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Останнє оновлення:
23.03.2017


Case-lesson “An ant and its secret life”
Case-lesson “An ant and its secret life”

Category: Science, nature and human

Level (grade): 7+

Subject: Biology

Objective: To understand ideas and findings, implemented in ants, and find out what their analogies are realized in modern technology.

What information is waiting for me here?

  • How does the “ant world” work?
  • What has allowed ants to be successful insects during all those millions of years?
  • Who is the superior at an anthill?
  • How do ants communicate?
  • What fundamental and practical knowledge will I need?
  • What anthills can be like?
  • What for do we need ant robotics?
6 scans of the subjects, phenomena and practices:
Introduction

An ant is a symbol of industriousness and coordinated collective work. So what does allow ant activity to merge into a unified harmonious “symphony of a common business”? How do ants understand each other? How much of “biological” and how much of “social” is it in ants’ behavior? The answers to these questions have prompted scientists to create new technology, new mathematical methods, new social and psychological theories. And anthills have inspired contemporary architects to search for innovative architecture shapes.

 

So, what ideas and findings can an ordinary ant “give” human?

Biology

 

Paradox: ants, which we are all used to seeing wingless, belong to the family of social insects of the order Hymenoptera. Moreover, both females and males own wings, but worker ants, which we see more often, don’t have wings indeed. These three groups of ants are also called castes.

 

All ants have antennae. Antennae are cranked; in case of females and worker ants they are composed of 11-12 segments, but in case of males – from 13. Sizes of ants can be 1 mm (genus monomorium) to 30 mm (camponotus giant type), depending on the species. Overall, the ant family includes 21 contemporary species and 5 fossil species.

You can find out to what species a certain ant belongs, using the “determinant of ants”:

www.antvid.org/Gal1/Myrmicinae.html

Here’s an example of one illustrated page:

 

Life expectancy of ants’ females is the highest for the world of insects, and can reach the point up to 12-20 years, depending on the species.

Ants belong to the insect group with a complete transformation since during their development they undergo several stages: egg, chrysalis, larva, imago. Herewith, the only stage when the insect grows is larva.

Despite the small size, ants have a rather complex structure of the body, typical for insects (worker ants for example):

 

The narrow waist between the abdomen and mezosomy is called petiole. There are three “main” elements of the body: head, abdomen and mezosomy.

As well as other insects, ants have chitinous exoskeleton.

Ant’s nervous system includes abdominal nerve chain and few nerve knots. The most important one of them is epipharyngeal ganglion, where temporary connections between neurons are formed, and which is responsible for the process of “thinking”. The largest volume of ganglion belongs to worker ants, and males got the smallest volume.

How many eyes do ants have? Firstly, these are complex facet eyes, consisting of numerous tiny lenses. These eyes are adjusted to movement determination. Secondly, there are three simple eyes to determine the level of illumination. However, there are also completely blind species of ants that live underground.

 

The antennae on the ant’s head are the sensory organs that are used to detect chemicals, air currents and vibrations. Ants also use them for the reception and transmission of signals through touch.

There are strong mandibles on ants’ heads, used to carry food, manipulate various objects, building nests and defense. Some of these mandibles open at 270° and close like a trap. Some species have a small outgrowth of the esophagus, called the “public stomach” or goiter. It is possible to store food, which is later distributed among the other ants and maggots, here.

A hooked claw at the end of every tarsus helps ants climb vertical surfaces.

Ants of one species but different castes differ in the nuances of body structure and size:

 

This difference is explained by the “specialization” of ants, their social participation in an anthill.

Like all other creatures, ants have their own ecological niche: a set of requirements and conditions under which their existence is comfortable (optimum zone) or at least possible (pesymumu zone). When ecological niches overlap, species of living beings enter certain relationships. This may be competition for resources or shelter, but there may also be relationships of “host-parasite”, “predator-prey” or “symbiote-symbiote”. Thus the mutual regulation of population occurs:

 

And the competition between species can not only be interspecific (for example, two species of ants in one forest) but intraspecific also. As far as ants are social insects, this type of competition is less topical for them. But the regulation of population occurs, one way or another, though through different mechanisms.

 

A temperature factor of the ants’ ecological niche is wide. Among the ants there are record-breakers for heat and cold resistance. For example, representatives of the Cataglyphis family live in deserts and normally withstand the temperature up to +50°C, feeding on insects, which quickly die in such heat. And Kamchatka Ant, conversely, survives winter while being cooled to -52°C, and it stays alive.

