Must Have Equipment for Entomology

Blog, She Wrote: Must Have Equipment for EntomologyIf you are going to collect insects, then you’ll need the right equipment. Today’s post is a list by category of the Must Have Equipment for Entomology.

Be sure to buy equipment that is meant for serious entomologists and not items that are essentially toys. We bought an Insect Collectors Backpack Kit from Home Science Tools for his birthday. While this was not everything Joshua needed once he got serious, it was a great starter kit and we only needed to supplement our initial investment.

Our other supplier is BioQuip Products which specializes in equipment, supplies, and books for entomology and related sciences.

Materials for Collecting

  • Aerial Net- For sweeping over vegetation and collecting terrestrial insects
  • Aquatic Net- A seining type of net for use in the water to collect aquatic species of insects.
  • Flat Pans- For pouring water collections into
  • Flat Tweezers on a String- for catching the aquatic species from the pan
  • Killing jar- jar of any kind with tissues inside. The jar usually has a substrate on the bottom to hold the ethyl alcohol when you pour it in. The out-gassing of the ethanol into the jar will kill the insect.
  • Aquatics Jar- filled with isopropyl alchol to keep aquatic and soft-bodied insects when you collect them.

Blog, She Wrote: Must Have Equipment for Entomology

Supplies for Pinning & Spreading

  • Quilting Pins- to hold the legs, wings, & other appendages into place while the insect is drying
  • Insect Pins- in various sizes from 0 to 3. For use with different sized insects
  • Tweezers/Forceps- for handling the insects precisely
  • Magnifying Lens- to see the insect features up close
  • Glassine Envelopes- These are also used in collection (which we’ll talk about tomorrow). They are for temporary storage of moths & butterflies so you don’t destroy their wing scales, but they are also useful in holding wings in place during drying.
  • Scissors- for cutting apart the glycene envelope when you pin insect wings
  • Small Ruler- so you can measure where the insect is on your pin.
  • Spreading Board- made so you can place the body of the insect in the groove and coax the wings out very carefully. Joshua made his own out of insulating foam block and dowels.
  • Pinning Block- this foam can’t easily break and is thick enough to pin insects which don’t need any wing spreading.
  • Paper Points- for displaying tiny insects rather than pinning them through
  • Elmer’s Glue- for the occasion when a leg falls off. Elmer’s to the rescue! This is also how we get an insect to display on a point.

Blog, She Wrote: Must Have Equipment for Entomology

Equipment for Handling Aquatic Species

Listed here are items you’ll need for handling aquatic insects and soft bodies insects such as caterpillars.

  • Jar- for collecting day
  • Isopropyl Alcohol- For preserving the insect. How to use it will be in tomorrow’s post!
  • Small Glass Vials- in a few small sizes depending on the size of your specimen
  • Screw Cap Collecting Tubes- These allow you to collect aquatic insects which are larger and hold specimens for putting them into their display vials.

Blog, She Wrote: Must Have Equipment for Entomology

Materials for Displaying Your Insect Collection

One of the requirements in our entomology club is to share your collection in a public display. On Wednesday afternoon, Joshua will turn in his collection and he’ll talk to a judge about his experience. Then his collection will go on display at the fair for the rest of the week.

  • Case with a Glass Lid- So that people can see your insect collection without taking the glass off. The backpack kit we got came with a small box.
  • Pins for Labels- For holding the labels
  • Laser Printed Labels- So that the labels don’t smear when you place them in the vials with alcohol
  • Vials- the small glass variety in various sizes

We ordered about $40.00 worth of equipment from BioQuip, Inc outside of the Backpack Kit from Home Science Tools. We use items from the kit as well including the field guide. Next season, which starts in September, we’ll be ordering a few more supplies to add to our collection of equipment.

You want to be well-equipped to do the job right. There is so much to learn and inferior materials will make the work more difficult.

Tomorrow I’ll be sharing all about where and how to collect your insect specimens.

Other bloggers are sharing their own series this week through the iHN Hopscotch. Click and see what they’re up to!

iHN July 2014 Hopscotch

Entomology- The Science of Insects

Blog, She Wrote: Entomology- The Science of Insects

This summer’s Hopscotch topic here at Blog, She Wrote is entomology. If you are an Instagram or Facebook follower of mine, then you may know that our nine year old is an entomologist. I thought it would be fun for me to report on how his year has gone and to share what we learned with you all.

As I write this, we are preparing for the 4-H Fair and his first year collection is just about ready. We have some labeling to do, but all of his specimens are pinned and we are in the home stretch. Today’s post is all about entomology- the science of insects including classification, & identification.

