Visit Your Local PBS Station PBS Home PBS Home Programs A-Z TV Schedules Watch Video Donate Shop PBS Search PBS
Search NOVA Teachers

Back to Teachers Home

Master of the Killer Ants

Viewing Ideas

Before Watching

  1. Use a map to locate the Mandara Mountains in Cameroon. Using a world map, have students first locate Africa and then Cameroon (the section of land between Nigeria and Chad). Finally have them locate the Mandara Mountains (along the Nigerian border in the northwest section of Cameroon at about 11°N, 14°E). Organize students into five groups. Assign each group one of the following features to research and report on regarding Cameroon: climate and terrain (e.g., When is the rainy season? How much arable land exists?), natural resources and land use (e.g., What types of crops and/or livestock are commonly produced?), current environmental issues (e.g., What diseases are prevalent?), and lifestyle issues (e.g., What is the birth and death rate? What are the major languages and religions?), and government and economy (e.g., What type of government rules the country? What is the per capita income?) Have each group present a poster that includes information it has researched.

  2. Ask students to list everything they know about ants. Have students brainstorm a list of all the characteristics they know about ants. Are ants insects? What types of ants have students encountered? What kind of interactions do humans have with ants? Where do ants live? Are ants beneficial, harmful, or both? Ask students to come up with questions they may have about ants and what kind of experiments they could design to help answer those questions.

  3. Provide students with definitions of different species interactions. Provide students with the following definitions of species interactions, including predator-prey (one species feeds on another species), competitive (one organism competes with another for resources such as food and/or living space), communalistic (one organism benefits and the other is not harmed), mutualistic (both organisms gain benefit from the other), and parasitic (one organism benefits and the other is harmed). Ask students to provide examples of each type of interaction. Make a list of their responses on the board.

  4. Evaluate the role of insects in the lives of the Mofu tribe. Copy the following table for the students. Explain that the table lists some of the different insects mentioned in the program. Organize students into five groups and assign each group to one of the insects listed. As they watch the program, students should indicate on the table the role each insect plays in the lives of the Mofu and the type of species interaction between the Mofu and the insect. (Note that some insects have more than one role.)


    Role of insect in Mofu life

    Type of interaction

    Red army ant




    Black ant












    Red velvet mite




After Watching

  1. Discuss students' findings from the program. Why are insects so important to the Mofu? What role did each insect play in the lives of the Mofu? What are some beneficial roles of insects in students' lives? (Some benefits include aiding in production of fruits and vegetables by pollinating flowers, helping improve the soil by burrowing through the surface layer, devouring remains of dead plants and animals, and producing products such as honey or silk.)

  2. Define the term animism. The Mofu people in the program practice a form of animism. Explain to students that animism is a type of religious belief that maintains that all components of the universe, including humans, animals, plant life, rocks, and so on, contain some form of life force, soul, or spirit. Some are seen as friendly spirits; others as tricksters. Ask students to provide some examples of this belief from the program. (Examples include use of the rain stones, the Mofu chief's invoking the spirit of the mountain, the shaman's praying for the jaglavak.)

  3. Study a folktale or myth in the African tradition. Explain that oral traditions play an important role in African cultures, and that African myths and folktales (like those of many places) were designed to teach as well as entertain. Have students select an African myth or folktale to share with the class orally (see Links & Books for a resource with stories). Discuss the characteristics of the story: the characters, plot, symbolism involved, ironies, allegories, and so on. What values or moral lessons are being conveyed? What importance is placed on nature and/or wildlife in the story? After students have presented their stories, have them explain what, if anything, the story taught them about a particular African culture, nature, or history. How could they apply this information to their own lives? Are there any themes in the stories that students can relate to?

  4. Compare and contrast social animals. Organize students into four groups and have each group research the organization of one of the following animals, including social hierarchy and roles of society members: ants, termites, bees, and naked mole rats. After groups have finished their research, create a chart on the board and list what students have learned. How are these societies alike? How are they different?

Links and Books


NOVA—Master of the Killer Ants
Features information about the role of the ant queen, a sampling of edible bugs, and a matching ants game.

African Folktales
Includes an online collection of folktales from different regions of Africa.

Ants Can't Hurt You, Can They?
Describes some of the different types of ants found in Africa.

Mandara Mountains Homepage
Introduces the life, environment, and material culture of the people of the northern Mandara Mountains.

Terrestrial Ecoregions: Mandara Plateau Mosaic

Presents an ecological description of the Mandara Mountains along with a satellite map of the region and a discussion of the climate and growing conditions.


An Anthology of Myths, Legends and Folktales from Cameroon: Storytelling in Africa
by Emmanuel Matateyou. Lewiston, NY: Edwin Mellen Press, 1997.
An anthology of myths, legends, and folktales from Cameroon, collected from oral performances throughout Cameroon.

Ants and Termites
by Anna Claybourne. Mankato, MN: Stargazer Books, 2005.
Describes the physical characteristics, behavior, life cycle, and habitat of various types of ants and termites.

Indaba My Children: African Folktales
by Vusamazulu Credo Mutwa , editor. New York: Grove Press, 1999.
Features a collection of African folk tales that chart the story of African tribal life since the time of the Phoenicians. Reconstructs the past of the Bantu of Africa and demonstrates the intertribal friendships and hatreds, and how they were kept alive.

West African Folktales
compiled by Stephen A. Gale. Lincolnwood, IL: National Textbook Company, 1995.
Includes more than 40 tales from 15 West African countries.

Viewing Ideas Author

Margy Kuntz has written and edited educational materials for 20 years. She has authored numerous educational supplements, basal text materials, and trade books on science, math, and computers.

Teacher's Guide
Master of the Killer Ants
Koch Foundation

Support provided by