Also ants are the controllers of on other species’ population. They use mechanisms of “predator-prey”, “host-parasite”, “symbiote-symbiote”. Scientists have estimated that red wood ants that live in a large anthill bring on average 21 thousand different caterpillars and pupae pests in per one summer day. In general, such anthill protects about 1 hectare of coniferous forest.

Army ants kind is one of the most famous. They are also called killer ants, because during their movement they destroy all arthropods, reptiles and small rodents in those areas where they appear. Uterus of an army ant shocks with its fecundity: the uterus of Asian species lays up to 130 thousand eggs per day – approximately 3 eggs every 2 seconds. No other insect has such fertility. The main feature of army ants is their lack of anthill; a colony of several hundred thousand individuals either builds a temporary shelter in a form of balls of workers, grappled together, or finds a hole or cavity under stones. That is why they are forced to seek new territories:

 

Amazon ants is a very specific group of ant species, which don’t breed worker ants at all. Their offspring is either future queens or soldiers. To search for food and care for her larvae the queen herself or a platoon of soldiers attacks a peaceful ant species’ anthills, and steal larvae and pupae from them. Worker ants that were born of them perceive the invaders as parents and perform all routine work at Amazons ants’ anthills. Some Amazon ants are very narrowly specialized: they can steal larvae and pupae of only one type of donor. Of course, the ants, which are attacked by the Amazon, defend their brood, and mortality among the Amazons is extremely high.

 

Leafcutter ant is one of the few beings in the world, engaged in agriculture on a very high technological level. Worker ants of this species nibble pieces of leaves and bring them to their anthill where other ants chew the leaves, mix them with saliva and infect them with spores of special fungus. Ants eat the developed mycelium. In addition, their saliva contains large amounts of antibiotics that prevent the development of dangerous for mycelium parasitic fungi and bacteria.

Question:


Do you think being the social insects helps ants in interspecific competition? Can this be considered as a competitive advantage?

Psychology

 

Ants are social, sectional insects. Sometimes the ants’ harmony shocks us because they act as a united live mechanism or organism. Not only do ants interact among themselves but they also enter the symbiosis with other insects, fungi, bacteria and plants.

Advantages, offered to ants by cooperation, have led to the fact that for today they are a dominating on number group of arthropods. Thus, 1 km² of African savannah is inhabited by almost 2 billion ants that form around 740 thousand colonies.

Ants’ family is a highly organized community, consisting of brood (eggs, larvae, pupae), adult ants (females and males) and numerous worker ants. In practice, worker ants are infertile females. Families can consist of from several dozen ants to millions. There may be several reproductive females in one family.

Also in ant families there are division of labor and self-organization in solving complex problems. These parallels with human society have long been a subject of scientific research. For example, in a colony of leafcutter ants there are 7 castes of individuals that differ both in appearance and behavior. The difference in size between the smallest worker ant and a soldier can reach 200 times. Moreover, all ants in the family perform up to 29 different unique operations while preparing food.

 

Although at first glance it seems that the center of the family is a queen, in fact, the center is worker ants. The more females are in an anthill, the more “disrespectful” the attitude of workers is. Worker ants relocate females from one part of the anthill to another, exchange them for other anthills. Workers also control reproduction in the family: they destroy excessive larvae or change their feeding regime to change the ratio of castes in the family.

Social relations are difficult not only in some of ant family-colonies but also between the colonies of several species of ants. Ants can be social parasites. Females of small wood ants, for example, cannot independently found a new family. For this, they need help of workers of other species – brown wood ants, red-cheeked ants or sand ants. Young female of red wood ants find an anthill of one of those species that have lost their own female, and settle there.

 

Citronella ants’ females enter the anthill of a host species, which has its own female, and appear so attractive for worker hosts that they allow them to kill their own female and take her place. For some time two species of ants peacefully coexist in the anthill, but the “hosts” who have lost their queen gradually die out and new residents naturally replace host-workers, fully inhabit the anthill and rebuild it.

The study of ants’ social behavior, their collective psychology can explain some features of human collective behavior, distribution of social roles.

Communications

 

Ant families are complex social groups with division of labor and advanced communication systems and self-organization. It allows individuals to coordinate when performing tasks that are beyond the power of one individual. But how does the communication between them happen? It turns out that some at species have developed “language” and can transmit complex information.

