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Social insects.



What Are Social Insects?


People really do eat insects.

Insects are members of the phylum arthropoda. They have hard exoskeletons made of chitin. You can distinguish insects from other arthropods because they have six jointed appendages, and three body parts: head, thorax and abdomen. Insects often have a pair of antennae and wings as well. Lots of insects are loners. But some, like ants, termites and certain bees and wasps, are social creatures. Their existence depends on their ability to work together.

Social insects, or as they are known scientifically, eusocial insects, live together in cooperative communities. Hundreds, thousands and even millions of insects can live in a single colony. Social insects cannot survive individually. Their existence depends on their ability to collaborate. Several generations work together to build homes, gather food, take care of their young and maintain and protect their nests. Insect communities consist of a queen (or in the case of wasps, a king and a queen), drones (males whose only job is mating with the queen), and workers. Queens do nothing except lay eggs. Others exhibit a division of labor among distinct castes.

The life cycle of social insects, with the exception of termites, consists of four stages: egg, larva, pupa and adult.

How Do Social Insects Communicate?

Social insects send smelly messages to each other. They emit chemicals, or pheromones, that enable them to warn other colony members of danger, or "tell" them where food is located. Insects use their antennae to smell and "hear" vibrations, as well as to feel.

Why Are Social Insects Among the World's Most Amazing Builders?

Ants team up to dig elaborate networks of tunnels and chambers beneath the ground. Wasps live in handmade papier mache-like nests. Hundreds of honeybees, using wax produced in their own bodies, help build honeycombs. Termites tunneling underground carry dirt to the surface to form tall mounds with chimneys that draw air down into their nests.

Initiating Questions for Levels Pre-A and A

1. What are some reasons that insects might live together?

2. What kinds of insects live together?

Follow-Up Questions for Levels Pre-A and A

3. What kinds of jobs do social insects do to help out in their colonies?

4. What are the names of some groups of social insects?

DID YOU KNOW?? Guard bees stand ready to stop robber bees who come to steal their homes.

Level Pre-A

Main Concept: The student will be able to state that some insects live and work together.

Picture Activity

Discuss with students social insects they may have observed. They may not have seen wasps or termites, so introduce those insects at this time. Also, since the word colony is not included on the student page, introduce it when you go through the new words.


Answers: ants; bees; termites; wasps

Put additional words on the board for the children to make plural such as: bear, beekeeper, anteater, nest, flower, for example.

Weekly Lab

Explain that working with real insects could be dangerous. All the children will want to be part of the living insect so you can repeat the activity several times.


Students learn that they can use their fingers to count and represent numbers. Demonstrate how to play "Show Me the Bees." Encourage children to use the thumb for five as the foundation for learning tally marks.


Give all the children opportunities to tell about the chores they do in their homes. Encourage them to talk about why some household chores might be too difficult or dangerous for them to do. Point out that the jobs of people who live in apartments might differ from the jobs of people who live in other homes.


Answer: The ant and the wasp are insects. The centipede is not an insect.

Draw an insect body on the board. Point out and label the head, thorax, abdomen, jointed legs and antennae.

Discuss why the centipede is not an insect.


Bringing it Home

This is an activity that can be done in class as easily as at home. Make sure there are no food allergies.

To extend this activity you can find the words and music to The Ants Go Marching ... and sing it together as a class. Go to:

Level A

Main Concept: The student will be able to state that social insects live and work together in communities called colonies.


Read the words out loud together first, so that students can hear the "X" sound. Then, have children circle the "cts" in each word. Read the sentences together out loud, too, explaining the meaning of the words further, if needed. This will help students understand the words in context.

Other "cts" words are: connects, collects, directs

Weekly Lab

Student's will have fun "dancing the bee code" for their classmates. They can use the code provided or make up their own. This activity requires coordination, along with gross motor and problem-solving skills which reinforce learning. You can watch a short video of the bee dance on line at: Explain that observing bees can be dangerous so it's much safer to observe them via a video.


In today's MATH activity, the students are learning that adding any number to one is the same as adding one to any number. Provide additional problems if necessary to ensure that your students have mastered the concept.

Writing in Science

Read the following story to your students before they begin their writing activity.

"Long ago, a grasshopper and a colony of ants shared a bit of space on the earth. Grasshopper was a lazy fellow. All day he hopped and played. All night long he made music rubbing his legs against his wings. When he was hungry, he ate the grain and grass that grew nearby. When he was bored, he watched the ants rushing back and forth carrying food to their anthill. Grasshopper teased the ants. "Silly girls, There is plenty of food. You are just wasting time saving it. Come play with me instead."

The ants did not stop working. "You'll be sorry when winter comes," they warned as they hurried past. "You'd better save some food too."

But Grasshopper did not bother to save even a single bite. He hopped merrily on his way.

