Introductory Entomology Lessons for Kids – Unit Study

Insects are so fascinating and are the most diverse group of animals on earth!   There are more species of insects than there are all other species combined. Their numbers are nothing short of remarkable, both in terms of the numbers of individuals as well as the number of species.

Introductory Entomology is a great way to keep the kids engaged in meaningful and fun science activities all summer long!  Everything is laid out in a simple and easy to follow manner – older kids will be able to do the lessons on their own!

entomology lessons for kids preview

Insect Lessons for Kids

In this 40-page unit study, students will be introduced to this remarkable subphylum (Hexapoda –  a group commonly referred to as hexapods and whose members have six legs) through hands-on activities, real life simulations, and multi-media presentations. The six-week unit incorporates more than 10 entomology lessons for kids and suggested extension activities.

I have to admit that this unit is one of my most favorites. Kids are naturally drawn to insects and have little inhibitions for the six-legged creatures.  In this unit study, I outline my favorite lessons and activities for exploring insects with your children or in your classroom.

Included in this unit study about bugs:

  • Full color overview
  • 11 notebooking pages
  • 11 printable handouts (student reference pages)
  • Detailed description of each step needed to teach every lesson
  • Links for exclusive videos and access to insect data compiled
  • Illustrated suggestions to build your own collecting tools
  • Links for collecting supplies and printed resources
  • Access to a closed Flickr group to share work and collaborate with others
  • Extension activities for all lessons
  • 2 long term projects

Available for only $9.90  

Introductory Entomology

Entomology Week #5 – Integrated Pest Management

I love this activity.  Not only does it provide a great opportunity to engage the kids in a cooperative learning activity, it also provides me with a fascinating glimpse into their world – how they think about things and how they have processed previous lessons.  Titled Integrated Pest Management, the lesson begins with a mini-lesson on the life-cycle of the mosquito.  We have observed the mosquito larvae on a nature outing in the past, Mosquitos: Summer Nature Study, so they had a great deal of prior knowledge.

Integrated Pest Management activity for kidsI then introduced the simulation … a local farmer has a problem with the mosquito population and needs their help to control the species using Integrated Pest Management techniques.  I share what that means and provide a few examples.  I then give them a map of the farmers property and ask that they work together to generate suggested strategies.  As they record their ideas, we discuss the pros (why this strategy could work) and cons (what other harm could this strategy cause) of each strategy.

It is amazing to me some of the ideas they come up with and the ideas they toss out of contention because of the potential harm it could cause other species.

Here’s a partial list of their ideas:

  • Install bat nesting boxes
  • Put a net over the pool when not in use
  • Install a filter system on the live stock water troughs
  • Get rid of the invasive blackberries

How about you?  Did you all come up with other ideas?  Why would removing invasive blackberries be beneficial?

If you are looking for more hands-on ideas and lessons about insects, I have compiled a number of my favorites in a unit study approach, Introductory Entomology. Through hands-on activities, real life simulations, and multi-media presentations this six-week unit incorporates more than 10 entomology lessons and suggested extension activities.

California Dragonflies .. Field Guide Giveaway

Dragonflies are one of the most colorful and fascinating insects in the natural world, so it’s not surprising that there are folks out there who stalk them with the same fervor as birders.  A leading dragonfly stalker in California is a woman named Kathy Biggs.  She has  published a field guide called Common Dragonflies of California, filled with full color, close-up photos of this incredible insect.

12-Spotted Skimmer - Libellula pulchella

Photo by Roxanna Tessman

California Dragonflies

So far 118 dragonfly species have been found in California. Shasta County is home to 77 species, the highest count of any county in the state. Siskiyou County is not far behind with 69.  Biggs says this high dragonfly count in our part of the state is due to a number of factors that include more water sources and a relative abundance of undeveloped land. Dedicated dragonfly enthusiasts are drawn to the northern part of the state to find species they can’t find elsewhere, like the dragonfly known as the American Emerald which has bright green eyes.

Eight-spotted Skimmer - Libellula forensis

Photo by Roxanna Tessman

Summer is the peak season for viewing dragonflies – just bring along an insect net, binoculars, and a hand lens for close-up observations. Unlike butterflies and moths that have scales on their wings, the dragonfly can be trapped in a butterfly net and gently lifted out by its wings without causing harm.

