Ants

Ants are fascinating animals. For their body size, for example, they are incredibly strong. At the same time, they live in huge colonies with an elaborate social system.

Activities for this week

What do ants like to eat best?

Today, we have two junior scientists with us: Eva and Elisabeth are investigating which food ants in their garden like best. Different types of ants have different favorite meals. Some ants like sweet things, but others also eat seeds and grains. Have you ever investigated what the ants in your garden like best?

In order to make it easier for you to start experimenting with ants, we have created a working sheet. There, you can fill in your research question and list the things you need for your experiment. Have fun researching!

Please note:
Doing experiments with ants is great fun. But please take good care not to hurt these little animals!

Eva and Elisabeth are investigating which food ants in their garden like best. (German only)

Interview with an ant expert

Today, you had the opportunity to ask a researcher all you ever wanted to know about ants. You have sent us a lot of questions, and you can now find all the answers from ant expert Sylvia Cremer here. Sylvia is leading her own research group at IST Austria where she studies how large colonies of social insects protect themselves against diseases.

Interview with ant expert Sylvia Cremer (German only)

Moldy toast – experiment

The moldy toast experiment

Although we cannot see it, many stowaways stick to our hands. Washing hands is, therefore, important to remove microbes and dirt from our bodies. But how big is the difference between a clean and a dirty hand really? IST Austria science communicator Magdalena will demonstrate you how to answer this question with a simple experiment. All you need is two pieces of toast, two small plastic bags and a pen to make the stowaways on your hands visible.

And this is how it works:

  1. Take a slice of toast and touch it all over on all sides to distribute the dirt on your hands. The experiment works best if you have been outside in the garden or on the balcony before and gotten your hands really dirty.
  2. Afterwards, put the slice of toast into the first plastic bag.
  3. Now wash your hands thoroughly (use a lot of soap to do so!).
  4. Now grab the second slice of toast, touch it all over again and put it into the second bag.
  5. Close the bags or knot them tight and write “dirty” on the one and “clean” on the other bag.
  6. Now, let the bags rest in your room or in the kitchen (but not in the fridge!) for about a week. After one week, you will see the result of your experiment.

We are excited to learn what you have found out! Share your results with us and write us an e-mail to popupscience@ist.ac.at

Here is the experiment in video format for young and old to try it out!

Moldy toast – results

Today, we are revealing the results of our moldy toast experiment from last Wednesday. We wanted to know if a piece of toast can show us that our hands are dirty. Magdalena and Veronika are presenting their result and compare them to the results you have sent us. They also explain why most experiments have to be run several times to draw the right conclusions.

Yet, what does all this have to do with ants? Ants also show hygiene behavior. To keep themselves and their nest clean, the animals spray formic acid. The acid disinfects the nest and this way removes pathogens. Thus, similar to humans, ants also use some form of disinfectant – and they even produce it themselves!

Important: Do not eat your toast from the experiment!
Mould is poisonous. It is best to dispose of your research material in the bag.

Magdalena and Veronika are presenting their result on the moldy toast experiment (German only).

How do ants treat infections?

Fungi, viruses and bacteria can make us sick. We, humans, try to keep them away from our bodies by washing our hands. Ants also clean themselves, but they also have another special trick up their sleeves. Ant expert Sina Metzler explains why an ant colony does not get sick and what we can learn from these tiny creatures.

Here you can watch an interesting video on how ants fight infections: https://www.servustv.com/videos/aa-214gz86yh2112/

Introduction to the topic

Here we have collected some more exciting information for you. Can you answer all the questions? (Content only available in German)



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