Entomology Course Outline

In preparation for the online Introductory Entomology course I am teaching in May, I thought you all might like a little peak into the activities we will be covering.  The online class integrates many entomology topics including insect classification for kids, an integrated pest management simulation activity, and hands-on, inquiry based projects.  Access to the YouTube videos, Flickr group, Google Docs, andProject Noah classroom will be made available to those that register.  Subscribe to our newsletter here – be sure to select the topics of most interest to you.  In the future, you can always find the Mail Chimp subscription form in the upper right corner of the sidebar.  In addition to the materials listed for each week, students should have a notebook or binder in which they can take notes, keep their work, and record their observations.

entomology course outline

Week One

  • Insect Symmetry art activity (private YouTube video); post completed work on Flickrgroup
  • Review Scientific Classification
  • Materials needed for the week include:
    • your choice of a paint canvas (any size 5″x5″ or larger), acrylic paints, and brushes  OR  a sheet of watercolor paper, watercolor paint, and brushes
    • graphite transfer paper

Week Two

  • Live Insect Observation
    • observe and record the physical characteristics and behaviors of a live insect; notebooking page will be provided
    • sketch your insect in your journal; use the diagram Insect Anatomy to help you to label your illustration
  • Introduction to Insect Collection  (long-term project); consider uploading images to my classroom on Project Noah
  • Using the Insect Dichotomous Key  (private YouTube video)
  • Materials needed for the week include:
    • a cricket (available at local pet supplies stores) or other insect of choice
    • optional field collection tools (instructions will be provided to build your own with household materials)

Week Three

  • Insect Classification for Kids: An introduction to the common insect orders – PowerPoint presentation & accompanying notebook page
  • Insect Data Collection – choose a local site and collect data on the species richness; share your results on the shared document
  • Materials needed for the week include:
    • optional field collection tools (instructions will be provided to build your own with household materials)

Week Four

  • Insect Life Cycles – watch the suggested videos
  • Insect Wings (optional lab)

Week Five

  • Integrated Pest Management activity 
  • Research Assign:  Find a local example of IPM & share with the group (consider writing a blog post, a newscast video, or creating an informative poster)
  • Materials needed for the week include:
    • local newspapers or magazines

Week Six

  • Hot Foot, Cold Feet activity (private YouTube video)
  • Share your Insect Collection project on Flickr group and/or a blog

If you should have any questions about the course, please do not hesitate to contact me.  Remember this is an online, self-directed workshop.  Participants will work through the assignments and lessons at their own pace when it is convenient to his/her schedule.

An Introduction to Entomology :: Free Online Workshop

When I was teaching in the public school, my favorite unit to teach was entomology.  Now that I homeschool, I have come to realize how much I miss teaching others and exploring our natural world together.  While my children and I actively engage in nature studies regularly, we have not been very consistent in incorporating more in-depth science studies into our curriculum.   I have discovered that I am more accountable when I provide opportunities to our fellow homeschooling community.  For this reason, I have decided to open this course to anyone interested in learning about insects along with us.

I have designed this unit so students will develop an appreciation for the diversity of insects in their local area as well as an understanding of the greater diversity the world over.  Participants will have the opportunity to use an identification or dichotomous key.  The course is open to all ages but the content is geared towards middle level students – parents and families are welcome to join in on the fun.  Any prior knowledge about insects is appreciated but not required.

The unit includes several labs and research assignments in addition to a long-term project. I will communicate weekly whereby I share videos and other media showcasing specific lessons and activities designed to teach insect anatomy, scientific classification, ecology, and inquiry.  I will also provide research suggestions, resources for study, and experiment ideas. 

See the course outline here, Entomology Course Outline

Participants will have the opportunity to participate in class discussions, contribute to data collection as citizen scientists, and do independent research on topics of interest.  Participants in the course are expected to keep a field journal or notebook of their work. Participants are also encouraged to come up with their own project ideas (videos, PowerPoints, art projects, field trips, photography, and more).

