make chemicals to change how the ant perceives pheromones. The changes make the ant climb to the top of a plant and chomp down in a final death grip. The fungus eats the ant’s brain, then sprouts from the ant’s head, ready to spread throughout the forest.

Just a Fluke

A fluke (a kind of flatworm parasite) takes a more complicated route to turn ants into zombies.

The adult fluke lives inside a grazing animal–like a cow. It lays eggs there, which get passed out through the animal’s stool.

Snails then eat the egg-filled stool and become infected. The parasite reproduces in the snail, gets coated in slime, and is left behind in the snail’s slime trail.

Ants bring the slime home to their nests to eat, where they become infected by the parasite, which gets into their nervous tissue and changes their behavior.

In the mornings and evenings–when animals like cows are grazing–the ant, contrary to its normal behavior, crawls to the top of a blade of grass and hang out there. likely to be eaten. But if it’s not eaten, the ant goes home and acts normal until it’s grazing time again.

When the ant is eaten, the fluke happily lives in the grazing animal and produces eggs, starting the cycle over again.

Braiiiiiins

The phorid fly, while it doesn’t turn ants into zombies, eats ants’ brains, a delicacy we all know zombies love.

This fly lays eggs in a fire ant. The larvae get into the ant’s head–literally–and start eating the ant’s brain. The fire ant eventually gets decapitated when the larvae turns into a fly.

Fire ants–which are vicious and usually seem incapable of fear–will cower in their mounds if phorid flies are around, eventually starving to death.

More Zombies

Ants aren’t the only creatures in nature that get infected by the zombiepocalypse. See more zombie animals at Mental Floss.

Related Products

Ants, whether they turn into zombies or not, are fascinating creatures. Watch them in an ant farm or ant hill.

Learn more about ants

This post is part of a series on ants. Join us here and on Pinterest and Twitter to learn more about these fascinating creatures!