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Thursday, April 28, 2011

Everything You NEVER Wanted to Know About...Zombie Fire Ants

Who knew learning about fire ants would be interesting?  Not me.  As newcomers to Georgia, one of the first things we were warned about was the fire ants.  You can see how well I heeded that warning here and here.  Now, I just assumed that the fire ants were a southern thing....being from Minnesota - I am used to our harsh winters killing icky things like this!  But...insert dramatic music here...they weren't supposed to be here in Georgia.

The kids and I just worked through a unit study product from The Old Schoolhouse Store called, The Curiosity Files on Zombie Fire Ants, Explorations by Professor Ana Lyze.  (the professor's name makes me think of you Karen - it is right up your clever alley!)  It is an e-book.  If you aren't familiar with what an e-book is - it is basically a book available on-line, so you have all the information but not an actual book to hold.  I have to admit I am still an "old school" (pun intended) girl that likes to actually hold a book and turn its pages - but I see that I will probably have to bite the bullet and jump aboard - like I have had to with texting - although I refuse to spell words incorrectly while doing so!  But, that is a whole other post.

This particular e-book is 91 pages of info....if it were shorter, I probably would have printed it out so I could more easily flip through the pages and see what they had to offer.  They include a lot of information and project ideas - too much for us to do - but gives you plenty to choose from for all ages.  My 3 oldest kids read through the first section where it told how fire ants first got here....FYI....they were stowaways on a cargo ship from South America that landed in Alabama in the 1930's.  See?  Who knew?

This e-book covers how fire ants got here and what scientists are doing to try to control their population - other than just spraying poison on them.  They are experimenting with the phorid fly who is native to South America and...there is really no delicate way to put this....these flies attack fire ant colonies and insert one of their eggs into the ants forward a bit and this baby fly eats....yes, EATS, the brain of the fire ant thus creating....wait for it.....a Zombie Fire Ant!

I asked D-man to come up with a fun way to teach the littles about Zombie Fire Ants....even though it said this e-book was suitable for 8 to 13 year olds, to me, I thought we could use it for the littles too. 

Now, we had A-man at the word Zombie and S-Girl had heard enough warnings about fire ants that she was interested too.  He ended up showing them pictures of the fire ants on-line and then basically sat down on the couch for "story time" and told them about how they got here and how scientists are trying to get rid of them.  Then he had a little game show quiz for them awarding points for each answer.  A-man paid such close attention to his story that he ended up getting extra credit points for telling D-man information that he hadn't even asked about!

A-man and S-Girl colored pictures of fire ants.

A-man's took a little creative license and had the fire ant spitting venom at the fly so it wouldn't eat its brains. (By the way - the white stuff on his face is his application of sunscreen!)

For A-girl and L-Girl, they took a written quiz on the facts, did a word search, a crossword puzzle, and even worked some math problems relating to scientists from Texas traveling to Brazil, to research the phorid flies in their natural habitat.  They even did some copywork of a Bible verse about the hard working ants.  They had other things like vocabulary word lists, animal classification charts, and spelling quizzes that we decided not to use this time.

D-man and L-Girl led the other kids through something called Fire Ant Fun.  Basically it was a lesson in following directions while you drew a picture, but everyone's picture should turn out differently depending on how you answer questions as you move along.  Here are a few examples:

"If you like insects, draw 2 rocks.  If you do not like insects, draw 3 rocks."

"If you are a boy, draw a lizard on the biggest rock.  If you are a girl, draw a butterfly on the largest rock."

Here is A-girl's drawing.

A-man's drawing.

This is S-girl's drawing. 

If you look closely, you can see her rock with a butterfly and her picture of a fence with a cow behind it - because, the directions said to do this if you had milk today!  Even though S-girl isn't officially in school yet, she loves it when she gets to do school with the big kids!  This project had a lot of options for her to join in.

What I really liked, but didn't end up using because we ran out of time, are the crafts and snack ideas that tied into the theme.  There was the classic, Ants on a Log (Celery with peanut butter and raisins) or the one that had me interested....Edible Clay Ants made with peanut butter, dried milk and honey...mmmmm!  The funny part of that one was in the directions where it said to mold your ant and then eat them....head first...just like the phorid flies do to create Zombie Fire Ants.  And the notation on the page that this dough cannot be re-used because the ants must be eaten or destroyed....just like real Zombie Fire Ants!  Seriously, if we had honey in the house, we would have been making this one!

Honestly, there was so much information in this e-book that I couldn't do it all.  But, they offered so many options for stuff to do, that even if I had a special needs kid or a hearing or vision impaired student, I would have had activities that they could do too.  They provided a lot of links to additional information on fire ants and really, just ants in general. 

What I liked about this e-book and what I didn't like about it are one in the same.  There was so much information.  In "school", I like to do it all because I am afraid that we will miss out on something great....but the reality can't do it all! 

I am sure that this e-book will come out a few times this summer as we are dealing with our own backyard fire ants and the good thing is, we will be able to do new stuff all the time!

If you are interested in doing some stuff like this with your kids...even if you don't homeschool... there is all kinds of stuff available at

If you want to do your own study of Zombie Fire Ants (I feel like there should be dramatic music and one of those microphones that give me a really deep voice - like the monster truck guy - everytime I type that!) is the link to the actual page where you can get this study for $6.95 and a slew of other ones from The Curiosity Files.

I just popped over to the website and figured out that The Curiosity Files are also available on CD, you get 9 of them for $46.00.

P.S.  After leading the lesson for the littles, D-man went out to help Rainman in the back yard and when he was rolling up the hose, he accidentally rolled it over a fire ant mound.  He said they just swarmed up the hose and headed for him.....happily he was only bitten by one of them and was able to throw the rest off the hose and then spray them down.  But he said that he wasn't sure it did much good since to survive flooding they can just form a big old ant ball and float away.  Gross, but true fact that HE learned from The Curiosity Files.