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The Amazing Ant

The ant is truly amazing.  

Like many of you, I also get irritated by them.  But have you ever taken a few minutes to just watch ants?  
This past week end our family joined several other families for a Memorial Day picnic.  We live in the deep South, so it was no surprise to anyone when the ants found our picnic so quickly.  Like other normal people (a biology teacher is rarely normal, but this time I was!) I tried to flick them away from our food and off the picnic table we were using.  

I happened to look down at the ground around the picnic table and spotted the ant hill.  One of us had already stepped in the middle of it, and the ants were in a frenzy.  What caught my eye was the site of the ants lifting the eggs and/or pupae and carrying them to safety.  It was a pretty amazing site, and our group became interested in watching the busy work of these ants.

As I am the biology teacher in the group, my friends began to ask me questions, such as "How do they lift an object that seems as big as they are?"  Other than knowing that they are insects and undergo complete metamorphosis, I had few answers to offer the group.  Since I love being able to spout off biological facts to anyone who will listen, I knew that I had some research to do about ants.

These are some amazing facts that I discovered:

1.   Ants can lift objects that are 20 to 50 times their own body weight.  
2.   Ants live 45 to 60 days.
3.   The ant brain only contains 250,000 cells.  It would take a colony of 40,000 ants to have the same brain size as one human.
4.   Ants have powerful jaws that open from side to side.  They cannot swallow food.  They swallow the juice from the food as they chew.
5.   There are over 10,000 species of ants.  
6.   Each ant colony has one or more queens.  The job of the queen is to lay eggs.
7.  Worker ants are sterile.  Their job is to look after the queen, take care of the eggs and larvae, search for food, clean up the nest, and defend the nest.
8.   Fertile males have one job only.  They mate with the queen and usually die shortly after.
9.   Ants have an amazing ability to communicate with each other.  They use their antennae for tactile communication as well as for smell.  They use chemicals to alert other ants of danger or to lead them to a promising food source.  A trail of scent (pheromone) is used to lead other ants to a source of food.  Cave ants use high pitched squeaks to communicate in the dark.

10.   Some ants live in a mutualistic relationships with plants.  The acacia ant lives in the huge thorns of the acacia tree.  In return, the ant protects the plant from being eaten by herbivores.
11.   Ants evolved 130 million years ago and lived alongside the dinosaurs.
12.   Ants were farmers before humans.  Many species of ants grow and cultivate fungi to support the hive.
13.   Ants are found in almost every corner of the world.  They are not found in Antarctica, Greenland and a few other remote islands.
14.   Ants do not have lungs.  They breathe through a set of spiracles and trachea, which is essentially a bunch of holes along their abdomen.

Here are some links to sites for more information and for some pretty amazing pictures:

Happy Teaching!

Who wants FREE teaching materials?

Yep, all are FREE!

You will definitely want to check this out.  I have been meaning to write about this for weeks, but with the end of school madness, I am just now getting around to it.  "Mrs. O", a teacher/author from, put together an amazing list of free teaching materials.  These  materials are always available for free from TpT, but Mrs. O organized these materials into one document.   The document consists of hundreds of links to the free materials and the links are organized by grade level and subject area.

As you can see from the Table of Contents, there is something for everyone here.  Be sure to bookmark or save this.  It will be a treasure trove when you start the new school year!!

Happy Teaching!!

Outdoor Outings! Love 'Em!!

A great day for hiking!

This past Sunday, my family made the mistake of asking me what I wanted to do for Mother's Day.  Whenever I am asked a question like this, my answer is always the same......  Let's go for a hike!

It just so happens that we live just a few miles from a fairly large river.  Along this river are old growth forests and cypress swamps.  My family is very prepared for one of my outdoor outings.  Everyone quickly donned their hiking boots, water bottles and bug spray.  We live in the deep south..... bug spray is NOT optional!!

The woods are gorgeous at this time of the year, and I always have my camera.  I thought I would share some of the amazing sights from our 2 hour hiking expedition.

