Category Archives: Ants

Ant Food Trials

After a long winter the sun came out from its hiding place at last and along with it brought the nature back to life. It’s officially spring time and the trees are blooming with beautiful flowers, birds are singing their songs all around Grounds and the hard workers of the underground world, ants are waking up.

With the warm weather on Sunday, it was the perfect opportunity for us as the ants team to get out and observe some ants. Jenny and I were packed with food and ready to start our experiment at the Architecture School right in front of the Fine Arts Café. As it has been stated in the earlier blog posts the aim of this experiment is to see what kinds of foods ants are attracted to and how different settings (man-made vs. natural) affect their behaviors.


With a gourmet selection of foods such as Cheezits, apples, olive oil, Sour Patch Kids and chocolate chip cookies we start preparing the food for our little customers.


Inspired from Amy Savage’s talk in our class, we decided to create two stations: one being on the grass under a tree, the other one being on the brick path in between the tables and chairs of the Fine Arts Café. To our luck the spot that we set our foods under the tree had two ant nests right next to each other!


Our station on the grass had two ant nests right in the middle of it.


Our station that was on the brick path.

Expectations and Findings:

We chose to set up all the foods that we had around the nests as shown to minimize the differences in distance between each. Then we waited for ants to show up! We expected to see that the grass station would get more ants in total and that apple slices and the olive oil would get the most attention in both stations. Here’s what we found after 2 hours:

  •  Out of all the foods that we had, chocolate chip cookies got the first place, while Cheezits and apples followed being in the second and third places respectively.
  • Brick path station got 1-2 ants in total while the grass station had tens of ants on various different foods.
  • We saw that the ants were struggling with bigger food such as the apple slices versus Cheezits crumbs.


Chocolate chip cookies were the favorite.


Some of the ants really enjoyed Cheezit crumbs.

 Explanation of findings:

There is a few explanations for why our expectations did not meet the reality. First of all, like it was stated above, our apple slices were not appropriate for ants to easily pick up and transport. My guess is that the apple slices initially got more attention than the cookies or the Cheezits; however, when unable to pick up bits easily off of the slices, the ants picked the easier to transport options of cookies and Cheezits. Although the cookies were not crumbled, they are softer than the apples and thus easier to break in to pieces.

We used leaves as holders for our olive oil samples. Although ants love oils according to Amy Savage our samples did not really attract a lot of ants. We saw that a couple of ants were dead in the oil that leaked out of the leaf. The leaf could have also absorbed most of the oil making it impossible for ants to eat it.

The different ant counts between the stations can be simply explained by the distance and level. Our brick station was at a lower level than the grass setting, away from the nests and was harder for our little friends to get to. My guess is that only a few ants stopped by in passing at the brick station and therefore we did not really observe any of them on the food.


I really enjoyed this experience as a whole. I have come to realize how we forget about all the different species that are living above, on and below the ground. We are surrounded by nature all the time and all we have to do is realize and appreciate it. It is a reminder that even the smallest things such as how we design our food or landscape may affect our little friends in the biggest ways.

Post by E. Berke Tezcan, Civil & Environmental Engineering ‘16

Coming Soon: ANTS!

It may not be the first thought on your mind when you walk outside, but actually try to think about the last time you saw an ant in Charlottesville. After an unusually long winter, the ants are slowly but surely making themselves visible. But what have they been doing all this time? How did they survive the frost without invading our homes and dorms in their systematic little lines? The answer is that ants are experts at braving the seasons. In Autumn, ants eat large amounts of foods such as plants, fungus, food scraps, and even other insects. Another reason you may not have seen an ant lately is because they do most of their food foraging under the cover of night. In the winter, ant’s body temperatures drop dramatically and they seek out warm spaces in deep soil, under rocks or under the bark of trees. They also join together as a community by snuggling together and huddling around the queen. When you learn about all of this you may think, “Wow, ants are pretty cool!” But all of that goes out of the roof when you’re trying to have a picnic on the Lawn and you find ants crawling up next to your freshly bought food from the Dumpling Truck. Let the ant killing begin. But with a little preplanning and some simple materials you can say “shoo ant, don’t bother me” without having an ant killing on your conscience. Plus, these are techniques you can use in your home or dorm room to keep out the ants without damaging the environment with harmful pesticides.

1)    Take chalk and draw a line around the edge of where you do not want ants to intrude and the calcium carbonate will help repel the ants.

2)    Spray lemon juice, cinnamon essential oil, or peppermint oil, around windows and doors for a great smelling house/dorm and an ant free space.

3)    Place coffee grounds or cornmeal in cracks where ants are entering or exiting. This will not kill them but just repels them and makes them relocate. It’s also a little safer if you have pets than placing the toxic bait packets around that they could chew into.