When winter came, the cold wind blew away the dried grasses. Snow covered Grasshopper's food. "I am starving," said Grasshopper. He swallowed his pride and went to the anthill. "Please," he begged, "share some of your food with me."

"No," said the ants. "We did all the work while you played around all day."

Grasshopper stopped hopping. He stopped singing. He sat on a snow-covered stick and shivered. At last the ants took pity on him and gave him some of their food.

"You saved my life," said Grasshopper. "Thank you so much!"

"Let that be a lesson to you," said the ants. "Always be ready for hard times that might come."


Answers: The ant, termite and wasp are insects. The scorpion, centipede and spider are not insects.

Discuss why children made the selections that they did. (See CHALLENGE--Levels Pre-A and B.)

Bringing it Home

If you do this activity at school, be sure that none of the children are allergic to nuts. (Soy butter can be substituted.) This dough can be shaped into almost anything--you could even make insect shapes from it.

Initiating Questions for Levels B--E

1. What are some of the advantages and disadvantages for insects that live in social groups?

2. How do social animals communicate so effectively with each other?

3. How do social insects change throughout their lifetimes?

Follow-up Questions for Levels B--E

4. What role do social insects have in nature?

5. How could pesticides, pollution and global warming affect social insects?

Level B

Main Concept: The student will be able to name 4 social insects and explain how social insects differ from other insects.


The combined weight of the world's ants equals the total weight of all humans.


Read the answer choices together. Explain the suffix "ology," ("the study of"). Be sure your students understand the meanings of all the words.

Answers: 1) C; 2) B; 3) F; 4) D and A; 5) E


If you have math manipulatives to use as examples of polygons, share them with your students. Otherwise, draw a few polygons (square, rectangle, triangle, octagon) on the board and count the number of sides together. Practice drawing the hexagon yourself before demonstrating for your students.

Weekly Lab

What are your school rules? If you can't bring outside creatures in, or if you don't have ants on your playground, they can be ordered from the following web sites: live ants and Self-contained ant farms are also available online or through teaching-supply stores.

Writing in Science

To get students thinking, read the "DID YOU KNOW??" box together before the students begin writing. You can also mention that ants are able to maintain a constant temperature in their nurseries, that they move as much soil as earthworms, and that they build water traps to keep from getting flooded out.


Answer: All the sentences can be check-marked as true, except for 3, which is false.

With your students, talk about other arthropods--scorpions, shellfish, spiders, centipedes, and prehistoric animals such as trilobites.

Bringing it Home

Extend this activity by encouraging students to bring in their baby pictures. Display them without names to see if other students can identify them.

Level C

Main Concept: The student will be able to name the 4 social insect families, and tell how social insects differ from other animal groups as well as how they differ from other insects.


Review the concept of prefixes. Demonstrate with "ex-" in exoskeleton, and "re-" in reproduce.

Answers: 1) B; 2) F; 3) G; 4) E; 5) A; 6) C; 7) D


Remind the children that they will be judged on their ability to follow directions rather than on their artistic ability. Encourage students to finish their drawings before looking at the bee picture on the last page.

Weekly Lab

It is impractical to have students doing the mixing individually, so do that part as a demonstration.

Students can work individually on their nests, or you can make the activity more challenging by insisting that the students work together as wasps would.

Paper wasps' nests are so strong because they are made of many layers bonded together. The bonding agent is the wasp saliva. Just as plywood is stronger than a single sheet of hardwood, wasps' nests are stronger than a single sheet of paper of the same thickness.

Writing in Science

Before the children begin writing, encourage them to understand that neither insect lifestyle is "good" or "bad." If there is not time to share the children's completed stories with the class, allow them to share their reasons for the choices they made.


In today's MATH activity the students are reviewing multiplying with zeros. If your students have not had much practice with this, start the activity by multiplying by 10, then 20, before moving up to multiplying by 50.

Bringing it Home

Talk with the students about reactions to insect bites. Invite your school nurse in to tell how an EpiPen is used when people are in anaphylactic shock.

Level D

Main Concept: The student will be able to name 4 social insects, describe their appearances, their nests, their life cycles, and their methods of communication.


Discuss the meanings of the idioms listed. If you have children from other cultures, ask them to share some of their idioms.

Weekly Lab

(See Level B.) It may be helpful to assign this activity to students to do as an extended homework project individually or in groups.


Students are estimating with body parts. A foot equals about the distance between a student's shoulders, but encourage divergent solutions for the second part of the activity.

Answers (in cm): 1) .5; 2) 3; 3) 4; 4) 5; 5) 9; 6) 8; 7) 3.5; 8) 11; 9) 6; 10) 13

Writing in Science

Before the students begin writing, list on the board some things that would be allowable in the ant world. Encourage students to pick an ant-related problem. Remind them of the short life span of most insects--they'll have to have the story take place over a short period of time.


