One of the workshops we did was to map different ways of seeing. The instructions were to:
‘Select one animate thing in the courtyard garden (human, animal, insect, object). Follow it for fifteen minutes and trace its movements’.
I decided to try it at home, mapping the path that a colony of ants would take in my backyard.
I started by laying a blank sheet of paper down on the ground, and traced the path which the ants took with coloured pencils, so as to easily distinguish one ant’s journey from another. I had to let the paper sit for about 5-10 minutes until there was enough ants moving around on top. Unfortunately, ants don’t like being chased by a giant with a pencil as they forage for food and explore. This meant I had to think of ways to coax them back onto the paper, so that my experiment could continue.
What food to use? I gathered a few bits and pieces of the first things I could see in the kitchen, which consisted of:
- Potato chips
- Wholemeal bread
- Strawberry jam
Once I had the food, I placed it in arbitrary points on the pieces of paper. I tried to scatter it around a bit to encourage more movement.
The results were varied and provided some very interesting insights into what ants will and won’t touch. My findings were as follows:
The piece of paper that had sweeter bits of food – chips, sugar, jam – were covered in ants. This was clearly the most popular choice for the ants – I could barely keep up with tracing their paths. This resulted in using the same coloured pencil multiple times, so that I could manage to at least record where they were going. I didn’t have enough time (or hands) to keep switching pencils for every ant.
The bread was also well-liked, although not as much as the chips, jam etc. I hypothesise that ants have a bit of a ‘sweet tooth’, and are generally more inclined to go after sweeter food over plain bread.
The pieces of paper that had cinnamon and cucumber were left completely alone, except for one or two ants doing some reconnaissance to see whether there was a suitable meal available . A quick search on google revealed that ants are typically deterred by these foods, which makes them useful for keeping these insects out of areas you don’t want them to be in around the home (the website suggested diluting cucumber juice in a spray bottle with water and spraying it around the garden).
- What’s interesting in the paths they take is that you can clearly see where they decide to stop and change direction – these ants are quite erratic/unpredictable in their movements.
By mapping the unseen, I learned some new things about the behaviour and diet of the ants that live in my backyard. It was a very interesting experiment to see which types of food generated the most foot traffic. By recording their pathways I gained new insights into something I was not aware of before. I am interested in taking this a step further towards my final map. It will probably involve using animals and mapping their path in a particular environment.