Observations and results
Did some solutions keep the ants trapped in the circle, whereas the ants quickly walked over circles made of other solutions? Did the baking soda, detergent and Tabasco sauce clearly repel the ants, although the water did not?
Ants rely on chemical signals to navigate toward food, their nest and other places, and we can use negative signals, or repellents, to discourage ants from going somewhere. Baking soda; vinegar; lemon juice; some detergents (and cleaning products); Tabasco sauce (and other spicy substances, such as red chili pepper, black pepper and cayenne pepper) usually repel ants to varying degrees, and you may have seen them trapped in these circles. Many other common household solutions can also repel ants, including cinnamon, mint, salt, cloves, garlic, onions and bay leaves. Many ants are attracted to sugar, so you may have seen ants stop and spend some time on the circle made up of the sugar water—they may have been enjoying a snack! The ants should have quickly crossed the circles made of water, but if thick lines were made using the water or other solutions—or if the ants were thirsty—this could cause them to hesitate before exiting the circles.
When you are done with this activity, let the ants return to where you found them. Wash off the vinyl tablecloth and be careful and thorough if you chose to use commercial ant repellent.
More to explore
Integrated Pest Management Manual from the National Park Service
Nontoxic Ant Control from The Best Control 2: Encyclopedia of Integrated Pest Management
Drawing Circles around Ants from Science Buddies
This activity brought to you in partnership with Science Buddies