Hopefully these will be easy and effective ways for you to keep ants at bay without hurting them in the process. Just like how every person in Charlottesville suddenly becomes a runner on that first nice warm day, the ants will emerge from their winter homes with a fury. For picnickers, homeowners, or anyone trying to stop the hungry ants without killing them or using pesticides, these could come in handy. I have noticed that not many people know about these natural remedies to dealing with insects.In our urban planning practices, we are encouraged to embrace nature in the cities, but often ignore the insects which preside in almost all forms of nature indoors and outdoors. It is very possible for us to coexist and create spaces for each other to thrive. Ants are significant and have been a large part of our history appearing in books, movies, poems, games, paintings sculptures, music and much more. Even though they’re tiny, species of ants preside all around the world and appear in almost every known language. Specifically in Virginia, you may run into the Little Black Ant, the Carpenter Ant, the Crematogaster Ant, the Odorous House Ant, the Pavement Ant and the Yellow Ant. You will be seeing some of these around Charlottesville soon enough! Hopefully you’ll refrain from killing them and use natural ingredients instead to send the ants on their merry way.

Post by Jennifer Reid




The Obstacles of the Ant Life

Hello, my name is Ainsley Springer and I am a 4th year Environmental Sciences major. For my survey, I focused on collecting and identifying ants within the Brown College location. While there were several anthills around, I came into some difficulty in trying to collect them. My troubles, just to name a few, were passerby unknowingly stepping on or riding their bikes over the collection cards, squirrels stealing the ant bait (figure 1), and wasps chasing me away. While I was sitting on a bench, waiting for the ants to be lured to my baits, I wondered what kind of obstacles researchers gathering ants and even ants themselves must come across on a daily basis.

Figure 1: Squirrel that stole my cookie bait.
Figure 1: Squirrel that stole my cookie bait.

A bit of research brought me to a blog written by Amy Savage, a Ph. D. student at North Carolina State University who is working on the School of Ants Project. Her blog listed the top five challenges of studying ant in New York City. Along with security cops and cars constantly reminding her that working on medians is dangerous, she soon learned that some medians are sprayed with rat poison! This was troubling news for Savage because she uses an aspirator to collect the ants. An aspirator is basically an ant vacuum that requires you to suck air through one tube and ants go into a bottle via another tube. This means that she could have been inhaling rat poison if she hadn’t have learned of this quickly. Another obstacle for researchers is the rats and other rodents that are local to the study area. As I learned myself, squirrels and rats can constantly disturb your ant traps.

As for the ants themselves, they can have many predators beyond the pesky researchers. Ant predators include several species of caterpillars, slugs, beetles, and maggots. Their greatest enemy, however, are ants themselves. Some smaller species of ants are able to sneak their way into the nests of larger ant species and steal their food by building connecting their tunnels. Other ants actually enslave other ants to work for their colonies and often even pre-chew their food for them.

It’s hard to imagine how the lives of these tiny little ants can be so complex, but when given some thought and research, it’s hard not to appreciate all that they do.

Post by Ainsley Springer, Fourth-Year, Environmental Sciences


It was Tuesday April 8. Holding a bug aspirator in one hand and four Pecan Sandies cookies in the other, I headed towards Old Dorms.


A fellow group member had recalled seeing a plethora of said creatures by the McCormick Bus Stop when she was a First Year and I was ready to explore. I placed each cookie on an index card and placed the cards in a square with two in the grass and two on the brick wall, as displayed below. The index cards read “PLEASE DON’T TOUCH ANT RESEARCH IN PROGRESS,” in order to ensure no confusion and/or tampering by passersby.

As soon as I placed the cards down I attracted the attention of a large red ant. He emerged from the grass and danced across a Pecan Sandie as I scrambled to pull the ant aspirator from my backpack. In order to use this high tech ant capturing I had to such air through a tube-essentially creating a vacuum that pulled the ants into a glass chamber. Unfortunately the red ant was too quick for me and scuttled off into the grass as I was about to use the aspirator. I also saw a large black ant and similarly tried to vacuum him up but his speed also prevailed. I then left the area hoping to find an abundance of ants upon my return.

ant 2

After around thirty minutes I came back to the bus stop and was happy to find a plethora of tiny black ants. The diagram below shows which note card had the most ants and the surface upon which the card rested, 1 being the most popular spot and 4 as the least.
1                             3
Grass                    Grass
2                             4
Brick                     Brick

ant 1

There seemed to be only one type of ant leading me to wonder if differing kinds of cookies would lead to different results. Fortunately, these tiny ants were less quick than the ones I had previous spotted and I was able to collect a sample via ant aspirator. Further, the popularity of the left-most and grass cards led me to hypothesize that the ants were travelling from places like the trash can-located to the left of the research area.
Overall, I considered this collection of ant research to be both productive and led me to pose further ant research questions.

