Are Ants More Attracted to Aspartame or Sugar? 
How Does it Affect Ants' Survival Rate?

 

Researched by Sierra S.
2000-01



PURPOSE

The purpose of this experiment was to determine if ants were attracted more to sugar or aspartame and to determine how it affected their survival rate.

I became interested in this idea when a family member was on a sugar-free diet, and I began to wonder whether or not the sugar substitutes that were used in the diet were safe.

The information gained from this experiment would help society determine whether aspartame is safe for human use, and tell farmers and gardeners whether or not aspartame or sugar could be used as a natural pesticide.


HYPOTHESIS

My first hypothesis was that the ants would be more attracted to the aspartame solution, rather than the sugar solution.

I base my hypothesis on a statement in the book Insects and Spiders by Christopher O'Toole on page 76: "Ants are very attracted to sweet, sugary liquids." Therefore, ants would be more attracted to the aspartame solution because according to International Food Information Council's webpage about aspartame "It is about 200 times sweeter than sugar."

My second hypothesis was that fewer ants would survive when fed only an aspartame solution rather than the sugar solution.

I base my hypothesis on a statement made by Dr. Morgan Raiford, M.D., who said that aspartame causes "toxic reaction which affects the central nervous system" and "tragic damage to the optic nerve (a

nerve that controls the eyes)."

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EXPERIMENT DESIGN

The constants in this study were:

*The amount of sweetener in the solution
*The amount of water in the solution
*The amount of solution in the petri dishes
*Where the petri dishes are placed
*The time of day when the solution is accessible
*The type of ants
*The same number of ants in each terrarium
*The same amount of soil in each habitat

The manipulated variable was the type of substance available at the feeding station (aspartame or sugar solution).

The responding variable was the number of ants at each feeding station in Phase I and the percentage of surviving ants in Phase II.

To measure the responding variable in Phase I, I took digital photos and counted the number of ants that were in the sugar or aspartame half of the terrarium. In Phase II I counted the number alive and dead after eating a specified diet.

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MATERIALS
 
 Quantity
 Item Description
300
Red Ants
 2
Terrariums
 4
 Mini Petri Dishes
 600 ml
Purified Water 
 100 ml
 Granulated Cane Sugar
 100 ml
 Aspartame (Equal)
 2
 500 ml Cylinders
 2
 Plastic Containers with Lids
8 lbs.
Fine White Sand 
 1
 Plastic Spoon
 1
 Digital Camera
 1
 Computer with Digital Imaging Software

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PROCEDURES

Setting-up the Experiment
1. Gather all materials.
2. Label habitats #1 and #2.
3. Pour 5 centimeters sand in each terrarium
4. Place approximately 150 ants in habitat #1 and #2.
5. Label 2, 1 gallon milk jugs "A", and "S".
6. Mix 100 ml sugar and 300 ml water in bottle "S".
7. Mix 10 ml aspartame (Equal) and 300 ml water in jug "A".
8. Boldly label the bottom of 2 petri dishes "A", and two more "S".

Phase I of Experiment
9. Each afternoon, fill a "S" petri dish with 5 ml of solution from jug "S", and an "A" dish with 5 ml solution from jug "A".
10. Place 2 dishes in each terrarium, 1 each with solution "A" and "S".
11. The placement of the dishes is important! The "S" dish must on the right half of the terrarium and the "A" dish must in the left half of a terrarium.
12. Wait 10 minutes and take a digital photo of the feeding stations in terrarium A and B.
13. Record picture number, habitat number, time and date.
14. Repeat steps #12-13 6 times for one day.
15. Examine each photo at high magnification to count number of ants in each half of the terrarium. The ants in the "S" half of the terrarium are assumed to be feeding on sugar. The ants in the "A" half of the terrarium are assumed to be feeding on aspartame.

Phase II of Experiment
16. Fill 1 petri dish with 5 ml aspartame solution (jug "A") and place it in habitat A.
17. Fill another petri dish with 5 ml sugar solution (jug "S") and place it in habitat B.
18. Leave each dish in each habitat for 24 hours.
19. Repeat step #19 for three times (2 days total).
20. Using a use a plastic spoon placed in front of an ant, either allow the ant to walk onto it or "scoop" gently into the spoon.
21. If the ant is not moving, examine carefully to determine whether it is living or not.
22. Transfer ant to plastic container.
23. Tally number of dead ants in that terrarium.
24. Repeat 15-18 for second terrarium with separate container. Tally this group separately.

