Butterfly Bonanza – Lessons in Butterfly Identification

We joined a group of local naturalists for a Butterfly Bonanza (butterfly identification outing) recently and had the most amazing time.  We spotted 10 different Lepidopteran species – 6 that were entirely new to the kids and I.  We also learned how to identify a few important host plants – Milkweed (are you surprised I didn’t actually know this one?) and California Buckeye.

butterfly bonanzaFunny thing though, I had a hard time rallying the troops before we headed out.  Child #2 wanted to stay in his jammies and play Minecraft all day.  Child #1, though less obstinate, wasn’t as eager as I would have suspected either. She was content to curl up with her book and read.

Once we were there, however, their attitudes changed and they were actively engaged.  It was such a delight for me to watch them use the butterfly nets and interact with the adults.  In the group of approximately 26, they were the only children.

We were given a list of species that had been spotted at the preserve two years ago. It included 21 species – a most of which were familiar to me (at least by name) – but several were not.  In the two hours that we were there, we spotted 10 distinct Lepidopteran species (one of which was a moth, likely a in the family Geometridae because it’s coloration was very cryptic and resembled the bark of a tree).  Here’s a list of those we were able to identify:

  • Pipevine Swallowtail (larvae, pupa, and adult)
  • Western Tiger Swallowtail
  • California Hairstreak
  • Acmon Blue
  • Variable Checkerspot
  • California Sister
  • Monarch (egg and adult)
  • Echo Blue
  • Checkered Skipper

Upon our return home, the kids were excited to share their discovery with their father.  Buddy eagerly shared, “I got to watch a Pipevine Swallowtail up close.  I learned that it uses its tentacles to check things out.  When I put my hand in front of it, it felt me with its  tentacles and then it moved another direction.  That was really cool.”  Sweetie exclaimed, “Butterfly identification isn’t as hard as I thought and it was really fun.”

Submitted to the Outdoor Hour Challenge at Handbook of Nature Study.

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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.

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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.

Entomology Week #4 – Insect Projects for Kids

How are you all coming along with the lessons and activities that I’ve created for the Introductory Entomology class?  I know we are having a lot of fun and learning a lot.  It has been a bit of a challenge for me to coordinate the activities as well as teach my own kiddos all the while I have been redesigning my website.  But I am loving every moment, and would love to hear from you.

Today, I share with you a number of insect projects for kids.  Several students are underway with their independent research, a few selecting insect projects that focus on life-cycles.

One of the participants has created a delightful stop-motion video to share the life cycle of the praying mantis.  I just love her artwork!

Admin note :: Sadly, her video is no longer accessible on YouTube.

Other students have chosen to create a Squidoo lens to share what they have learned.  Here is an example of a lens about Bug Collecting.  One of the participants in our course is creating a lens on a specific insect order.

Other ideas include creating a poster, setting up a terrarium, or interviewing a bee keeper.  For those up to the challenge, it would be fun to set up an insect-a-day blog or to create a collage of insect images, for example, A Year of Dragons and Damsels.

Have you decided upon a focus topic to research?  My kiddos have declared their intent … dragonflies & mud daubers.  They are still gathering facts and brainstorming ideas by which to share what they learn.  I can’t wait to see what they come up with.

Can you think of more insect projects for kids that you would like to share with us?

 

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.

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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.  🙂