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From Permanent In-Store Illustrated Exhibits
for The Discovery Channel Stores, Discovery Networks


The ant’s habitat is a “girls-only” clubhouse, except for an occasional mating visit by a male. The male ant dies within two weeks after mating with the Queen. The Queen produces eggs which grow into larvae, pupae and adulthood. Worker ants - wingless females - build, repair and defend the nest, feed the larvae and care for the ant population.

There are 10,000 known species of ants. Ants are related to bees and wasps and, like their relatives, are quite social. They live in large groups called colonies which can house several thousand ants from several generations. When ants first begin building a nest, they don’t mark it with ant hills. Instead, they place the soil far away from their building site so their predators won’t find the ants while the new nest hole is shallow. As the ants dig deeper and feel more secure, they build their hills at the nests’ entrances. Ant hills can be as small as a scoop of ice cream or as large as a sofa. They function as solar-powered heaters, collecting sunlight and warming the nest.

Everyone in this ant society has a job, and every job has a special location in the nest’s passageways. The Queen has her chamber, the eggs have another, the food production another and on it goes. Though ants spend much of their time above ground, they retreat to the comfort of their safe subterranean habitat.


Every ant colony has at least one Queen. She is generally the largest of the ants. The Queen is the only one that lays eggs and produces offspring. She has wings but removes them after her mating flight. The Queen functions as an “egg-laying machine” and is cleaned and fed by her offspring. She rules over a female population of wingless workers who are sterile. While the Queen is actively laying eggs, worker ants bring her protein-based foods. Other times they gather sugars and greases for her.


Wasps could be called the first paper manufacturers. In early spring the adult queen builds its nest by mixing its saliva with bits of wood scraped from branches or weathered boards. It plasters this gray paper pulp-like material into a single layer of cells with the openings facing downward, suspended from a narrow stalk like an upside-down umbrella. In fact these mahogany-colored insects found throughout North America are sometimes called “umbrella wasps.” Because their nests lack an outer covering, paper wasps often locate them under leaves, eaves, overhangs, window sills and inside open barns to protect them from the weather. Paper wasps are less aggressive than their hornet or yellow jacket cousins and prey on insects that are considered garden pests. If you must destroy a nest, do it in early summer while it’s still small. By late summer, the nest has grown up to eight inches in diameter and houses several hundred wasps. You can always wait till fall when it has been abandoned to remove it. Or let nature take its course, and it will break up on its own.


The spider portrayed in the children’s classic Charlotte’s Web is a gentle soul, but the “spider down under” is another story. Australia’s East Coast is home to the Sydney funnel-web spider, one of the world’s deadliest arachnids. It takes its name from the shape of its white silk web, which resembles a silk stocking. The females spend most of their lives underground and can be dug up accidentally while gardening. White web lines radiate from the entrances to their burrows, alerting them that their next insect meal has arrived. While rabbits and other small animals suffer little effects from the spider’s venom, it can be fatal to humans and monkeys. In all cases of reported deaths, the culprit has been the male spider, whose venom is five times more toxic than that of the female. However, both sexes are extremely aggressive. The mature males are always on the move. After a heavy summer rain, they are likely to find their way into homes. Thanks to the development of an anti-venom serum in 1980, there have been no reported human deaths from funnel-web spider bites.


Beavers are nature’s big builders. The largest of the rodent family, male and female beavers are partners for life who work as a construction team to build their island home. These fur-bearing lumberjacks gnaw down trees and trim off the limbs. They clear paths and drag the timber to the river or dig canals to float it to their homesite. To build the home’s foundation, the beavers submerge tree limbs and hold them in place with large rocks. The rest of their habitat is built with twigs, bark and mud caulking and rises up out of the water. Most dwellings are about 16-1/2 feet (5 meters in diameter) and 6-1/2 feet (2 meters) high. To keep land animals from trespassing, each home has an underwater entryway which leads to dry chambers for grooming and sleeping and to an emergency exit. The beavers home is conveniently located near their favorite “fast food” restaurant - the stands of willow and alder trees that grow along the streams.


Imagine what would happen if the neighborhood where you lived became so small there was not enough room for you. That is what has happened to the giant panda. Known to exist around two million years ago, the biggest threat today to this magnificent creature’s survival is the destruction of its habitat by China’s growing human population. The world’s giant pandas, which number fewer than 1,000, live in the dense rainy bamboo forests of southwestern China which cover only 5,400 square miles along the eastern edge of the Tibetan plateau. Bamboo is both the panda’s food and its shelter. Pandas feed from 10 to 16 hours a day on 30 kinds of bamboo. They spend most of their time on the ground, climbing trees only to escape enemies. Pandas don’t build homes; their home is the forest. The Chinese government is taking environmental steps to help keep it that way.


The male Masked Weaver bird uses his nest-building skills to attract his mates. In fact, this colorful bright yellow species with its black face and orange eyes would be happiest if he could build a nest for every female bird in his neighborhood. He starts by stripping away the leaves from a high tree branch. Then he twists together blades of grass to make a hoop, attaches it to the end of the branch and weaves a grass nest around it. When a female approaches, he flaps his wings wildly. If she seems impressed, he hangs underneath the nest and noisily calls to her. She flies over to inspect the nest and, if she likes it, she moves in. Then he’s off to the next branch to repeat the process again…and again…and again…and again… He’s so anxious to please the ladies that he immediately rebuilds any nest that doesn’t make a good first impression!

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