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RESULTS

The original purpose of this experiment was to determine if ants were attracted more to sugar or aspartame and to determine how it affected their survival rate.

The results of the experiment were that ants prefer aspartame to sugar, and also that more ants with access to sugar died compared to those that had access only aspartame. 

See the table and graph.

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CONCLUSION

My first hypothesis was that the ants would be more attracted to the aspartame solution, rather than the sugar solution.

My first hypothesis was accepted because ants were more attracted to the aspartame.

My second hypothesis was that fewer ants would survive when fed only an aspartame solution rather than the sugar solution.

My second hypothesis was rejected because more ants died in the sugar terrarium than the aspartame.

Based on the results of this experiment, I wonder if aspartame would have harmful effects on other insects or on more complex animals, like small rodents, which would have results closer to those of humans.

If I were to conduct this project again, I would use only one kind of sand. I would control the room temperature and lighting of the room. I would also use a video camera instead of a still camera so I could tell which ants were really alive instead of guessing. If I did it again, I would also use more ants and have multiple terrariums being tested, and have a control group being fed something on ants' natural diet.

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RESEARCH REPORT

INTRODUCTION
Nutrition is an important factor in human health. Aspartame is used as a sweetener in low- calorie diets because it has very few calories, but the issue of its safety is controversial. Using ants to test the effects of aspartame versus sugar on their health can help judge whether or not it is safe for human use.


Ants

Introduction
Ants are insects, whose relatives include wasps and bees. They come in many species, sizes and colors. They live in colonies made up of a queen, several male ants, many soldier ants, and mostly workers. The queen's job is to mate, start a colony, and lay eggs. She will live up to 16 years. The male ants job is to mate with the queen then die. The soldier ant's job is to defend the colony, and the worker ants groom other ants, care for eggs and larvae, and gather food.

Types
There are over 35,000 known species of ants including honey, carpenter, leaf-cutter and weaver ants. Ants vary in size, some being as large as 3 inches long or as small as 1/25 of an inch. They will also vary in color, most commonly seen are red, black or brown ants, but ants can also be yellow, green, blue and purple.

Diet
Ants survive mainly on sweet liquids such as nectar, honeydew, and juices from flowers, fruits and vegetables. Yet, a few certain species of ants eat leaves, grass, fungi, and seeds.

Body Structure
Ants have three basic body parts: the head, abdomen and thorax. On their head are their mouth, eyes and antennae. Antennae are used to sense moisture, vibration, to tell the temperature, and smell. These make up for the ant's poor vision. On the abdomen are the legs, which have 5 joints on each of 2 forelegs, and 4 back legs, and 2 tiny claws on the end of each so they can hook them in tiny crevices and enable them to walk up walls and ceilings. Also on their abdomen, there are spiracles for taking in air.

Metamorphous
Ants start out as small white eggs laid by the queen. They then hatch from the egg into white, grub-like larvae. Then, they spin themselves a cocoon. While in the cocoon, they are called pupa. Later, the pupa emerges from the cocoon as an adult ant.

Predators & Defense
Predators of ants include lizards, birds, beetles, antilions, other insect-eating mammals and humans. Ants defend themselves by biting, stinging and spraying an unpleasant, vinegar-like scent.


Sugar

Introduction
Sugar is made up of carbohydrates, which serve as the main energy source of the body and help form proteins. Sugar is what created the taste, body, color and texture in baked food. It is safe for consumption and does not cause any problems, except for contributing to tooth decay, cavities, diabetes and obesity. It is mainly found in sugar cane and sugar beets. Sugar beets make up 40% of the world production of sugar, and sugar cane makes up the other 60%.

Sugar Cane
Sugar cane (saccharum officinarum is a perennial herb classified as part of the grass family. The sugar cane's stalks contain "cane juice" which is later used for making sugar, in them.

Sugar cane grows in tropical and sub-tropical areas, and requires up to 120 inches of rainfall per year. The sugar cane is planted in the winter, and harvested around 8 months later in sub-tropical areas. In the tropical areas, it is also planted in winter, but is not harvested until 1-1.5 years after planting. The stalks are harvested by hand using a sickle (large steel blade) or with a cane-cutting machine.