Although baby bees are fed honey, honey can be poisonous to human babies less than a year old.

Encourage the children to use some of their new vocabulary words in the story.


Experiment a bit with paper for these "ornaments." If the paper is too thin, the ornaments may be flimsy and sag. Completed honeycombs can be hung from the classroom ceiling, or even mounted on a wall.

Bringing it Home

If you do this project at school, do it as a demonstration. (Make sure the crayons are made from wax.) If done at home, encourage students to get adult supervision, as this activity could be a fire hazard. Crayons should not be left in the oven long, and should be checked frequently. The tins should be removed as soon as the crayons are melted.

Level E

Main Concept: In addition to being able to name 4 social insects, describe their appearances, their nests, their life cycles, and their methods of communication, students will be familiar with the words: drone, caste, and pheromone.


(See crossword solution to the right.)


Math You can use the facts from the lesson in addition to the following to make a time line:

* In the 1500s, bees were kept in boles--recesses in stone walls.

* In the 1850s, the movable-frame beehive was invented.

* Between 1941-1945, honey was used when sugar was rationed.

* In 1984, a honeybee experiment was sent into space.

* In 2007, worker bees began disappearing as a result of colony collapse disorder.

Weekly Lab

Check with a local nursery if squash plants aren't in season. The owner will probably be able to help you select other plants on which to experiment.

Writing in Science

If you do not have computers available for all the students, print out copies of some of the articles about colony collapse disorder that you find on your own computer. You can also split your class so that some of your students are researching another bee-related problem--killer bees.


Your termite mound material can be cooked up in a large electric skillet or crock pot. You custodian will probably appreciate it if you actually make your mounds outside of the building. If you do not have sand on your playground, it can be purchased at your local lumberyard or large hardware store.


A Cool Activity--If you do this project at school, let students come up with other suggestions for ways to lower the temperature.


In Africa, termite architects have built mounds that are 20 feet tall. You would need to stack up more than 500 termites to touch the top.


Termites don't like sun. Some make paper parasols to block the sun when they leave the mound.


Some insects (in-sects)live and work in large groups. They are called social (so-cial) insects.

Each member of the group, or colony (col-o-ny), has a special (spe-cial) job to do.

Ants, termites (ter-mites) and some bees and wasps are social insects.

New Words: insects social colony special termite wasps


"CTS" sounds like "X". Circle" cts" in the words below. Say the words. Read the sentences.

1. Social insects live and work in large groups.


2. Social insects are great architects.

3. They build projects like hives and mounds.

4. A special group protects the nest.

Weekly Lab

Bees dance to "tell" their bee buddies where to find food. Can you guide your classmate to a flower?

You need: a fake flower to hide and a code (you can use the one on this page)

Step 1. Hide the fake flower.


Step 2. Try to tell your friends where to find the flower. Use the code to give clues. You can't talk. You can only use your body.

Step 3. After the flower is found, pick another person to hide the flower.

How do people "talk" without using words?


If you see 1 ant, soon you will see more ants.

If you start with 1, and add any number to it, your answer will be 1 number higher than the number you added.


Writing in Science

Scientists write reports. They write about what they learn. They write down the important parts. Listen to your teacher read a story about a grasshopper and some ants. Then, write the story down. Write the important parts.



An insect has 3 body parts. An insect has 6 legs. An insect has 2 antennae (an-ten-nae) on its head. An insect has a hard cover on its body. Circle the animals that are insects. Color the picture.


Bringing it Home

Baby bees are called larvae (lar-vae). Nurse bees feed the baby bees "bee bread." Bee bread is made from honey and pollen (pol-len) from flowers.

You would not like bee bread, but you will like these honey cookies.
Honey Cookies

 Mix together
1/2 cup peanut butter *
1/2 cup honey

Add enough powdered milk to
make the dough workable.
Make your cookies in fun shapes and then eat!


"Are seeds always small?"

"No. Coconuts are seeds, and they can weigh 50 pounds!"

"You will learn all about seeds in our next Issue!


Weekly Resources Helpful Sources for Planning Your Science Weekly Classroom Activities

Recommended Resources

* Venn, Cecilia, Ants and Other Social Insects. World Book, Inc., Chicago, IL 2005

* Bailey, Jill, How Insects Work Together. Marshall Cavendish, New York, NJ 1999

* Robinson, W. Wright, Animal Architects. Blackbirch Press, Inc., Woodbridge, CT 1999

* Kite, L. Patricia, Insect Fact and Fiction. Millbrook Press, Brookfield, CT 2001

Internet Resources Ants animated:
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Publication:Science Weekly
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Jan 18, 2008
Previous Article:Food science.
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