As some of you might know, I studied ants for my M.S. degree. When I heard the new middle grade realistic fiction book The Nora Notebooks, Book 1: The Trouble with Ants by Claudia Mills and illustrated by Katie Kath was about a 10-year-old girl who is passionate about ants, I knew I had to pick it up.
It was even better than I hoped. Fourth grader Nora keeps an ant farm. She also records fascinating facts about ants in a journal, with quotes sprinkled throughout the book. She even does a simple experiment with ants and writes a paper about it. If that was all the book was about it would be good, but author Claudia Mills takes it to the next level by including many layers of story. For more details and a full review, see our sister blog, Wrapped in Foil.
Activity 1. How many species of ants?
Often when you read a book about ants, you will see the number of species listed as a fact. Depending on the book, however, the number can vary considerably. Why is that?
Generally, the number of ant species will be different depending on how recently the book is published. Ant scientists (or myrmecologists) are discovering and describing new species all the time and expect the final number to reach upwards of 30,000 species when all potential species have been discovered.
Another reason the number of ant species changes is because scientists who study the classification of ants sometimes realize ants are related in ways that were not previously recognized. When that happens, species can be renamed, grouped with other species, or sometimes one species may be split into two.
(Public domain photograph of a wood ant by Alex Wild)
So, how many ant species are there? One place to find out the current number is a collaborative website like AntWeb which lists the number of species of ants on its homepage as 15,957 as of today (October 9, 2015).
Try to find out how many ant species there are in your area. Antmaps.org is a fun resource to help you. With the map in the "Diversity View," I clicked on Arizona and found there are 353 native species here. That's a lot of different kinds of ants! Suggestion: Draw your own infographic map of ant species in your area and find out what some of those species are using the global and regional resources at AntWeb.
Why should we care how many species there are and where they are found? One reason is that it can be helpful to know if new, alien species are coming in. Exotic or alien species often crowd out native species and become pests because they have left their natural enemies behind. We also should know whether species are dying out so we can take steps to prevent their loss.
Check the ant anatomy activity from a previous post for a detailed explanation of the special anatomical terms used for ants.
And don't forget, if you know a budding myrmecologist, be sure to introduce them to The Trouble With Ants.
Age Range: 7 - 10 years
Hardcover: 176 pages
Publisher: Knopf Books for Young Readers (September 22, 2015)
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