What is Entomology?

Officially speaking, entomology is:

A branch of zoology dealing with the scientific study of insects, including their taxonomy, morphology, physiology, and ecology.

This year Joshua has been studying entomology by attending lectures every month given by a husband-wife pair of PhD entomologists. They’ve been teamed up for years to lead an entomology project area for 4-H. For most of the time, he’s been attending with another 8 turning 9 year old boy and his dad. That’s right, parents are requested to be there for the ride. He’s had an amazing year learning all the intricate details of insect morphology while learning how to collect and pin insects for his own collection properly.

Blog, She Wrote: Entomology- The Science of Insects

Classification of Insects

Insects are animals with six legs and an exoskeleton- among other common characteristics. They can be divided into many different orders. Even a young entomologist knows his insect orders! As you learn the orders, try to keep up with the latest research because sometimes they change. Our group is working with the latest findings from earlier this year. When entomologists discover orders are so related to each other they don’t need to be separate orders, they are combined. For example, termites and cockroaches are closely related and are no longer separate orders. This will be important if you are taking your insect collection to the fair!

Orders of Insects (as of February, 2014):

  • Archaeognatha- Bristletails
  • Thysanura- Silverfish, Firebrats
  • Ephemeroptera- Mayflies
  • Odonata- dragonflies & damselflies (each in their own suborders)
  • Plecoptera- Stoneflies
  • Notoptera- ice crawlers, rock crawlers, heel walkers (discovered in 2002)
  • Dermaptera- Earwigs
  • Embioptera- Webspinners
  • Phasmatodea- Walking sticks, timemas
  • Orthoptera- Grasshoppers, crickets, katydids
  • Mantodea- Mantises
  • Blattodea- Cockroaches and termites (formerly Isoptera)
  • Zoraptera- Angel insects
  • Hemiptera- True bugs, moss bugs, cicadas, hoppers, aphids (in suborders)
  • Thysanoptera- Thrips
  • Psocoptera- Psocids (booklice & barklice)
  • Phthiraptera- Lice
  • Coleoptera- Beetles
  • Strepsiptera- Twisted winged parasites
  • Neuroptera- Lacewings, antlions, mantidflies, owlflies
  • Raphidioptera- Snakeflies
  • Megaloptera- Alderflies, dobsonflies, fishflies
  • Hymenoptera- sawflies, horntails, wasps, ants, bees
  • Trichoptera- Caddisflies
  • Lepidoptera- Butterflies & Moths
  • Mecoptera- Scorpionflies, hangingflies
  • Siphonaptera- Fleas (though it turns out that fleas are highly developed scorpionflies so this order may soon be reclassified as Mecoptera)
  • Diptera- Flies

Joshua has to have 20 insect specimens with 12 orders represented in his first year collection. I’ve bolded the orders he’s collected this year.

Blog, She Wrote: Entomology- The Science of Insects

Identification of Insects

Identifying insects comes after understanding insect morphology (form & structure). Once you know about biting mouth parts vs sucking mouth parts and whether to look for wings or not, etc.,  it’s easier to narrow down what the insect is.

Keys help you to look at the insect closely and make decisions based on the characteristics of the species. Use this dichotomous key to identify an insect down to its order.

Joshua has been memorizing the insect orders and trying to remember their features. If the name has “optera” in it, then it’s a flying insect, for example. He’s getting good at identifying by sight, but he still benefits from using the dichotomous key.

Blog, She Wrote: Entomology- The Science of Insects

Resources for Classification & Identification of Insects

When we meet as a club, the leaders bring their guides to share with us. We also have our field guides. A comprehensive guide is important to an entomologist. Unless you have very young children, I would recommend skipping the children’s guides. I find my kids outgrow them very quickly. They can be less intimidating, but they lack information and sometimes make it hard to identify a specimen.

  • National Audubon Society Field Guide to Insects & Spiders (North American)- This is our main field guide. Not only does it have plenty of information on various species, but the color photographs make it easy to compare in the field- or at pinning time.
  • A Guide to Common Freshwater Invertebrates of North America- This one was useful to us as he identified all of the aquatic species in his collection. Can you tell the difference between different species of mayflies? This book will help! Joshua has at least two in his collection this year.
  • Dichotomous Key- Going beyond matching pictures is sometimes necessary for identification, especially in the insect world. A dichotomous key has students analyze features of the insect and make a choice between one presentation of a characteristic and another. By process of elimination, you come to the final choice which will tell you what the critter is.

