Activity: Be An Ant Detective!

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Activity: Be An Ant Detective!

This activity is best performed by students in a classroom setting. However, there is a version of this game on Second Life.


Students will learn about dichotomous keys and how they are used to identify various ants by playing a game in which they follow clues handed to them and then match their clues to those placed in a diagram on the floor. Game materials are in English and Spanish.


To become familiar with the use of dichotomous keys for identification.


Preparation Notes

  • Print out the floor cards and laminate them to protect them from shoes and dirt.
  • Print out the Clue Sheets on 81/2- by 11-inch sheets of paper with the picture of the ant at the top of the page. They may be laminated also to make them last longer.
  • Additional adult monitors will be needed to make suggestions so the students will be successful in this game.
  • This game does require space to put down the floor cards.

This game is a dichotomous key that will allow elementary schoolchildren to learn to make paired choices based on a clue sheet with a picture. The picture and the name of the ant will be hidden under the last choice floor card. The children can learn the parts of an ant that are necessary for basic identification.

The game is based on a dichotomous key, Texas Pest Ant Identification: An Illustrated Key by Jerry L. Cook and Bastiaan M. Drees; Identification and Distribution of Native Texas Ants by Sean T. O’Keefe, Jerry L. Cook and S. Bradleigh Vinson; photographs by Jerry Cook, Sean O’Keefe and Bart Drees; and drawings by Sean O’Keefe and Sherry Ellison.

Game Set-up

  1. Place the floor cards on the floor in the arrangement indicated by the Be an Ant Detective Schematic Key.
  2. Place a tape line on the floor and label it START HERE. The tape will help hold the cards onto the floor and to give an overview of possible paths.
  3. From START HERE, place tape lines to lead the students either to the left for 1 Node with its resulting choices or to the right for 2 Nodes and its resulting choices.
  4. Place the last card (answer) face down, so that the student will “discover” the name of the ant by flipping over the card.
  5. Hang the ant poster on the wall. You could also place copies of the same poster on the floor at or nearby each of the first two choices to give a ready reference if many children are playing.


  • If the floor space is long and narrow, the START HERE card could be placed in the center of floor. All the one-node cards could go to the left, and all the two-node cards could go to the right.
  • Colored masking tape is very effective for putting down the cards. You could use one color of tape for the one-node path, and another color of tape for the two-node path. Black electrical tape may also be used.

Game Instructions

  1. Give each student, or group of students, one of the eight Clue Sheets.
  2. Tell the students: Can you identify the ant in your hand and become a Certified Ant Detective? Follow the clues on your page, match your clues to the steps on the floor, and find your ant.
  3. When the students find the answers, give them a Certified Ant Detective Bookmark.

Note to teachers: You may want to refer to the original KIDzANTS Teacher Manual, which was included in the original release of the KIDzANTS Red Imported Fire Ant Youth module developed by the Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service.