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Amped up ant project: Newfoundland boy's insect research leads him to start his own colony

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ants - 123RF Stock Photo

After researching neat facts about ants for a school public speaking project, 11-year-old Ethan Jamieson of St. John’s, N.L., told his parents he’d like to start his own ant colony.

His father, Cam Jamieson, agreed to buy him the queen ant he’d need to get started on one condition: Ethan was to clean his play area and keep it clean for an entire week. If he did that, Jamieson said, he would know his son was invested in the project.

“Ethan cleaned up his area much faster than I expected. That’s when I realized we were going to be all in with the ants,” Jamieson said during a phone interview on June 25.

Eleven-year-old Ethan Jamieson is starting his own ant colony after researching them for a school project. CAM JAMIESON PHOTO - Contributed
Eleven-year-old Ethan Jamieson is starting his own ant colony after researching them for a school project. CAM JAMIESON PHOTO - Contributed

“It took a while to get it all organized. I’m pretty sure when (dad) came home and it was all clean, the day after he said (to clean the area), I think he was really surprised,” Ethan added.

Ethan is heading into Grade 6 at École des Grands-Vents in St. John’s.

His mother Cindy Butt said when COVID-19 set in, they started home-schooling their son.

What better a subject to expand upon than one already started, she thought.

Ethan amped up his ant project, in both French and English, for when he would head back to class, Butt said via Facebook messenger.

When back to class never happened, she said, her son continued his research.

However, she said, at this point she had no idea ordering a queen ant and making a nest “in our house!” would come to fruition.

“I didn’t believe it was happening until I kept hearing so many facts about ants,” she said.

Ant facts

During a phone interview, an enthusiastic Ethan explained some of the facts he’s learned about ants.

“Before humans, ants were the most advanced society... a lot of things that humans think they did first, actually ants did. They built cities, they had wars, they negotiated,” he said.

Cam Jamieson borrowed a router to carve wood into an ant nest for his son Ethan. CAM JAMIESON PHOTO - Contributed
Cam Jamieson borrowed a router to carve wood into an ant nest for his son Ethan. CAM JAMIESON PHOTO - Contributed

In his school project, Ethan spoke about several different species of ants including the powerful army ant which “will dismember its adversaries immediately.”

He explained how the army ant kills over 500,000 animals worldwide every day and can easily destroy a wasp nest.

Another interesting type of ant Ethan included in his project is the electric ant, named so because it is attracted to electricity and electrical devices.

Then there’s the “crazy yellow ant,” Ethan said, which was brought to Australia by boat and has become a pest. The country is now trying to control the yellow ant population, he said.

Getting started

As his interest in ants continued to grow, Ethan began researching what it would take to start his own ant colony.

“He was on the phone with businesses that sold wood. He needed to build an ant nest and got (the wood) for free,” Butt said.

His father borrowed a router to carve the wood into a nest.

“Then, only then, did I believe that we would be ordering a queen ant! I do not like red ants crawling on me in my yard and now we’re ordering ants,” Butt said.

Ethan’s father ordered him the queen ant online and had it shipped from Ontario to their home in St. John’s.

His mother helped get the package delivered in what she referred to as the “COVID stay home situation.”

The queen is currently in a test tube set up, Ethan said, and he is now waiting for her to lay eggs.

“She has water but I don’t have to feed her until after she lays eggs... those eggs become workers then you feed the ants and they make more workers, and more and more,” he said.

Ethan Jamieson’s queen ant is currently in a test tube set up as he waits for her to lay eggs. CAM JAMIESON PHOTO - Contributed
Ethan Jamieson’s queen ant is currently in a test tube set up as he waits for her to lay eggs. CAM JAMIESON PHOTO - Contributed

Ants need protein, sugar and water, he said.

When he has about ten workers, he said, he’ll move his ants into the nest.

In addition to his online research, Ethan is also reading a detailed book about ants.

“Lots of people think there are only two kinds of ants: black ants and fire ants. But, actually, there are over 16,000 species of ants and more are getting discovered every day,” he said.

How does Ethan’s mom feel about her son’s new hobby now that she realizes just how invested he is in the project.

“I still don’t want ants on me. However, I now know what a queen ant looks like and that she’s bigger (than other ants) and you can see the scars where she lost her wings. And that early summer here is mating season when all ants fly into the air and release pheromones to attract ants for a mating frenzy ritual. Ants will be forever here and my little boy is teaching us,” she said.

Want more ant content? Check out Ethan's favourite YouTube channel 

danette@nl.rogers.com

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