One of my favorite things about this entomology club is the way they choose to instruct the kids. Rather than watering down the information, our mentors lecture on the information as if their audience is much older. The wonderful thing is to watch the boys ask for more after an hour of listening intently as anatomy is drawn on the board. I love that it is real science- not classroom oriented, mini-demonstrations or labs.

Knowing your student and providing him with the materials he needs to grow is crucial to seeing your kids stick with a project area and gain experience.

The rest of this series will be about the equipment, collecting, pinning, and displaying an insect collection. Please join in!

Other bloggers with the iHomeschool Network are sharing their own topics in this summer’s Hopscotch. See what they’re up to!

iHN- Hopscotch July, 2014

5 Favorite Resources for Spring Fun

Bright Ideas Press: 5 Favorite Resources for Spring Fun5 Favorite Resources for Spring Fun

Perhaps spring is halfway to summer where you are, but in upstate New York, we are slow to burst into spring, especially this year. Enjoy a little spring inspiration with these resources even if you are well into the season.

Click on over to Bright Ideas Press for 5 Favorite Resources for Spring Fun- you’ll find ideas for nature study, art, and science along with our favorite websites, books, and art products.

Many thanks to Bright Ideas Press for the opportunity to contribute!

The Salamander Room: Amphibians & Reptiles

Blog, She Wrote: The Salamander Room- Amphibians & Reptiles

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It’s the last day of March, 2014! Surely it will be time to choose spring titles and enjoy the good weather. The Salamander Room by Anne Mazer is an adventuresome tale of a young boy on a quest to keep a critter he finds in the woods.

Author Inspiration & The Making of a Book

We had the amazing opportunity to meet Anne Mazer last fall when she agreed to meet with our Writer’s Workshop group in our home. I was reading in the back of Spilling Ink, a book we use in workshop (which she co-authored) and it turns out she lives in our town! I reached out and she was delighted to join us. We were thrilled to listen to her stories about being an author and we learned the inspiration for The Salamander Room. Here are some tidbits of what she shared with us that day:

  • The Salamander Room was inspired by a boy asking his mom “what if” questions while she was on a group hike one day. All kinds of experiences lead to writing ideas! She’s never seen the boy since. Our writers thought it would be so cool if the grown boy were to find out he was the subject of this timeless tale.
  • We saw the galley copy of the book- A book galley is a preliminary copy of the book with most things final, but the author has a chance to change a few things if they are not right.
  • Author’s Notes- We saw an entire folder of notes and manuscripts of the book. Bits and pieces of her writing process- just fabulous!
  • The publishing process- She told us many stories of how a book comes to be from notes to published book. The kids were riveted and could have listened for hours.
  • What else? We learned about other books she has written and what books are in the works- like a sequel to Spilling Ink.
  • Bonus- She was thrilled to listen to the kids’ workshop stories that day. What an experience for the kids to be heard by our special guest that day.

Blog, She Wrote: The Salamander Room- Amphibians & Reptiles

Studying Amphibians & Reptiles

Spring is a wonderful time to get out and observe reptiles and amphibians. Vernal pools abound where these critters will make their seasonal start. Make plans to get out and observe!

Teaching Classification of Organisms

Blog, She Wrote: The Salamander Room- Amphibians & Reptiles

The study of animals gives you the perfect chance to introduce the categorizing of animals (and plants or other organisms). Discuss:

  • Linnaean Classification- A way to sort organisms by their like characteristics developed by Carl Linnaeus in the early 1700s.
  • Bionomial Nomenclature- Widely regarded as the biggest contribution Carl Linnaeus gave to the categorization of organisms.
  • Domains- Are you aware that there is a new level of classification above Kingdom? I have to admit this was new to me as I studied with my kids this year in biology- and I’m a certified biology teacher! The domains identify two types of bacteria and then eukaryotic life forms as the three domains. Which means if you use Domains, then you also have a four Kingdom system of classification.

The Classification Game

Blog, She Wrote: The Salamander Room- Amphibians & Reptiles

There are a variety of ways to play this classification game. You’ll need a large number of pictures of animals. If you want to include plants and other kingdoms that’s fine too. You’ll need to determine how big you want this game to be. You can use it to cover all of the classification system or just portions of it. The pictures here show classes within the animal kingdom. A few ways to play:

  • Plain Sorting- Give the student a large pile of animal pictures with no labels. Have them sort the animals into groups based on their characteristics. When all the animals have been sorted, have them take the class labels and place them with the correct group. This is a fun way for kids to discover how animals are alike and different and from there to identify and name the criteria for membership to a group.
  • Sort into Classes- In this version, set out the labels for the classes (and whichever other groups you want to include- orders, for example) and give the students the pictures. They must put the picture under the correct label. They can play alone or with others and take turns.
  • Race- this game is played with the labels already out and you provide each time with a set of the pictures. See who can win first. If you are playing in several groups and the winner isn’t entirely correct, then they are out and the other teams can start again.