This free course will be six weeks in length and is scheduled to begin in May. For those interested in taking part, I ask that you subscribe to the Entomology Online Workshop newsletter via MailChimp.  You can find the subscription link in the right sidebar.  Upon receiving the verification email, you’ll want to click on “manage your preferences” and choose the list topics of interest to you; Entomology Online Workshop is listed as one option. I will then provide the necessary weblinks and/or pass codes required to access the course materials (via GoogleDocs, Flickr, and Project Noah) when the course begins next month.

Participants will have the opportunity to share documents via GoogleDocs, write blog posts (optional), and submit photographs of student work via Flickr.  Participants are also encouraged to collaborate with one another via my classroom on Project Noah.  Parents are expected to partner with younger children to read over and edit student presentations, checking for grammatical errors. Students working independently are asked to use spelling and grammar checks before submitting work. 

Each family or student that will be making home videos (strongly recommended) about class projects and activities should have a family or individual YouTube account. You can either use an already established account or start a new one for the class. Students wanting their own account must be 13 years old. Any videos made for class can then be uploaded to YouTube and the link given to me. Families are responsible for setting up desired privacy settings.



Getting to Know the Millipede

At archery class last week, we moved the hay bales (targets) and to our delight discovered a small group of millipedes who had taken up residence beneath the bales.  Sweetie was quick to make friends and Buddy followed suit behind her.  It gave us a chuckle when we discovered that their instructor, a young many in his late teens/early twenties was too apprehensive to hold one himself.

Millipedes have two pairs of legs on each body segment and are thus sometimes called “1000 legged”.  They have a rounded body and head from which short antennae can be observed.  They vary in length and color.  Most millipedes are herbivores and are found under decaying logs, stones, and leaf litter in moist soils.  They perform a beneficial service to the environment, shredding plant material that has fallen to the ground creating more food for fungi, bacteria, and other small organisms.  Though they have a hard exoskeleton for protection, they will also curl up into a coil when threatened and sometimes secrete a yellowish liquid to deter predators.  

Though they seem unpleasant to some people they are not dangerous.  They do not bite and they perform a valuable service for humans, eating decaying plants and returning the organic matter to the soil.  Because they live in burrows beneath the ground and below decaying logs and leaf litter, they do not use their eyes and prefer dark spaces.  Some scientists believe they may be blind for they will tap the ground as they move forward, much like a blind person will use a cane.  Though their hard exoskeleton provides some protection against predators, they will curl up into a ball when threatened and sometimes secrete a yellowish liquid that can be harmful to some small predators (harmless to humans).

We have seen these fun critters a few times at the High Desert Museum and at a friend’s house when we lived in Central Oregon.  This was the first time we had come across them in the wild ourselves.  They brought smiles to our faces and provided a great opportunity to journal the discovery.

Tiny Footprints :: Insects in Art

We enjoyed the most wonderful exhibit recently, Tiny Footprints by Pamela Cole.  I have always been fond of insects and have particularly enjoyed teaching children about the fascinating world of insects and their arthropod cousins. It is no wonder that this exhibit was one of the most intriguing exhibits I have ever seen.

A life-long avocational entomologist, Cole works with live insects to create unique watercolors and uses sustainably farmed insects as a medium to explore the aesthetic qualities of these amazing and colorful creatures upon which we depend for everything from pollination to clean-up.  The Tiny Footprints exhibit enabled us to explore in-depth, three dimensional pieces like “Bug Dollhouse” and “Chess Set”.  We marveled at her bionic bugs inspired by children’s wind-up toys and the popular steam-punk literary genre

Geneva’s favorite pieces were the table setting and bionic bugs.  Jeffrey most enjoyed “Bug Dollhouse”.  The piece that was most appealing to me was “Drawer of Discovery” which used Caddisfly cases, Silk Moth cocoons, and Cicada molts.  Her work has inspired us to explore insects in art more closely ourselves.

If you are interested in exploring entomology (study of insects) in more depth, I encourage you to check out my unit study, Introductory Entomology. Students will be introduced to this remarkable subphylum 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.