Ants communicate by using pheromones. Ants have developed these chemical signals more than other insects. Ants perceive smells with their long and thin antennae; they provide information on the direction and intensity of smell. Since ants spend life in contact with ground, the surface of soil is a good place to leave a pheromone trail that other ants can perceive. We can observe straightforward caravans of ants:

 

Ants lay these “routes” with pheromones: in the species that go searching for food in groups, ant-forager that finds food, marks its way back to the anthill, and other ants follow this road, also marking their way back to the anthill with pheromones. When the food source is exhausted, ants don’t mark this route anymore, and the smell gradually is dissipated. This behavior helps ants deal with changes in the environment:

For example, if a route to food is blocked with an obstacle, foragers begin to search for a new road. If the search was successful, then on the way back the ant marks the shortest returning to the anthill route. These successful routes are followed by other ants who pave the optimal route and the best way to food.

Ants use pheromones not only for routing. In fact, there are several types of these “pheromone signs”. This chemical language is complex and multifaceted. For example, a wounded ant secretes pheromone of alarm that calls for other ants from afar and makes all individuals that are nearby attack the enemy. Some ants even use “propaganda pheromone” to intimidate enemies and make them fight each other. Pheromones are produced by special glands of ants. Pheromones are also mixed with food and passed to other ants during trofollaksis, providing information about the family. This allows other ants to know what family needs (e.g., in nutrition or anthill maintenance). In the kinds of families that have queens, workers begin to raise a new queen for the family if the ruling queen doesn’t produce the required pheromones.

Observation of ants allowed to use their model of behavior to solve graphical mathematical problem – finding the optimal route. This algorithm is called the “ant colony algorithm”:

 

In formula expression this algorithm looks like the following:

 

Beside the chemical language of pheromones ants also use “physical language” – the language of the body. Yes, ants can communicate through tactile stimulus (e.g., when begging for food) and sounds. In particular, some ants make crackling sounds, using segments of the abdomen or mandibles. The sounds are used for communication between family members or other species. Ants are sensitive to vibrations of solids. For example, tapping of abdomen or mandibles is inherent to Carpenter ants. Some species are capable of acoustic communication even in the pupa stage. For example, this allows M. scabrinodis chrysalises to notify worker-nurses about their social status.

Task:


Imagine how you can use ant communication means in human activities.

Science/Intelligence

 

Ants are capable of inspiring scientists. But on what do they inspire them? Imagine that you have to do some complicated task which can be automated. For example, you can use a robot. But there are several such “simultaneous” operations, and the actions have to be coordinated and harmonious. Hence, the robots should act as ants!

In 2015 the Festo specialists chose these insects as prototypes and, as the result of that, the world has seen a fantastic ant-robot called BionicANT.

This year the topic that is realized within Festo Bionic Learning Network program is called “Join the Network”. And all the projects, started this year, are concentrated on creation of small robots that inherit the behavior of groups of insects which cooperate and solve their problems collectively.

BionicANT ants just demonstrate this collective behavior, in the basis of which lies the models of natural origin. The behavior of BionicANT robots submits to a set of fairly simple rules; they can work fully independently, performing one complex assignment together:

 

Robots can communicate with each other via various means in order to coordinate their actions and movements. Owing to this, just like their living prototypes, groups of robots can move manipulate large objects, the size and weight of which are far exceeding the size of a single robot with joint efforts.

Most of the elements and components of BionicANT robots, whose size is 13.5 cm, and weight is only 105 grams, was made using a three-dimensional laser printer. With the help of this printer electronic circuit elements on the surface of robots’ bodies and limbs were manufactured.

Task:


Imagine what mundane tasks these robots could help you to execute. Compose a little “assignment” for them (don’t forget about the sequence and of logic commands).

Ecology

 

The modern technological world affects many species of living beings. Contamination of soil and air, changing of natural water composition threaten the very existence of many species. Ants are no exception in this list. But there is a reverse process. Modern technology allows to clean components of the environment from anthropogenic pollution with the use of living organisms. This is one of the leading tendencies of biotechnology, based on biotransformation of pollutants.