Sugar Cane Processing
First, the field is burnt to remove leaves and twigs. The sugar cane stalks do not burn because of the large amount of water they contain. Then, the sugar cane stalks are harvested and brought to a factory. There they are washed and sliced, and sent to a machine that crushes the cane. When the cane is crushed, it releases a sugary liquid called "cane juice". Water is then squirted on the stalks to dissolve the remaining juice. The cane juice is then heated and lime is added to remove impurities. Carbon dioxide is also added to remove excess lime. The juice is then heated again to remove excess water, then large crystals form in the syrup. The crystals are separated from the syrup in a centrifuge. The crystals are then dissolved through water and poured through filters. The liquid is evaporated and the crystals form again and are spun in the centrifuge. This is then sent to the drying drums to have excess moisture absorbed, then packaged and sent to stores.

Sugar Beet
Sugar beets are grown for the sugar in the roots. They grow best in places with rich soil and sunny days and cool nights. Sugar beets require a large amount of water. The roots will weight 1.5-3 lbs., and grow 2-5 ft. long. The beets are harvested in about September through October by being dug out of the ground. They are then sent to the factory to be processed. 

Sugar Beet Processing
First, the beets are thoroughly washed and separated from the leaves and other dirt debris. They are then cut into thin slices, and soaked in hot water for 1 hour in the diffuser. Then screw presses squeeze the beet slices. The dry pulp is sent to an animal food pellet plant. Next, the juice is carbonated, where pieces of chalk are thrown in the juice, which sucks up non-sugars. The juice is then evaporated using steam. The juice is then put in a pan where more water is boiled off. Crystals then grow, and these and the liquid are sent to the centrifuge to be separated. The crystals are then dried and stored or packaged.


Aspartame

Introduction
Aspartame is a low-calorie artificial sweetener used in food, beverages and many medications. It is also produced and sold under the name of "NutraSweet" "Equal" and "Sweet'n'Low". Using aspartame rather than sugar, the amount of calorie intake can be substantially reduced in many foods. This can be helpful for people trying to avoid sugar in their diet, including diabetics and those who are overweight.

History
The U.S Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved aspartame in 1981 for use in powder mixes and as a tabletop sweetener. It had been tested for over 8 years and officials had refused to approve it because it caused seizures and brain tumors in lab animals. Later, in 1996 it was approved for use in all food, beverage, and medication.

Safety
The safety of aspartame, although affirmed by the FDA and other health groups, is still controversial. Many food scientists and doctors still question its safety, especially when taken in large quantities, and claim it can cause damage to the optical nerve, central nervous system, and active organs, or even death.


SUMMARY

Sugar is made up of carbohydrates, which serve as the main energy source of the body. It is safe for consumption and does not cause problems, except for contributing to tooth decay and obesity. Aspartame is a low-calorie artificial sweetener. Using aspartame rather than sugar, the calorie intake can be reduced in many foods. Many food scientists and doctors still question its safety, especially when taken in large quantities, and claim it can cause damage to the central nervous system and active organs.
Ants are insects, whose relatives include wasps and bees. They live in colonies made up of a queen, several male ants, many soldier ants, and mostly workers. Ants survive mainly on sweet liquids such as nectar, honeydew, and juices from flowers, fruits and vegetables. 

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BIBLIOGRAPHY

"Ant," The World Book Encyclopedia, 1998. Vol. 1. Pp. 520-521

"Aspartame," Academic American Encyclopedia, 1998. Vol. 2. Pp. 259

"Aspartame," [Online] Available http://www.infc.health.org/procedure/aspartam.htm, November 1997.

"Companies that are Aware of the Dangers of Aspartame," [Online] Available http://www.holisticmed.com/aspartame.

"Facts About Aspartame (a Statement by Dr. Morgan Raiford)." [Online] Available http://www.holisticmed.com/aspartame/raiford.txt, May 20, 1987.

Greenland, Caroline. Nature's Children: Ants. Danbury, Connecticut: Grolier Educational Corporation. 1986. Pp. 5, 6, 8, 9, 11, 12, 16, 38, 39

O'Toole, Christopher. Insects and Spiders. New York, NY: Facts On File Inc., 1990. Pp. 74-77.

"Sugar," The World Book Encyclopedia, 1997. Vol. 18. Pp. 960-961.

"Sugarcane," Encarta Encyclopedia, 2001.

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ACKNOWLEDGMENTS

I would like to thank the following people who made my science project successful:

    *Mr. Newkirk, for taking time after school to help me get my project done.

    *Mrs. Pasckvale, for ordering ants multiple times for me.

    *My mother, for providing transportation to and from school.


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