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.

Entomology Week #1 – Insects in Art

The Introductory Entomology Course is well underway. Tomorrow, the newsletter for Week #3 will be emailed to all of you who have subscribed and indicated your interest in the course.  There are many families taking part and I would love to see the participants artwork and hear what the children have enjoyed most.   A few examples from Week #1 – Insect Symmetry & Insects in Art – are shown here.

100E1432

A few families have signed up to share their work with one another on our Flickr group and I encourage those who have not yet done so hop over there.  I know the kids would love to read the comments the others leave for their Insects in Art work and I know you’ll come away feeling inspired.

insectsIn addition to the lessons I outline each week, some students are working on independent research projects according to their interests. Some students are focusing on specific insects and are creating a poster to share what they have learned. Other students are exploring insect anatomy and adaptations more closely.  Another student is investigating the hobby of apiculture or beekeeping. Regardless of the chosen topic, I want to encourage everyone to share with us what you have learned. You can do so by emailing a link to your blog or YouTube video, uploading your work to our Flickr group, or sending me an email attachment.  Whatever works best for you.

bugsRemember, the course is self-directed.  Participants work through the material at their own pace, completing the projects and lessons when it bests suits their schedule.  There is no obligation and you may join in at any time simply by subscribing to the newsletter and indicating your interest in the Introductory Entomology Course.

We are fascinated by insects and love art – please share your favorite art that features insects by leaving a link in the comment section.  🙂

Planning a Fun Science Fair in 10 Easy Steps

For the past few years, I have organized an informal science fair for our local homeschool community.  It has been such a joy to see the diversity of projects, listen to the kids share their experience, and receive encouragement from one another.  It takes little effort on my part to coordinate the event and I walk away reinvigorated and more enthusiastic than ever.  Today, I share a step-by-step guide to planning an informal and rewarding science fair.

This is the third year I have coordinated this event and the first time I’ve done so here in California.  It is always interesting to me to see how the participant numbers vary.  Regardless of how many students take part – 10 or 45 – it is wonderful opportunity. My children thoroughly enjoy the process and the chance to share their work with others.  I want to encourage you all to take part in a science fair yourself.  If you find your area lacks the opportunity, don’t be discouraged.  You can follow the ten steps here to planning a great science fair of your own.

10 Steps to Planning a Science Fair

1.  Reserve a space

If you aren’t already familiar with a space you can use for free, this could be the most time consuming part of the process.  There are many possibilities around you … be creative and don’t be afraid to ask around.  Possible locations you may consider include:

  • Fraternal lodge like Sons of Norway, IOOF, Lions, VFW Hall, etc.
  • City library
  • Church
  • A public school
  • Hotel conference rooms
  • A common house within a subdivision
  • A conference room at your spouse’s (or a friend’s) work

2.  Set a date

The date will likely be dictated to some extent by the calendar of the meeting space you select.  Keep in mind that science projects require planning time.  I like to plan the science fair sometime in the spring (late April or early May).  I announce the fair on our homeschool boards (Yahoo Groups, Facebook, and at local umbrella schools) in the fall, however, and provide regular reminders throughout the year.

3.  Make a flyer and registration form

With the logistical things out of the way, use a word processing program to create an attractive flyer and accompanying registration form.  Share these with your local homeschool community, including charter schools.  I charge $5 per family (or per participant), enough to cover the cost of the awards, but do what feels right to you.

4.  Determine award criteria and purchase awards

Perhaps you would like to invite a couple scientists to come a judge the student projects.  If so, you will likely want to use a simple scoring guide or rubric.  Alternatively, you may decide not to give out awards at all.  This is entirely up to you.  The fairs I have coordinated have been small, we have thereby had success with simply allowing the kids to vote for their favorite project.  The votes are tallied and prizes are awarded to the top three projects with the most votes.  You may also wish to have grade level distinctions depending on the size of your group.

5.  Get the word out and send reminders

As the date approaches, be sure to send out regular reminders and continue to distribute fliers or registration forms.  You may wish to hang a flier at the library.  You may also consider contacting the local newspaper to invite the public – and even a reporter or photographer – to the event.

6.  Create a program to identify participants

I would highly suggest having a deadline for registrations, perhaps one week prior to the event.  This should allow you time enough to create a program (a simple sheet of paper will do but you can get very creative) listing the participants and their project titles. Many families like to keep these as souvenirs or to take notes upon as the students give presentations.  I have found though that at least in my homeschool community, getting families to commit in advance is like pulling teeth.

7.  Create participation certificates or buttons

I have found the kids really like buttons.  If you have a Badge-a-Mint, I highly suggest you create a graphic image that you can print and thereby use for buttons.  You can even set up a station at the event so the kids can make their own.  Alternatively, you can print simple certificates.  Regardless, the kids appreciate the small token.

8.  Purchase small gifts for the winners

The award value is contingent upon the number of participating families.  This year, we had 3 families (not including my own) and 10 children taking part.  I thereby took in only $15 in registration fees. I thereby elected to award $10 for first place, $5 for second place, and $2 for third (yes – I covered a little out of pocket).  With larger number of participants – and with advance registrations – you can be more creative in awarding prizes. In the past, I have used the fees to purchase gift cards (Acorn Naturalists, Carolina Biological, etc.)

9.  Arrive early and greet families upon arrival

Let everyone know that the event is relaxed and informal.  Smile and be yourself. Depending upon the time of the day and the length of the program, you may wish to have snacks.  You can ask for family volunteers to bring something or if the participant pool is large enough, you can purchase a few things.

10.  Positive feedback and award the winners

Once everyone is set-up and as guests mingle, call everyone together and invite the participants to volunteer to share their projects.  If there are many participants, you may wish to divide into smaller groups (perhaps by grade level).   At the end, ask that the students vote for their favorite, tally the votes, and award the winners.