Resources for Studying The Salamander Room

  • Giant Science Resource Book from Evan Moor- This is one of my favorite books for simple, clean, thorough notebook pages for elementary and early middle school science.
  • Fold n Learn – by Five in a Row. FIAR offers free fold n learns for their units if you sign up for their mailing list. What a deal!
  • Snakes in Culture- CurrClick class on April 15th. Take a look at the snakes around the world and how they are viewed in that culture. A family friendly one day class.
  • Five in a Row unit on The Salamander Room at Blog, She Wrote
  • Adventure Box: Insects & Critters- has many ideas and resources for keeping your own amphibian and reptile pets

Have fun exploring critters and habitats in the warm weather this spring!

BookBigIdeaSpringJoin other iHomeschool Network bloggers for A Book & A Big Idea Spring. Put a little spring in your homeschooling this season with lots of seasonal book ideas.

The Snake Project

Blog, She Wrote: The Snake Project

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The Snake Project was born out of Rebecca’s interest in the wild caught snake she started caring for last summer. Of all the kids, she took a liking to him and asked to keep him long term. She learned about garter snakes and what they eat and how to care for them in captivity. Throughout the summer her interest grew and when it was time to discuss what she would study in science this year, she chose to use snakes as her entry into the world of biology.

Why Study Snakes?

The inspiration for the project was a wild caught garter snake found around our mailbox last spring as the weather was finally turning consistently warm. What made us turn the experience into a biology course?

  • We had a live specimen to care for and learn about.
  • Snakes are a window into how live organisms are organized and put together.
  • Taking care of a snake requires a lot of research- so studying snakes and their morphology is a natural extension of the work involved.
  • It isn’t just about the snake we have. It opens a world of exploration on many species and classes of organisms.

Blog, She Wrote: The Snake Project

Snake Research Is The Basis for a Study of Biology

Seeking information and researching snakes on a deep level has led to exploring the following biological concepts:

  • Cellular Structure & Function- animals cells to see what snake cells are like  but also plant cells as a comparison.
  • Skeletal & Muscular Systems- of snakes but also humans to see how they are the same and different
  • Aestivation- survival mechanism of reptiles for when they are overheated
  • Brumation- Reptilian hibernation
  • Classification- traditional Linnaean classification with binomial nomenclature
  • Digestion- Snake anatomy and function with a look at human digestion
  • Excretory System
  • Nervous System
  • Respiratory System
  • Reproductive System
  • Circulatory System
  • Habitats
  • Ecosystem
  • Biomes
  • Communities & Populations- community interactions, characteristics of populations, biodiversity
  • Recycling of Matter- nitrogen cycle, carbon cycle, water cycle, carbon dioxide-oxygen cycle
  • Survey of the Animal Kingdom- Starting with the least complex to the most complex

We started with a list of things she wanted to know about and then the list expanded as time has gone on. Bring your kids to the table and let them take charge!

Blog, She Wrote: The Snake Project

Resources for The Snake Project

This project was Rebecca’s creation right down to the resources she wanted to use. Below is a list containing the types of books and websites she used along with some specific titles if she found the book particularly useful.

Note that she is going beyond what is typically available to kids her age and seeking out expert materials.

Some of these titles are pretty intimidating for most, but she enjoyed them. Even the books meant for veterinary school students had plenty to read that she understood based on the other work she has done. There are pictures and diagrams to decipher. Rebecca says that it was difficult sometimes not knowing all the terms, but she gained a greater overall understanding of what she was after. Definitely a win!

Take away: Don’t be afraid to get college and professional level resources. They will provide more detail and less overview which will result in a deeper knowledge of the topic. So much better than always skimming the surface!

Blog, She Wrote: The Snake Project

Seeking Experts for Project Discoveries

Rebecca exhausted the resources she initially got from the library and off of our bookshelves pretty quickly. She poured through them and made lots of notes. As she worked, she began to have more questions which she wrote down.

One question she wanted to answer was, “How do snakes move?” To answer the question she reached out to some experts she knows.

