Connolly Coyle & Barrett Klein
GK-12, ESI, UT Austin
In this lab students will be introduced to insect behavior as influenced by
pheromones. The following will be examined:
* Reactions of termites to a chemical found in their trailpheromone
* The idea of chemical specificity
This lab can be conducted during a study of animal behavior, chemistry
(chemical specificity), or pheromones.
Termites can be found in many dying tree trunks or fallen logs, or ordered
through a biological supply company
Termites (with enough to spare, given inevitable classroom disaster; kept
in a container with slightly damp paper towel to prevent desiccation), Petri
dishes (or something to hold several termites per group), brushes (to
carefully redirect or pick up termites), paper (substrate for our
experiments), paperclips (to serve as a tool to create indentations in
paper, should students hypothesize that termites are using tactile
sensation to follow path), a variety of pens (including Bic® blue, red and
black ink), and a variety of pencils (including blue, red and black).
Class Demonstration -
Begin by introducing termite biology. Present images and concepts that
will instill notions of complexity, colonies as units under selection, and
termite behavior and ecology.
Have students gather around, as you present real termites, and proceed
to scribble a line across a large white sheet of paper, using a blue Bic®
pen. Place termites (~ six) on the paper and allow them to wander. A
significant number of the termites will follow the line, even turning
corners, and retracing their paths.
Discuss with students what they notice. Ask students to think of reasons
why the termites might follow the line. Discuss ways to test each of these
They are scientists observing a phenomenon that requires explanation,
and testing. They must separate into scientific teams to test hypotheses.
Regroup for conclusion. Poll results and ask for each scientific team’s
conclusions, based on their hypotheses.
Rule out visual (they’re blind; blue Bic® ink lines are followed, but blue
pencil lines are not followed), and tactile (paper clip indentations incite no
behavioral reaction distinct from indentation-free controls). Olfaction
(smell the blue Bic® pen ink) is the answer, suggesting that an ingredient
present in the blue Bic® ink happens to serve as a chemical in termite trail
Student lab -
Allow students to complete lab sheet. Monitor testing to help students
control variables. When groups are struggling, provide example of two
lines identical in all ways except one. Allow students to rule out that
Why will a termite follow a line drawn on a piece of paper
Background and Observations:
Record your observations from the demonstration.
Give at least 3 possible reasons for the behavior you just observed.
Circle the hypothesis you feel is the most likely explanation. You will test this hypothesis.
Independent – ________________________________________________________
Dependent – __________________________________________________________
To Control – _________________________________________________________
Materials: termites, paper, paperclips, and a variety of pens and pencils
Methods: Write a list of steps you will use to determine if your hypothesis is correct.
Data / Results:
Create a method to record the data or information you collect while running your experiment.
1. Was your hypothesis supported by the data you collected Why or why not
2. What effect did your independent variable have on the termites
3. Did any of your classmates test a variable that had an effect ___
4. What did the termites follow ____________________________________
5. Did any test yield no reaction Why do you think this happened