Hunting the Lost Ladybug

For the second year in a row, we have hiked into an area of Whiskeytown National Recreation Area to discover ladybugs.  The year before we moved, the Roots & Shoots group that we now belong had hiked in for the first time.  In this short, three year span, our group leader has observed a significant decline in the number of ladybugs present.  The decline has been so significant, even the kids could recognize a change from 2012 to 2013.

Most coccienellids overwinter as adults, aggregating on the south sides of large objects such as trees or houses during the winter months, dispersing in response to increasing day length in the spring.  In 2012, we observed them covering the perimeter of a pine tree and all amongst the leaf and pine needle litter on the forest floor.  Once we noticed them, it was difficult not to step on them. I blogged about our discovery here, Ladybugs Ladybugs Ladybugs, and also reported our spotting to Project Noah – I encourage you to follow the links – the pictures give some idea as to how many there were present.

From the Lost Ladybug Project website:  “Across North America ladybug species distribution is changing.  Over the past twenty years several native ladybugs that were once very common have become extremely rare.  During this same time ladybugs from other places have greatly increased both their numbers and range.  Some ladybugs are simply found in new places.  This is happening very quickly and we don’t know how, or why, or what impact it will have on ladybug diversity or the role that ladybugs play in keeping plant-feeding insect populations low.”

This year, we took part in the Lost Ladybug Project for the first time (we only recently learned of this citizen science opportunity).  Our group leader reported our data and the species we observed was confirmed as Hippodamia convergens, a native species but not the elusive 9-spotted species that is of most concern.  Commonly known as the convergent lady beetle, Hippodamia convergens is one of the most common lady beetles in North America and is found throughout the continent.

Adults are slightly elongated in shape and can range from 4-7 mm in length. They have a prominent black and white pattern behind the head, and black spots on red forewings. Beetles may have a full complement of 13 spots or they may have only a few. The white lines that converge behind the head are common to all individuals.

Parasitism in Caterpillars

While investigating leaf rollers and leaf miners as a part of our ongoing nature studies, we came upon a video on YouTube that perplexed me.  Ten years ago (eeek, has it really been that long?) I had the remarkable opportunity to take part in an Earthwatch expedition to Ecuador, Rainforest Caterpillars.  The focus of our assignment was on parasitism in caterpillars and while I am by no means an expert, I consider myself an insect enthusiast and can identify which insect order most specimens belong.

[ Edited :: This video has since been removed and I have been unable to find it – or a substitute.]

This video intrigued me because one of the things we did while in the field was ‘torment’ the caterpillars we found.  Essentially, we would do this by gently petting them with a small paint brush and pinching them carefully with a pair of tweezers (enough to get a reaction but not to harm).  We would then record their behavior or reaction to the stimuli.  We did this to get a general idea of how the different species would defend themselves and observed a wide variety of behaviors including thrashing about, rearing up and attempting to bite the attacker (that would be us), as well as and most amusing,kicking frass at us.

The premise, as you’ll see when you watch the video, is that the caterpillars behave this way because they have been parasitized by a wasp and their behavior is not altered or controlled by the wasp.  I didn’t think this was exactly the case.  I thereby contacted the lead scientist with whom I worked and inquired about the validity of the video.  His response confirmed my suspicion:

“This braconid genus, Glyptapanteles, is one that we rear a lot in Ecuador from geometrids.  The video that you saw, and the paper in PLOS one about this is not necessarily that common.  More generally, parasites do change the behavior of their hosts to the benefit of the parasites, but thrashing is still a very effective defense for most caterpillars against a broad array of predators and parasitoids.”  ~ Lee Dyer


For your educational entertainment, I include this video showing a Tobacco Hornworm, Manduca sexta, caterpillar infested with parasitoids.  The  Braconid wasp, Cotesia congregate, lays its eggs in the body of the caterpillar, also depositing a virus which is thought to prolong the larval stages and prevent molting to the pupal stage. When the wasp larvae are mature, they burrow out through the caterpillar’s skin and make white silken cocoons on the surface. In this video, two newly emerged wasp larvae are spinning their cocoons.