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I am Not Ms. Frizzle, and this is Definitely Not the Magic School Bus

I think we can all agree that the ant posts need to stop.  But I feel that I must follow through on the story.  Following through was one of my New Year’s resolutions this year.  Okay, I admit that is my resolution every year.  And you can probably conclude how well I’ve followed through with that.

Anyway, while a bunch of you are wrestling with a Monster Storm in the northeast, including my NJ relatives (shout out! well, shout out when you get a chance to read this, which probably won’t be for another week or so, and you probably won’t really be putting my blog high on your priorities once you get electricity back, but just in case, I want you to know I’m thinking about you), I have been wrestling with a herd of harvester ants.  I know it’s not exactly the same.  In fact, it’s a pretty lame comparison.

A better comparison would be the figurative wrestling I got to do with my 2nd graders today during The Transfer.  One advantage of teaching Gifted and Talented students is that they are pretty confident most of the time that they know more than you do.  And they are pretty right most of the time.  Usually, I am better about hiding that, but they obviously sensed my feelings of inadequacy as I described the way everything was going to go down this morning.

“We are going to prepare the ant farm, and then I will punch a hole in the side of the bottle and connect it to the ant farm, so the little guys can just naturally make their way to their new home.”

“Why don’t you just put them in?”  “How are they going to know they can go in there?”  “Do you know what you’re doing?”

They clustered around the table as I followed the directions for prepping the ant farm.  The one boy who has the least confidence in my ability to do anything insisted on reading the instructions along with me to make sure I did it right.

Then it was time to stab a hole in the Vitamin Zero bottle.  This is one of the steps I hadn’t completely thought through – having only a blunt pair of scissors with which to perform this delicate operation.  I closed my eyes as I jabbed the scissors, picturing an accidentally monstrous puncture and zillions of harvester ants crawling on top and over each other to escape.

To my surprise, I was successful in creating the minute hole that was my goal, and I quickly inserted a plastic tube that had come with the ant farm into the tiny aperture.

“It’s too high!  The ants can’t get in that!”

“It’s too slippery!  They’ll never get over to the ant farm.”

“You should put it lower.”

“Let me do it.”

Of course, they were right.  It was too high, and the tube was sloped ridiculously.  The few ants that acrobatically flung themselves into the tube were only able to crawl up about two inches before unceremoniously sliding back down.

I told the students that they needed to be patient, and to let the ants problem-solve.

About 10 minutes later, I snapped 2/3 of the tube off, and lowered the hole – quickly duct taping Hole #1 in case of deserters.

The students grumblingly accepted this compromise, still not satisfied with the slow progress of the ants.  But they were gratified to see that a few of the ants were able to cross the tube to the new homestead.

By the time the kids returned to their homerooms, some of the more adventurous ants had obviously communicated that the coast was clear to their pals, and an assembly line had begun with the apparent objective of carrying the entirety of their 2-day-old home over to the new one.  I promised the students I would take pictures every day of the ants’ progress, until 2nd grade returns next Monday.  Boy Who Doubts Me tried to convince me that I should e-mail the pics each night to him; I’m surprised he did not demand that I set up a live webcam so that he can assure himself that I don’t destroy the whole habitat with my ineptitude during the next 7 days.

For Blogging Purposes, the entire event was somewhat anti-climactic.  But that’s okay with me.  And, if you ever need to grab the attention of a group of 8-year-olds for an extended period of time, I can promise you that an ant farm will do the trick.  In between their critiques of my less-than-satisfactory approach to ant herding, the students observed a lot about the ants, themselves, that elicited fascinated exclamations.

Too bad I didn’t have my cheetah duct tape on hand…

Attempt #2.  Yes, that’s the shorter tube.  Yes, it was initially 3 times longer.  Yes, I’m an idiot.

Our first pioneering ant discovers the food stockpile.

