Ant Architecture

This project lets you observe the elaborate tunneling structures of an ant colony and determine the social organization of ants.

You will need

2 wide-mouth glass jars
Frozen-orange-juice can or similar can
Small dish
Fine cloth netting
Rubber band
Digging spade
White paper
Soil sample with ants
Gardening gloves
Small block of wood
Pie tin
Black construction paper
Cellophane tape


  • Collect workers ants by using the digging spade to gently lift soil under flat rocks. Place the soil sample on the white paper and gently stir it. As the ants scatter, fold the paper and brush both soil and ants into the jar. Replace the jar lid without screwing it on.

Caution : Use gardening gloves when collecting ants. Some species bite.

  • Continue digging until you see ants scattering with larvae. Take one final clump of soil and place it on the white paper. As you gently break it up, you should see the much larger and paler ant queen emerge. If she doesn't appear, take another soil sample and repeat the procedure.
  • Deposit the queen in the jar and screw the lid on. Take the jar to where you'll set up your colony.
  • Place the frozen-orange-juice can in the center of jar #2. Remove the lid from jar #1 and use tablespoon to transfer the soil and ants jar #2. Be extra careful that you don't harm any ants, particularly the queen, during this procedure.
  • When you've surrounded the orange can with ants and soil, rest a small water-filled dish on top of the can. Place netting over the mouth of the jar and secure it with the rubber band.
  • Partly fill the pie tin with water, and place the block of wood in the center.
  • Rest the ant-colony jar on the block of wood so that the water in the pie tin forms a kind of moat around the jar. This will keep ants clever to squeeze through the netting from escaping.
  • Make a wide tube of black construction paper to fit snugly over the jar. Place the tube over the jar, and leave your ants undisturbed in a warm location for 24 hours.
  • Remove the tube to watch the ants; add bits of bread occasionally to feed your colony.


The ants construct an elaborate connecting network tunnels close to the inner surface of the jar. Some tunnels appear to end in small chambers where larvae are kept.


Calmed by the presence of their queen and no longer feeling threatened, your ants waste no time in setting up house. Ant colonies have an elaborate structure of tunnels, chambers, nurseries for larvae, and even "gardens" of nutritious molds. As your colony develops, so will the complexity of the tunneling system. You may even notice an ant "cemetery" after a while! The social order of ant colonies usually include three classes: winged, fertile females; wingless infertile females, or workers; and winged males. In some species, workers may become soldiers or other specialized types.

Without the black construction paper, the ants would tunnel towards the jar's interior rather than close to its surface.

Display Tip

Document your ant collecting with photographs. Display the living colony in your booth. Use Post-It notes attached to your jar to identify some of the colony structures, such as tunnels, chambers, or nurseries. If you're lucky enough to have the queen exposed, clearly identify her.

Did You Know?

Not all ants live in tunnels. Some species of ants live in mounds they build above the ground, and other species live in wood. Army ants are mostly on the move, traveling in columns and destroying plants and animals in their way. When they do stop briefly, they live in tangled and structures made of their own bodies.

Source : Science Fair Projects by Glen Vecchione