Can You Spot the Imposter Ant?


Adapted from Scholastic's SuperScience Blue, May 1995.

Welcome to "Lifestyles of the Strange and Shrimpy." These weird ants are real — except for one. Your job is to expose the imitation ant! How? Read the descriptions carefully. Do any clash with what you know about insects?

  • DAIRY ANTS keep herds of aphids, like farmers keep herds of cows. The ants "milk" the aphids by stroking them with their antennae. That signals the aphids to release a sweet treat called honeydew. The ants get a tasty meal — and the aphids get protection from predators.

  • Tiny SHAMPOO ANTS earn their living from the beauty business. These ants set up shop near the home of some larger ants. When the big ants return from gathering food, the little ants set to work. They clean and massage their clients all over. After the pampering is done, the big ants pass some food to their groomers!

  • Gardening comes naturally to LEAFCUTTER ANTS. But instead of vegetables, these ants grow fungus to eat. They fertilize their garden by chewing up leaves and dropping them into the fungus. Nutrients from the leafy mush help the garden grow. The ants can carry pieces of leaf 10 times heavier than they are. Each colony is so big that it can strip a tree bare in one night!

  • LEAPING ANTS catch their food in midair. Eight legs give them extra bounce. These ants begin hopping as babies. But when they mature into larvae, they lose their springy step. Look for leaping ants in cold climates. The lower the temperature, the quicker they jump.

  • Building a home is a big job. So WEAVER ANTS use teamwork. First, they have to pull two leaves together. If the leaves are far apart, the ants line up and form a chain. Ants at both ends grab a leaf, and the group pulls the leaves close. Other ants then use sticky silk thread — made by ant larvae — to "sew" the leaves together. By adding more and more leaves, the ants can make a house the size of a football.

Answer: The Leaping Ants are the imposter ants! Why?
  1. Insects have SIX legs, not eight;
  2. "Larvae" is the term for an insect in its early stage, not in its maturity;
  3. Bugs are more active in warmer climates, not colder

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