Beacon Lesson Plan Library

Ask the Antlion

Jack Petersen
Florida A & M University


Students learn about basic biological principles through using the scientific processes of observation and recording as they examine live insects (antlions).


The student uses accurate records, openness, and replication of experiments to ensure credibility.

The student knows that appropriate care, safe practices, and ethical treatment are necessary when animals are involved in scientific research.


-Live antlions
-Video microscopes
-6 oz. containers (margarine tubs)
-Trowel or large plastic serving spoons
-Live ants
-Baking pan
-Large paper bags cut open


1. Collect antlions and ants in dry, sandy places.
2. Fill tubs with sand and add antlions. Place in the center of each table on a large opened paper bag (to catch the sand that could be spilled). Include a plastic spoon or trowel and a sieve.
3.Gather the video microscopes, t.v. monitor and video cassette recorder.
5. Be sure to have pencil, paper, writing materials available for students.


1. Walk in front of the class carrying a baking pan full of sand.

2. Students will probably ask, -What is in the pan?-

3. You should respond, -Live insects.-

4. Allow time for the -oohs and ahhs.-

5. Tell students that they will be using live insects to explore some important ideas in biology. Students will be discovering the life cycle of the antlion. They will also be learning about the scientific processes of observation and recording.

6. Students should record their questions and observations in the form of a journal. As questions are asked, all answers are related back to the antlion. Every question will be answered by associating the problem with the real life learning taking place with the antlion study.

7. After dividing the students into groups of three, instruct the students by saying: The antlions are in sand. At first you don't see much. Then you sieve the sand and discover an antlion. Place the antlion on the surface of the sand and watch it. It will do something. Record your observations in your journal.

8. At this time, tell students to begin. As the activity is in progress student interaction and verbalization are encouraged. Ask: -What do antlions eat?- Someone should answer -ants.- You may need to lead the students to that conclusion. Ask students to suggest ways to add the ants safely since they aren't really wanted loose in the classroom. Allow for suggestions and then remind students that a scientist knows appropriate safe practices when using live animals/insects. Show the students how to add the ants safely. At this point, have students put some ants in with the larval antlions. Tell students to observe what happens and record observations in their journals.

9. Use the video microscopes to take a closer look. As a teacher model the following steps: Sieve the sand, get an antlion and put it in the palm of the hand. Get an image of the antlion on the screen. Point to the different parts of the antlion and ask them what the parts are and what those parts do. Write these words on the board: arthropod, mandible, thorax, head, segmented, and abdomen. Have students record these words in their journals. Discuss the meanings and have students jot down the definitions. Tell students they are to draw the antlion and label the parts. Spend the time necessary for students to be able to use the the video microscopes successfully. This will vary depending on the time it takes to draw the antlion, segmenting, labeling, etc. Students peer teach each other to help get the journals (drawing and labeling) correct. -How do antlions eat?- [They are predators on ants] - What anatomical structures enable them to eat that way?- [pincers] -What is the technical name for these structures?- [mandibles]

10. Use either a student sketch or image on monitor to interpret the morphology (what it is [structure] and what it does [function]) . Label the drawings correctly. Teacher checks student work. Allow students to correct their drawings and labeling. Go slowly. This is an important part of the lesson!

11. Ask for a student to volunteer to reiterate what was just observed and recorded. The student that had the camera will go to the monitor (this station is known as the master of ceremonies because he/she is responsible for introducing the speaker--the antlion). The student from the monitor will join the group. They switch roles and another student comes up and takes the empty role. This way, each student has an opportunity to use the camera, point out the different parts, and be a listener.

12. Ask students to summarize what they have done so far. This will be done by having students read what they have written and explain what is drawn in their journals Students are encouraged to make additions and corrections to their journals during this time if they notice they have left out information or wrongly labeled something . Encourage students that didn't do adequate work to improve their journals by providing guidance.

13. To wrap up the lesson students are instructed to go home and replicate the activity. They go out and find antlions. Using a spoon and strainer from the kitchen the students will locate antlions, dig them up and observe them. Or the students may opt to leave the antlions where they are and observe their activities. The antlions may move if they do not have the right type of sand, food, dryness, etc. Students may record the doodles made by the movement of the antlions.

14. At this time solicit comments about how to handle the antlions they find. Be sure to impress upon students that a scientist knows the appropriate care, treatment and safe practices when using a live animal, even an insect. Write this question on the board and have students answer it in their journals: What should I do with the antlion after I have observed him? Why? Discuss the answers and allow time for correction.


Students define arthropod, mandible, thorax, head, segmented, and abdomen. This is orally assessed when the student is acting as master of ceremonies and uses these terms correctly. Definitions should also be recorded in the scientific journal. Students should have also drawn and labeled the antlion correctly. (See procedure # 9 for criteria.) Students should have recorded at least 2 observations of the antlion when it was placed on the surface. Journal should also contain an answer to the question in procedure #14. The answer should show that the student knows he should let the antlion go because scientists know the appropriate care and treatment of the animals (insects) they are working with.

Web Links

Web supplement for Ask the Antlion
Florida A & M University PHEREC

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