Science experiment with natural ant repellents (Luke, New York, USA)

Dear Ant Ask,

I am 10 years old and doing a science experiment using ants. I want to find the best repellent that is planet friendly and won't kill the ants. I got some harvester ants that I have set up in a jar with sand, food and water. I got an ant farm but didn't put them in because I would not be able to get them out easily. My idea was to make 6 inch circles on construction paper. On the perimeters of each circle I would try a different kind of natural repellent such as chalk, cinnamon, catnip, mint oil. The first trial, I marked out the circle with just marker. As bait, I placed a drop of jam 3 inches outside the circle. Put 3 ants inside circle and they began to run around freely but had no interest in the jam. Tried a circle with an insecticide repellent. Ants still ran around freely, didn't care about jam. I also tried a ring of chalk, same results. Not the right bait? Bad set up? Ants to nervous? I am thinking I need to set up a habitat that they are comfortable in that I could easily manipulate. Can you help me? Any thoughts? Maybe a maze? How could I set up this experiment to show the best natural repellent without killing the ants? I really want to put them in my ant farm when I am done.

Thanks, Luke

Dear Luke,

Your idea for a science experiment sounds fun and informative!

I agree that getting your ants to feel more "comfortable" before you start the experiments is a great idea. I know you have an ant farm to move them into once you are finished with the experiments, but since you need to be able to observe them and change the repellents I would suggest moving them into a large container with a tight sealing lid (maybe like the "simple Tubberware model" found in this post). Once you have moved your ants into a temporary home with enough space for you to introduce your experimental circles of construction paper, I would wait a day or so for them to get used to the new space. Be sure to provide them with water on a moist cotton ball.

Once you start your experiments you should be sure to use a scientific "control" to insure that the ants are not deterred by the construction paper itself. To do this you will create a circle with jam, but no repellents to see if the ants are attracted to the jelly. You could also try a cotton ball soaked in sugar or honey water.

Also this post here has lots of useful information that may help with your experiments.

Best of luck and enjoy your ants after your experiments!
Corrie Moreau & the AntAsk Team

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