I Haven’t Killed Them Yet

Our last episode ended with a cliffhanger – and I am sure that most of you have been on the edge of your seats for two days, wondering if I managed to snuff out my new, mail-order ant colony – or if Wonderbutt had taken care of the job for me.  You will be happy to know that the ants are still alive, all but one, in a temporary home that once contained Vitamin Zero water (lemonade flavor, which, quite frankly, is not my favorite anyway).  I successfully refrigerated them for half an hour and transferred them with great ceremony to their new home by opening their tube and allowing them to tumble into the bottle.  My daughter, Dimples, was completely unimpressed by the whole event, as the mouth of the bottle was wide enough for me to discharge the whole mass of numb ants at once instead of having to scoot one at a time through a tiny opening like I will have to do when I move them to the farm.  Which begs the question of, “Why are ant farms deliberately manufactured to hinder the initial entrance of ants, thus making classroom teachers everywhere hop onto their desks screeching as the crazed insects swarm away from the minute opening on the ant farm and race across the table and down its legs so they can, instead, crawl up inside the more hospitable pants of the humans who attempted to imprison them for their own amusement?”  It’s one of life’s unsolved mysteries.

Here is a picture of the ants in their Vitamin Zero bottle.  I poked a tiny hole in the top to give them air.  Even though the tube they arrived in had no such hole that I could discern.  But I seem to have read somewhere that even insects need air.  Then I was worried that the ants would find a way to squeeze out of the hole.  So, I came up with the ingenious idea of putting a duct tape force field around the cap, so they would stick to it if they got that far.  In retrospect, that might be perceived as a bit cruel and probably somewhat paranoid.  The hole is the size of a pinprick, and these ants are huge.  But insects are tricky little creatures, and I figured it couldn’t hurt to be cautious.

You can see the dead ant smack dab in the middle. His companions were kind enough to bury him, but I missed the ceremony.

Wonderbutt got jealous as I was taking pictures of the ants (as soon as he hears camera sounds, he comes running), so I decided to let him take a peek at the bottle.

Mmmm. This looks like a tasty treat…

Is my food moving?

Watcha doin’ in there?

He quickly lost interest once he detected no delicious smells and observed that the ants were far too industrious for his taste.  Though they do share his stubborn ability to bulldoze large objects out of their way, ants do not seem to appeal to Wonderbutt, so they should be safe for a couple of days.

I will take the ants to school on Monday, and the students will help me set up their new habitat.  Then, they will watch in awe as I show them the right way to move ants who have been refrigerated for an appropriate amount of time into an ant farm.  Then the parents will call the school that afternoon as they receive reports of their child’s teacher spewing a few ill-chosen words while the ants rebelled and hastily converged on the humans gathered around the new containment unit.  Good times…

Don’t Report Me for Antabuse

I set a box of ants on the dining room table, and I am now sitting in the back of the house wondering if that was a wise decision, considering that our bulldog, Wonderbutt, likes to eat cardboard and doesn’t like it when I leave him alone in the front of the house.  But, I am too lazy to go save the ants from Wonderbutt, and besides I am doing very important research.  I must find out how long ants can live in a box, because I did not expect them to arrive this quickly.  My second graders do not come to class again until Monday, and they will be very disappointed if I release the ants into their new habitat without any witnesses.  However, they will probably be even more disappointed if I open the box and a bunch of dead ants fall out.

The last time I ordered ants, I followed the directions carefully for the transfer from box to ant farm.  It was highly recommended that the insects be refrigerated for awhile so that they would become sluggish, thus rendering them less hostile as I vigorously shook their package to allow them to fall into their new home.  Perhaps not surprisingly, this “sluggish” period was fairly short – about 1/10 of a second, and I immediately had ants that “might bite” racing all over the table while my 3rd graders gleefully tried to catch them. Death reports flooded in.  “I think I stepped on that one.”  “This one just jumped off the side of the table.  It’s not moving anymore.”  After a 20 minute round-up and thirty minutes of carefully inspecting the classroom, I think we got about 10 ants of the original 40 into the ant farm.

Once they were in between glass, the ants were fascinating to watch.  So, remembering the delight and new respect for small creatures that it gave my students, I decided to repeat the disaster this year.

So far, I have had no luck discovering how long ants can live in a box, but my Googling Genius has revealed that ants can wreak havoc if they decide to nest in your Apple iBook.  You will be happy to know that there is an entire thread in the Apple Support Community that will give you advice on how to deal with this nasty problem.

I suppose that I have procrastinated long enough – and it is ominously quiet in the Wonderbutt section of the house.  It is quite possible that he has swallowed the box whole.  Or, even more likely, that he has ripped it to shreds and there are now ants crawling all over the dining room.

Maybe if I had a more appealing ant habitat, the little guys would be less inclined to attempt their Alcatrazian escapes.

What I really need is a new habitat for Wonderbutt…

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