  • A professor at our local veterinary school
  • A student at the local veterinary school
  • She simply explained what she was studying, what she wanted to know, and asked them for any resources they might have on the topic.

Later, when she needed help checking the health of her brumating snake she:

  • Contacted students from the Herpetology Club at the local university- she had just seen them present a few days earlier and reached out to them.
  • They contacted an expert they knew and gave Rebecca suggestions.
  • Checked in with the local pet store- to ask about snake care. This is not a chain store, but a locally owned small animal store with many reptiles for sale.

Some of the most valuable information she has gained during her studies this year have come from experts in the field. Don’t hesitate to contact your local university. If you have trouble making the right connections, try your state’s land grant university which is home to the Cooperative Extension. Their charter includes outreach to the public and you may have success.

Blog, She Wrote: The Snake Project

Snake Project Success

The project has been successful enough to continue all year. I started out with the idea that we could commit to the first quarter and depending on whether or not she was still learning and heading into new territory, we could keep it going. Here’s a look at some of the big moments so far:

  • Temperature Study- On our basement to determine whether it was safe to brumate her snake there for the winter. She used a temperature recorder used for tracking the temp of chemical shipping crates and kept in the basement in December. She put the temperature tapes in her project notebook and graphed the results. Steady temps for sure!
  • Food Study- She researched what garter snakes eat and how much of each thing. She was able to feed him up until worms and slugs were no longer available.
  • Brumation vs Feeding for The Winter- She calculated how much it would cost to feed her snake its winter meals vs brumating him for the winter months. Given her careful research and conclusions, we allowed her to brumate the snake.
  • Herpetology Class- at our homeschool co-op this spring. While she is not learning much new content, she has enjoyed seeing and learning about different reptiles. This particular class is student taught which is unique.
  • Designed a Snake Garden- With information about shelter, plants, and food, Rebecca mapped out a garden which would attract snakes. Just what you want, right?
  • Brumation Observations- She checked on her snake and kept notes on his demeanor while he was brumating.
  • Snake Morphology- She has done extensive studying on the structure and function of snake anatomy with labeled diagrams and notes sometimes comparing them to human anatomy and physiology.
  • Snake Diversity- Explored types of snakes and where they live, safe vs non-safe snakes, etc.

Blog, She Wrote: The Snake Project

The Mentor’s Role in The Snake Project

Since this is a student led project, what have I done all this time?

  • Kept my own project journal based on her work- I actually have all her projects in one notebook separated by tabs. Too many projects to keep after to have one for each!
  • Jot down her ideas when she tells me about them- I can use it later as reminders for her.
  • Keep a list of questions she asks- This is great fodder for when the project slows down. I can ask whether or not she ever found out about __________.
  • Make equipment/materials available- I don’t necessarily advertise what we have, but I do make sure she knows what’s around when she is searching for the right thing. For example, we’ve used the temperature recorders before so she knew we had them on hand.
  • Advice on contacting experts- She knew who she could contact, but little reminders about etiquette are always nice and making sure it’s a kind email is important!
  • Help to the the resources- Once they are identified, I make sure they get here if my help is needed (like picking up a book at the library).
  • Available for Conferencing- Being generally available to answer questions and point in the right direction if stuck is time well spent.
  • Provide the time- Just as with her history and fashion projects, we’ve afforded the time for her studies. She is eager to learn biology. Why not have it happen within the context of a great project that she has designed?
  • Keep tabs on forward momentum- This is big for me. I want to be laid back, but I need to see forward movement on projects and not stalling!

Wrapping Up The Snake Project

As the school year draws to a close, what is next for The Snake Project?

Rebecca’s project journal is full of notes, sketches, labeled diagrams, lists, questions, resources, etc. It’s my hope that she will put all the data together in a way that can be remembered and presented to others which will help to cement what she has experienced this year. Ideas I’ve heard her toss around:

  • A Snake Encyclopedia
  • New Snake Enclosure
  • Branch out into other reptiles- She’d like a Gargoyle Gecko
  • Book- with information she chooses
  • FAQ book/poster

I’ll be sure to share the last few months of the project as well as the final result when the time comes.

It’s been a fulfilling experience so far and I think much more meaningful to her as a student of biology to have filtered the topic through the lens of her interest in snakes.

I’m looking forward to her next science project!

Project Based HomeschoolingIf you’d like to learn more about this approach to learning, check out Project Based Homeschooling by Lori Pickert. This book has given form to ideas I’ve been using for years! You might also be interested in Lori’s blog Camp Creek Blog- Project Based Homeschooling where she has a wonderful community of families with similar philosophies of learning.