For example, sandy soils, contaminated with oil products, can be cleaned and remediated using ant species Formica cinerea Mayr. During the remediation of contaminated areas it is necessary to improve water regime and aeration of the soil; this is why many researchers pay attention to soil fauna, which as a result of its activity improves and accelerates the process of self-renewal of contaminated soils:

 

F cinerea Mayr ants play an important role as a factor of soil formation and soil restoration of contaminated with oil landscapes. Especially important is the role of ants as a factor of mechanical loosening of soil, which facilitates penetration of molecular oxygen in the soil, destruction of oil products and reduction of soil phytotoxicity. The processes of destruction of petroleum hydrocarbons that occur due to the Fcinerea Kfavr ants, cause effective cleaning of soil from oil and improve its ecological condition. Ants’ activities increase the effectiveness of natural oil destruction processes and clean the soil by 20-30%.

Question:


Do you think that the features of ants’ ecological niche affect their ability to clean and restore soils? Do all kinds of ants have it the same? Present arguments.

Architecture

 

Ants are talented builders and architects with building experience over 200 million years (the estimated by entomologists “age” of ant colonies).

Needles, leaves and soil particles can serve as the material for building. The internal structure of an anthill is complex and rational:

 

It is not surprising that the principles of “ant architecture” have gained the liking of human architects, especially where there’s a need to accommodate a lot of people in a relatively small area. An example of such city-anthill is Hong Kong. It is the most populous city of Earth:

 

In future, we can expect to see houses-anthills. Spacious company has created a project “space of future” – towers that combine functions of hotels and office centers, where the creative class will live and work. These houses have got the name “anthills”. Such houses in future will be built on cargo containers (at the same time solving the problem of their utilization and cheapening of building materials).

But this is not the most exciting about them. Anthill-houses should fully replace the human life style and their work style. According to Spacious concepts, the world will have more and more workers with flexible and unstable timetable, ready to work anywhere anytime. These people, living in new houses, will be able to switch between work and recreation. Workplaces in the tower will be connected to the bedroom: you’ll be able to work for a while, then to sleep, work again and so on.

Outwardly the project looks quite attractive, although the conditions of work reminiscent the life of builders who are working round-the-clock and live in small dorm rooms, where it is actually only possible to sleep. Don’t they look like ants? Despite the fact that all of this seems to be utopian reality, the company’s determination is very serious. Spacious Director Preston Pesek is already in talks to build the first hotel for the collaboration.

Question:


Would you feel comfortable in such house-anthill?

Accelerative and interactive methods
«Ants»

The essence of the game: Try to work as coordinated as ants do. A teacher prepares a few mathematical problems for each team and writes them of a blackboard. The students in teams assign the “responsible” for every action (problem), write the algorithm of execution and – start! The team that’s been first to solve the tasks correctly wins. After all, different types of ants have various occupations; the well-being of an anthill and its progress depend on the coordinated performance of the whole anthill – the team.

SUBJECTIVE: Active motion with simultaneous solving of mathematical problems (2-in-1: sport and mathematics), development of logic, complex and system thinking, delegation of authority and team working skills, building of relationships and causal relationships.
Lesson summary:

Title

The contents

1

The results of the case-lesson can be complemented with findings of students

 

2

What three websites have helped find important information

http://edufuture.biz/

https://ru.wikipedia.org/wiki/%D0%9A%D1%80%D0%B5%D0%B4%D0%B8%D1%82%D0%BD%D0%B0%D1%8F_%D0%BA%D0%B0%D1%80%D1%82%D0%B0

https://ru.wikipedia.org/wiki/%D0%91%D0%B0%D0%BD%D0%BA%D0%BE%D0%B2%D1%81%D0%BA%D0%B0%D1%8F_%D0%BF%D0%BB%D0%B0%D1%82%D1%91%D0%B6%D0%BD%D0%B0%D1%8F_%D0%BA%D0%B0%D1%80%D1%82%D0%B0

 

3

To help student and couch:

http://edufuture.biz/

https://ru.wikipedia.org/wiki/%D0%9A%D0%B0%D1%80%D1%82%D0%B0_%D1%81_%D0%BC%D0%B0%D0%B3%D0%BD%D0%B8%D1%82%D0%BD%D0%BE%D0%B9_%D0%BF%D0%BE%D0%BB%D0%BE%D1%81%D0%BE%D0%B9

https://ru.wikipedia.org/wiki/%D0%A1%D0%BC%D0%B0%D1%80%D1%82-%D0%BA%D0%B0%D1%80%D1%82%D0%B0#.D0.98.D0.BD.D1.82.D0.B5.D0.BB.D0.BB.D0.B5.D0.BA.D1.82.D1.83.D0.B0.D0.BB.D1.8C.D0.BD.D1.8B.D0.B5_.D0.BA.D0.B0.D1.80.D1.82.D1.8B