Biggs has also written an eGuide, Dragonflies of California and the Greater Southwest A Beginner’s Guide, that can be used on a mobile device like the iPad, Kindle, or a smart phone.  In addition, she has created an educational coloring book used equally by kids and adults, Dragonflies of North America: A Color and Learn Book With Activities.

I was graciously given a copy of Common Dragonflies of California for this review and giveaway.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

The dragonfly photos featured in this post were taken by Roxanna Tessman.  Like her Facebook page, Bird Watching in Oregon, to see more of her stunning photography.

Wildcraft: An Herbal Adventure Game

I am excited to share with you a fabulous game we’ve had the pleasure to experience with a couple friends of ours.  WildCraft: An Herbal Adventure Game is a cooperative game that teaches about edible and medicinal plants.  We love board games and this one is great for it teaches while it entertains.  I have been a fan of this herbal learning board game for quite a while and now I have ordered my own copy.

wildcraft-board-photoWildcraft! is all about real, valuable knowledge and skills that are quickly getting lost in today’s technological age. It is a gorgeous game that teaches the players all about herbs and their uses.  Artist and naturalist Beatriz Mendoza uses vibrant watercolors to create a colorful and playful world for Wildcraft!  The plant cards show the level of detail needed for identification in the field.

The players are on a mission from grandma to go and pick wild Huckleberries.  Players walk up and down a long winding path to collect berries, along the way they find herbs (plants cards), and they even run into some trouble (trouble cards).  Some of the troubles include sore muscles, an earache, a toothache, a hornet sting, and splinters.  Thankfully, the herbs you have been collecting along the way may provide just the right herbal remedy to help you.

Step by step along the game board kids (and parents) learn about various herbs and their practical applications in health and healing. Wildcraft! includes a 20×20 inch game board, instructions, 4 player pieces, 52 plant cards, 52 trouble cards, 25 cooperative cards, and a spinner. It also comes with a downloadable story to enhance the story of the game.

This game typically only goes on sale during the holidays. But for the next couple days (until May 30th) you can get it for 50% off, that’s less than $20!  To make the deal even sweeter they are also giving buyers the following free bonuses:

  • Access to webinar, Outdoor Kids, Herbal First Aid for Summer, by Aviva Romm
  • Dandelion Activity eBook
  • Herbal Roots zine kids activity magazine
  • The Herbal Gifts eBook (Saves you more in gifts than you spend on the game)
  • Mentoring Kids & Nature Connection with Jon Young (mp3)
  • Herb Fairies Activity Pack, with Book One and activity materials

Entomology Week #3 – Insect Survey for Kids (w/ Free Notebooking Page)

As a part of the Introductory Entomology course we are undertaking this month, we took advantage of the long weekend to do an insect survey in our backyard.  We headed out with a homemade transect device (four 1-meter length PVC tubes connected with L-joints to form a square) and a butterfly net.  We had high hopes that we would find a variety of insects as well as numerous different orders.  Be it due to time of day or season, this is not how it turned out.  Either way, we did make a discovery.

We had observed two very similar insects while undertaking our survey and it lead us to ask a number of questions.  Are they the same species?  Is one male and the other female?  What do they eat?  As we sketched and researched the answers to our questions, I was tickled to discover they were two distinct species … Milkweed (Lygaeus kalmii) and Western Boxelder (Boisea rubrolineata).  The majority of the bugs we observed were Milkweed bugs, I therefore share some of the facts we learned about them here.

Edited 26 Feb 2014 – I wonder now if some weren’t Bordered Plant (Largus succinctus).  I’ll have to take pictures and investigate this further.

insect survey

True Bugs

Milkweed and boxelder bugs are true bugs (order Hemiptera); beetles, moths, flies, and butterflies are not. Bugs have the usual complement of structures that they share with just about all other insects: six legs, three body parts (head, thorax, and abdomen), and two antennae. Hemiptera do not have mouths for biting and chewing food—they have a tubelike beak for sucking fluids. The milkweed and boxelder bugs suck nutrients from seeds.

Milkweed BugLife Cycle Changes .. Simple or Complete?

