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Title: Termite Tracking

Author: Lana Hays ([email protected])
Simon Kenton High School
11132 Madison Pike
Independence, KY 41051

Activity Type: Hands-on Discovery Lab

Target Audience: Middle School/High School

Class Time: 1 class period (55 minutes)

Background Information:
This lab makes an excellent first day activity as an introduction to the scientific method. The lab can be presented as a very structured lab using the procedure given or it can be offered as a very open-ended discovery lab with minimal directions.
Termites are attracted to the ink in Papermate ballpoint pens but not rollerballs or felt tips. They may also respond to the ink of other ballpoint pens, but do not respond to all inks. When the termites respond, they will follow whatever design you draw as long as the lines are heavy and fairly well spaced. I find that figure eights work well but students can experiment with their own designs. The ink in the Papermate ballpoint has a substance which resembles pheromones that the termites recognize.
Termites may be located in decaying logs and stumps in wooded areas. As summer goes on and it becomes dry, they may go deep into the ground. I can usually still find them in the rotting stumps if I use a hatchet and get into the base of the stump. Termites ordered from Carolina work well but the species offered from Ward's will not respond. Another possibility might be to contact local exterminators. The termites will usually last a week or two in a container if they have some of their wood and it is kept moist.
Several suggestions for discovery type learning would be to use a blue Papermate pen and another blue pen that the termites will not respond to. Pose the question "Why does this happen?" and then turn them loose to try different things. At some point, I suggest that we record the data. I use the blackboard as a large data table and have them add their own data. As a group we discuss what we can conclude and then I have them try to explain the "why".
At some point the students will need to research about termites. For instance, they may try to predict that they will respond to colors, only to learn that termites are blind. They may need some hints along the way but I try not to give out too many. By the end of the period the puzzle is usually solved.

LAB: Termite Tracking

PROBLEM: Observe the behavior of termites and make conclusions about their behavior.

Petri dish paper Papermate ballpoint pen termites
Papermate rollerball pen forceps
other pens and pencils

1. Cut a piece of paper to fit the inside of your petri dish.

2. Draw a large figure eight on the paper with the Papermate ballpoint provided (go over it several times with the pen) and place the paper in the petri dish.

3. Using forceps, carefully place a termite on the paper and observe its behavior.

4. Make a chart to record your data. Use the following:
(response) + (no response) - (avoidance) o

5. Repeat steps 1-4 using the Papermate rollerball pen provided.

6. Test as many other pens and pencils as available and record your data.

7. Test different designs drawn.

8. Test other substances that you may have available and record that data.

9. Make conclusions about your observations and give a scientific explanation as to why the termites respond as they do.

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