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Ant Picnic

Main Project Information
Presented By Rob Dunn Lab
Goal Inform scientists about global food preferences of ants
Task Create a picnic for ants, wait an hour, record number of ants
Where Global, anywhere on the planet Ant Picnic

Prepare 6 food types for ants to learn more about what they prefer to snack on, tell us a little about the environment where you set up your ant picnic, count the ants that came to each food type, take a picture of your experiment, collect the ants to confirm your count and report the results.

Since 2011 the Rob Dunn Lab at North Carolina State University has been asking the question, “Which ant species live where?” and citizen scientists have been answering by collecting ants with cookies in their backyards and schoolyards and mailing them to the lab. Now we are asking another question about those ants: What do ants prefer to eat around the world?

Although diet preferences and needs for humans are well documented, we are still learning about the diet preferences of ants in different parts of the world. What ants eat at different times of the year and in different places around the world tells us what might be missing in their environment and how climate change could impact ant populations.

How to Join

More detailed instructions available at

1. Prepare baits:

a. Put 3 1/2 tablespoons (50 g) of pure L-Glutamine powder in 250 mL of water (Note that the powder will not dissolve in the water, you’ll need to just mix it before soaking the cotton ball!)
b. Put 3 1/2 tablespoons (50 g) of sugar in 250 ml of water (You might need to heat up the solution!)
c. Put 1/2 teaspoon (2.5 g) of salt in 250 ml of water
d. Quarter some Pecan Sandies, you’ll need one quarter per bait station. If you are using a different shortbread cookie use approx. 1 square inch.

No special preparation is required for extra virgin olive oil and water.

2. Label 6 index cards with the bait type names (amino acids, cookie, olive oil, salt, sugar, water).

3. Soak one cotton ball in each of the 5 solutions and prepare to bring the soaked cotton balls outside to your experiment site. Also bring a quartered Pecan Sandie cookie (or about 1 square inch of a shortbread cookie) and prepare to crush it at your experiment site.

4. Put your 6 index cards down at your experiment site and place a cotton ball soaked in the corresponding solution and a crushed cookie onto each index card.

5. Record the start time and information about the site and weather conditions on the datasheet.

6. Wait at least one hour.

7. After one hour return to your bait stations, bring 6 zip-lock bags and record the end time on the worksheet. Carefully walk up to your bait stations (so you don’t scare any ants off) and BEFORE picking up any index cards, count the number of ants you see (“Pre-collection count”). Record the numbers for each bait type on your worksheet (if there are too many ants you can estimate the numbers).

8. Take a picture of your experiment (labels and ants should be clearly visible).

9. Quickly place each index card including the cotton ball and any ants into one bag.

10. Bring the zip-lock bags inside and count how many ants are in each bag (do this through the bag, do not open it!). Counting is done three times for each bag and then averaged. Record values on the datasheet (“Final ant count”).

11. Enter the data online at

Social Media
Expenses $15
Materials List Extra Virgin Olive Oil, Amino Acids: Pure L-Glutamine powder, Sugar Water, Salt Water, Water, cotton balls, 5 containers for mixing solutions, Measuring spoons or scale, Pecan Sandies Cookies, Experiment in Progress Sign, Data Sheet, Sandwich Size Ziploc Bags, White 3x5 index cards, Pencil for data recording and labeling, camera phone or digital camera
Ideal Age Group Elementary school (6 - 10 years), Middle school (11 - 13 years), High school (14 - 17 years), College, Graduate students, Adults, Families, Seniors
Average Time An hour or so
Spend the Time outdoors
Type of Activity On a hike, At home, At the beach, At school, At a science center, zoo or aquarium, At night, At sports stadiums, On a lunch break
Training Materials
Class Materials,
Tags ant, ant picnic, ants, cookies, diet, dunn lab, fall, food, fun, girl scouts, north carolina, nutrients, nutrition, outside, picnic, rob dunn, rob dunn lab, spring, summer, wildlife, winter, your wild life
Project Updated 01/30/2018