Post by E. Dana Sparks, Fourth-Year, Art History

Ants Team Update

Our team had a meeting before spring break to figure out how to process the ant collecting. We decided to collect the ant samples from Spring Break to April 12th. (Date has been extended due to the weather.) Bait can be set any time of the day that works best with team members schedules however the highest temperature peak (about 3-430pm) is preferable.

Based on the advice of Amy Savage, a Ph D. student at North Carolina State University, we decided to place the bait on the green space and paved space around the areas each one of us selected. Team members took four 3×5” notecards and Pecan Sandies Cookies on a warm sunny day, broke the cookies into pieces and put them on top of a card, and placed it on the site.

Screen Shot 2014-04-07 at 10.59.16 PM

Screen Shot 2014-04-07 at 10.59.04 PM
Photos from:


Since we were collecting samples during the daytime, we needed to write a notice for people passing by so that they would not throw them away accidently. We observed the site about an hour. If we found ants, we took detailed pictures and gathered them to identify the species in our next meeting. The photo needed to be clear and close enough to count segments in antennae and note the shape of the bump at their waist. We also took a picture of places where the card was located along with detailed records about the surroundings. In case of inability to get detailed pictures, we picked up each card and quickly poured the crumbs, ants, and card into a zip‐lock bag. We needed to be careful since some ants can sting. We left a bit of air in the bag to preserve the ants from squashing, and we put it in the freezer to prevent from decomposing until our next team meeting.

Our team members struggled to find any ants however, due to the tremendous snowfall and cold weather. So far we have had no luck collecting samples. Ants do not hibernate, but they store food in their nest and also lower their metabolism when it is cold. Hence, one of our members asked Professor Beatley for advice and he gave us a few suggestions. As he suggested, we will also try to survey ants indoors without baiting them. We will keep our eyes wide open to find them. When we find them, we will take a detailed pictures as we planned. If it is necessary, we will use an insect collecting device called an aspirator that basically sucks air thorough one straw, ants go through another straw that connects to a glass tube.

Moving forward, we plan to continue collecting ants for now until the second weekend of April. If we are successful finding ants, we will set a meeting to identify them and analyze the collected data. In case of we do not see any ants by then, we will do extra research on ants to provide interesting knowledge that we will like to share with blog readers.


Post by Prisca Kim, Third-Year, Psychology

Taken for GrANTed: Ant Life Around Grounds

Ants- they’re incredibly prevalent in the environment around us. Yet the community around Grounds is more likely to have listened to the old hit song “Ants Marching” by local favorite Dave Matthews than they are to have considered the capabilities, species, and dwelling places of ants around Grounds. These critters, typically about half the size of a paper clip (depending upon the species), are truly impressive. They can lift and carry up to three times their body weight. Some species create foods traps from plant fibers. Others even prey on reptiles, birds, or small mammals. Amazingly, some even go so far as to use young brood – young ants in larval or pupal form – as “rafts” or “life-preservers” during floods. (These fire ants make the raft themselves to save their young and their queen:

The typical ant, however, lives in a structured, nest-like community located underground, in a mounds, or in a tree, and it functions as part of a swarm. The nest is ruled by the queen, who lays thousands, if not millions, of eggs throughout her lifetime. Other female ants are considered the “worker” ants– they forage, protect, build, and so on. The males typically have just one role in the colony, or army, as a community of ants is known- to mate with the queen. After mating, the male usually dies.

Besides some of the more universal facts about ants, though, we need to gain a specific understanding of where ants live around Grounds and how different habitats may affect species or even food preference. Amy Savage, an entomologist from NC State University (, visited Ground for the Biophilic Cities Launch last year and found 13 species of ants just around the School of Architecture. Our team wants to spread that study out over many parts of Grounds to gain a better understanding of ant life on Grounds.

But how do we do it? Well, in a study of ant life in New York City, Savage sampled ants in various habitats (parks, forests, and street medians) and noted that each area had unique species of ants. In addition, after giving ants several different food items, including olive oil and sugar water, Savage noted that ant food preference changed by location. Her team saw that ants living in street medians tended to go for the olive oil (higher in fat) because most fat in ant diets comes from other bugs, and many other bugs can’t survive in street medians.

So, with Savage’s work in mind, the Ant Team is preparing its own samplings and observations of ant life as the snow retreats from Grounds. Specifically, we plan on conducting sampling and observations at the following locations:

Ant Team Blog Post 1 Pic

We plan to sample and observe ant life around hard surfaces, on grassy surfaces, and near trees (where applicable) in these areas. Additionally, as part of our sampling procedure, we plan on using different types of food bait, similar to Savage’s design in her research of ant life in NYC. We look forward to sharing our observations and insights with you as the semester progresses!


Post by Stephen Brand, Fourth-Year, Commerce