Educational Project: Ants in Space 2014

Did you hear that the Cygnus re-supply mission to the International Space Station launched by Orbital Sciences recently contained some unusual passengers, namely ants?

Ants in space? What is that about?

It turns out that students are invited to take part in a scientific investigation to compare how ants forage for food in microgravity versus how they forage here on Earth, all without ever having to leave the classroom.


1. Eight habitats have been sent to the International Space Station, each containing approximately 100 worker pavement ants. Videos will be taken of the worker ants in foraging in their habitats and then archived on BioEd Online, one of the partners in the program (others include BioServe and Dr. Deborah Gordon of Stanford University, sponsored by NASA’s National Lab Education Office as well as the Center for the Advancement of Science in Space.)

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(Screenshot from video Ants Loaded in Habitat)

As you can see the habitat doesn’t contain the blue gel like the previous ants in space experiment.

2. The participating students will build their own foam and clear plastic ant habitats (patterns and instructions at BioEd Online’s Ants in Space page). Then they will find some pavement ants to fill the habitat with and watch the ants’ foraging behavior here on Earth.

Sounds interesting, but I do have a few comments.

1. I could not find a description of what pavement ants are and where they can be found on the BioEd Online website. Hopefully that information is in the Teacher’s Guide, which is “coming soon.” In the mean time, students can find out more about the pavement ant, Tetramorium caespitum, at School of Ants.


(Photograph by April Nobile / © AntWeb.orgCC-BY-SA-3.0)

2. Hopefully the teachers guide will also make it very clear that the foam and plastic “habitat” is simply a viewing arena. Ant should not be left in that sort of “habitat” for any length of time. Ants are very good at chewing or finding their way out of enclosures. Unless of course you want your classroom to become a “school of ants” in more than one sense.

Interested in finding out more? The BioEd Online website is the place to go.

What do your think? Are you going to take part?