Hemiptera go through simple metamorphosis. The insect emerges from an egg looking like a tiny version of the adult, with slight differences in body proportions and incompletely developed wings. The immature bugs are called nymphs. As with all insects, in order to grow the nymphs must molt periodically. Just after molting the bug is creamy yellow with bright red legs and antennae. Within a few hours the body turns dark orange, and the legs and antennae resume their usual black color.

milkweed instar

Hemiptera go through five nymphal stages (instars) as they mature. Each molt produces a larger nymph that is more completely developed. As they grow, the dark wings appear on the backs of the bugs as black spots. Other black markings start to appear and eventually develop into the characteristic patterns of black and orange. The last molt reveals the adult.

Male or female?

Milkweed bugs continue to feed as adults, inserting their long beaks into seeds to suck out oils and other nutrients. Mating is easily observed, as the two mating bugs remain attached end to end for an extended time. It is possible to distinguish female and male adults by body markings. Look on the ventral (belly) side of the bugs. The tip of the abdomen is black, followed by a solid orange segment (with tiny black dots at the edges). If the next two segments following the orange band have solid black bands, the bug is a male. However, if the segment following the orange band is orange in the middle, making it look like it has two large black spots on the sides, followed by a segment with a solid black band, the bug is female. Males tend to be smaller than females.

insect order printableWhile our insect survey didn’t reveal the diversity we expected, we did enjoy the experience. We had selected four different sites – the grassy hillside behind our house, a rocky area, in the shade beneath the Oleaders, and in a drainage ditch.  We observed the greatest number and variety in the cooler areas.  The kids thereby made a hypothesis that they would see a greater number and variety in a cooler time of day or season.  We look forward to doing this activity again to test their theories.   I’ve created a free  insect order notebooking page for my valued readers.  Please feel free to pin it and share it with friends.

As the summer progresses, we look forward to doing additional insect surveys.  We have talked about also setting up a few pitfall traps and a Berlese funnel.  These collection devices, as shown in my Introductory Entomology Unit Study eBook, are bound to yield greater numbers of insects.

Entomology Week #2 – Insect Collecting

Participants are underway with their long-term projects – either a traditional mounted insect collection or a collection of insect photographs – as a part of the Online Entomology Course I am teaching this month.  While I have always been interested in insects, I first began insect collecting when I was hired as the elementary science specialist in North Bend.  The fifth graders were required to undertake an insect project and I thereby spent the summer immersing myself in insect lore.  I became so immersed in the hobby that I continued through the school year and consecutive summers.  My students began to call me the Bug Lady.

Student Insect Collecting & Mounting Kit {aff link}

Insect collecting does not require a lot of tools or equipment.  Some collectors prefer to collect only specimens they happen upon that have died.  Other collectors take the traditional route, collecting live insects that they preserve carefully.

Traditional Insect Collecting

Live insects can be caught with the aid of a net, jar, or by hand. Be careful of those that bite or sting!  Insects can then be preserved by:

  1. Placing the jar in the freezer for approximately 20 minutes, or
  2. Put a few drops of fingernail polish remover (which contains acetone) or rubbing alcohol on a cotton ball and drop it into the jar with your insects. Don’t drown your insect – this makes for a poor specimen.

To mount the insect, put a straight pin through the thorax. Very small insects should be glued to a small triangular piece of paper and then a pin can be put through the center of the paper.

Stick the pin into a display such as a piece of cardboard or Styrofoam. Display your collection in a frame and consider hanging it on the wall.  Use your imagination!  Using insects in art is a growing art medium, see my earlier post Tiny Footprints, to enjoy the incredible artistry of Pamela Cole.

Alternative Collection Ideas

If you’d rather not do a traditional mount style collection, consider one of the following options.

  • Take photographs and display / share your images in an album (either online or in print).
  • Keep a field journal and make detailed illustrations of insects you observe in their natural surroundings.
  • Set-up a terrarium (either permanent or temporary) and enjoy watching insects in their habitat. Record daily observations of preferred diet, terrain preferences, etc.
  • Build a Squidoo lens of your own of the insects you have observed in the wild.

For more information on insect collecting, you may be interested in my HubPage, Bug Collecting.  You’ll find detailed information about how to set up a terrarium for insects and well as how to get started with scientific illustration and nature journaling.