 

4

Where can you get information for the case?

http://edufuture.biz/

https://ru.wikipedia.org/wiki/%D0%9A%D1%80%D0%B5%D0%B4%D0%B8%D1%82%D0%BD%D0%B0%D1%8F_%D0%BA%D0%B0%D1%80%D1%82%D0%B0

https://ru.wikipedia.org/wiki/%D0%91%D0%B0%D0%BD%D0%BA%D0%BE%D0%B2%D1%81%D0%BA%D0%B0%D1%8F_%D0%BF%D0%BB%D0%B0%D1%82%D1%91%D0%B6%D0%BD%D0%B0%D1%8F_%D0%BA%D0%B0%D1%80%D1%82%D0%B0

https://ru.wikipedia.org/wiki/%D0%9A%D0%B0%D1%80%D1%82%D0%B0_%D1%81_%D0%BC%D0%B0%D0%B3%D0%BD%D0%B8%D1%82%D0%BD%D0%BE%D0%B9_%D0%BF%D0%BE%D0%BB%D0%BE%D1%81%D0%BE%D0%B9

https://ru.wikipedia.org/wiki/%D0%A1%D0%BC%D0%B0%D1%80%D1%82-%D0%BA%D0%B0%D1%80%D1%82%D0%B0#.D0.98.D0.BD.D1.82.D0.B5.D0.BB.D0.BB.D0.B5.D0.BA.D1.82.D1.83.D0.B0.D0.BB.D1.8C.D0.BD.D1.8B.D0.B5_.D0.BA.D0.B0.D1.80.D1.82.D1.8B

http://melnicabiz.ru/kak_proizvodyat/84_kak_proizvodyat_kak-delayut-plastikovye-kartochki.html

http://notacard.com.ua/poleznye-stati/70-kak-i-iz-chego-delayut-plastikovye-kartochki

http://edufuture.biz/index.php?title=%D0%94%D0%B5%D0%B9%D1%81%D1%82%D0%B2%D0%B8%D0%B5_%D0%BC%D0%B0%D0%B3%D0%BD%D0%B8%D1%82%D0%BD%D0%BE%D0%B3%D0%BE_%D0%BF%D0%BE%D0%BB%D1%8F_%D0%BD%D0%B0_%D0%B4%D0%B2%D0%B8%D0%B6%D1%83%D1%89%D0%B8%D0%B9%D1%81%D1%8F_%D0%B7%D0%B0%D1%80%D1%8F%D0%B4

http://edufuture.biz/index.php?title=%D0%9C%D0%B0%D0%B3%D0%BD%D0%B8%D1%82%D0%BD%D1%8B%D0%B5_%D1%81%D0%B2%D0%BE%D0%B9%D1%81%D1%82%D0%B2%D0%B0_%D0%B2%D0%B5%D1%89%D0%B5%D1%81%D1%82%D0%B2%D0%B0

5

Location of the lesson:

The case-lesson takes place in the classroom. It is possible to conduct the lesson at museum or library.

6

Contest:

Teams of boys and girls.

The score of the competition between teams was:….

Tasks for them:

1. Try to work as coordinated as ants do. Pick up an assignment or several problems, assign the “responsible” for every action (problem). Write the algorithm of execution and start!The team that’s been first to solve the tasks correctly wins.

2. Make up a house-anthill of future. Present it and discuss your projects.

7

Homework:

 Formulate five questions to the case material (an individual task).

8

Duration:

90 min (double lesson) 

 

9

The possibility to conduct the lesson with a student-understudy:  

Possible

10

The acquired knowledge and developed competence:

Knowledge about biological and ecological peculiarities of ants.

Knowledge about technological tricks, borrowed from the “ant world”.

Gaining practical skills of applying acquired information.

Acquiring concrete knowledge in biology, architecture, psychology and other branches (given in the scans).

11

Tags:

Ant, petiole, mesosoma, ganglion, complete metamorphosis of insects, pheromone, ecological niche, symbiote, optimum, public insects.

12

Authors:

 Hrabowska Larysa Leonidivna

13

Participated in the case upgrading:

 

 


The End

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