In the south, the waters are dark and murky,
but the cypress trees are just gorgeous.
Luckily, we did not come across any water moccasins.  

This area of the swamp is completely covered in duckweed.  It completely covers the surface of the water and is often found in eutrophic conditions.  You might think that it would be destructive by the way it completely covers the surface, but not so.  It is a very simple plant with no leaves or stems.  They consist of just a small thallus.  Duckweed is high in protein and is an excellent food source for the waterfowl.  Duckweed is often used in bioremediation because they grow rapidly and are excellent absorbers of mineral nutrients, especially nitrates and phosphates.  They are great water purifiers.

We saw many types of waterfowl, along with their babies.
Here is a Canada Goose with babies.

Is there anything more precious than baby ducks??
Mama duck was close by, just outside of the picture.

Now this is one amazing sight!!  This owl was out and about
 hunting at around 3 pm.
 It was a dark and overcast day, but even so, I have never seen 

an owl at this time of the day.

We had the pleasure of watching this little guy fishing for crawdads.  

It was a great day spent in the woods.
Many thanks to my family for indulging my every whim on this wonderful Mother's Day!

For My Mom, the Biology Teacher

My mom passed away in 2001, but not a day goes by that I don't think of her.  My mom was a biology teacher, and now I am a biology teacher, too.  My mom was an inspiration to so many people.  We grew up in a very small, rural town in the deep south.  Many of her students never dreamed they could attend college and have a different sort of life than the one they were accustomed to.  She taught them that they could do whatever ever they wanted if they worked hard enough.   She also taught them biology.
Growing up with my mother was quite the adventure!  At a very young age, I was looking at pond water under a microscope and marveling at the creatures I saw there.

I could spot liverworts and bladderworts growing so close to the ground in a swampy area that no one else would even know they existed there.  She always had her wildflower books with her, and the car would come to a screeching  halt whenever she spotted a potentially new wildflower along the road.

The car also stopped for turtles.  They simply had to be moved to the side of the road and out of harms way.  She showed me touch-me-nots and explained how touching them caused the cells to lose turgor pressure and that was why the leaves folded up.  Once on a family vacation to the beach, a dead sting ray washed up on shore.  We dissected it!  She took us fishing and canoeing and walking through the woods.  I caught lightening bugs like all kids do, but I knew the how and why of their flashing.

I have two daughters.  I have taken them on many of these same adventures.  They can amaze their friends with all sorts of biological  facts.  They love going on nature walks with me.  I thank my mother again for the closeness I share with my daughters.  She passed a love of nature to me, and as I passed this on to my daughters, we formed a strong and unbreakable bond to one another.

What choice did I have but to become a biology teacher, too?  I have now taught biology for 28 years.  I sincerely hope that I have inspired some young mind along the way.  Good luck to all my AP students who are taking the AP Biology exam tomorrow.

Thanks, Mom.  I love you.

PS - She was also an avid bird watcher.  She loved hummingbirds best of all.  Mom, this hummingbird is for you.

Reinforce Protein Synthesis with this Fun Game

Click image to view in my TpT store.

Sometimes when I teach  DNA, RNA, and protein synthesis, I feel like the only person in the room that "get's it" is me!    Many of my standard Biology I kids struggle with these concepts.  The whole idea of transcription and translation just leaves them looking like a deer in the headlights!  So I use this little activity to help get the point across.  It is called:

Determining the Traits of a Mystery Organism Through Protein Synthesis

After teaching the basics of protein synthesis, have your students work through this.  Given the DNA sequence of 6 genes, the student will determine the mRNA sequence, followed by the tRNA sequence.  Students will then de-code the codons to see what amino acids are needed to build a particular protein.  I have found that my students understand the concept of protein synthesis much better after doing this activity.  And best of all, they get to color their mystery organism at the end.  It never ceases to amaze me how much high school students still love to color!  This activity is appropriate for grades 7 through 10.

The printable lesson is perfect for traditional classroom settings, and the paperless, digital Google Apps version is perfect for distance learning and 1:1 classrooms.