Friday 5: Aquatic Insects as Depicted by College Students

I really like science exercises that involve drawing  and I’ve featured some of the fantastic drawings done by the second graders I worked with when I was involved with the Insect Discovery program at my university.  The current semester ends today and I taught two lab sections for the introductory ecology and evolution course this time around.  I really loved it!  On the last day of lab we focused on sexual selection and behavioral ecology, so I had my students do a quick behavioral study focused on the respiratory behaviors of a variety of live aquatic insects.  I’m not sure they found the topic as exciting to study as I do (it takes a special kind of patience to be able to do behavioral studies and the vast majority of my students don’t have it), but they all got through the exercise and seemed to understand the main points.  I took a comparative approach, asking each student to observe one insect for half an hour and then compare their findings to two other insects observed by other students in the class.  They had to draw all three insects, then compare the data and make some conclusions about habitats where their insects might live.  Overall, I was rather pleased with how well the exercise went (apart from the occasional loud sigh or exasperated whispers of “This is SO tedious!”), but I especially loved the drawings.  Since it’s Friday, I’m going to share my 5 favorites!

Some of the drawings were quite good.  This damselfly was probably the best of the bunch:

Damselfly nymph

Damselfly nymph

It actually had some proper mottling and details of the segmentation, so it really looks like a damselfly.  You can see the wingpads and the gills.  Honestly, this is one of the best drawings I’ve ever seen any of my students do, regardless of their age!  But few people attempted this level of detail and went with highly stylized drawings of the insects instead.  One example is this fabulous backswimmer drawing:



This backswimmer, while not all that realistic, shows all the important parts – the keeled back, the proper body shape, the long, oar-like hind legs.  It’s very simple, yet includes everything it should.  This hellgrammite was similarly stylized:



Again, not super realistic, but it shows the essential components of a hellgrammite.  It’s got the front legs, the gills along the abdomen, the highly segmented body, the prolegs at the back, and the enormous jaws coming off a rectangular head.    Anyone who’s seen a hellgrammite would be able to look at this simplified drawing and know what it is.

Some of the drawings were absolutely adorable!  I thought this dragonfly nymph drawing was fantastic:

Dragonfly nymph

Dragonfly nymph

Something about the shape of the body and the way the eyes bulge off the side made me think “Awwwww…” when I saw it.  This is pretty much how I imagine a second grader doing this drawing except it came from an 18 or 19-year-old.  Actually, I was rather shocked by how similar the drawings from my college freshmen and sophomores were to those from Insect  Discovery activities!  Apparently most people don’t develop their drawing skills past that rudimentary second grade level.  But that’s okay!  This drawing is VERY simple, yet it still looks like a dragonfly.  I knew what it was before I even looked at the label for the insect, and that is all I require in a drawing.  Some of my students…  Well, they didn’t get that far.  There were some pretty crazy drawings, including one that looked like a segmented and deformed goldfish cracker – and then the group copied the bad drawing rather than doing the drawings based on the specimens.  Sigh…

This was the simplest drawing of them all:


Whirligig beetle

Whirligig beetle!  And, oddly enough, this is about all you can see looking down from the top without getting into the details of the head and the elytra.  Whirligig beetles are gorgeous, complex beetles, but most of the complexity is on the underside of their bodies.  They are rather unremarkable beetles simply looking down from above, and this drawing depicts that quite well, even if it is only two lines and two dots.

I think I’m going to incorporate drawings into as many activities as I can in the future.  They make the students really look at the things I want them to observe, so I think they’re a great teaching tool.  There’s a long history of scientists doing drawings of specimens and things they observe in their studies.  Plus, drawings are a lot of fun to grade!  I’d much rather look at drawings than read long papers.  You can get to the point in a drawing so much more efficiently than you can in a paper, and I think all the drawings I’ve shared here are good examples of that. Hooray for grading efficiency!  And hooray for cute aquatic insect drawings!


Unless otherwise stated, all text, images, and video are copyright © C. L. Goforth

8 thoughts on “Friday 5: Aquatic Insects as Depicted by College Students

  1. Hahahaha, love the backswimmer one. It can be interpreted as many things, for example: a gigantic bird left its beak stuck inside an open mountain and then flew away, beak-less. :-)

  2. I tested myself by scrolling SLOWLY down, so I could see the picture without reading the caption. I was able to recognize ALL of them. Nice work.

    • That’s what I like to hear! I thought they were all surprisingly well done, even if some were very simple. They show what they need to to make the insects recognizable, even if they show absolutely nothing else.

  3. I like the idea of drawing, it makes you more observation of proportions. In our Corps of Discovery class ,sketching,painting and photography were all tools to illustrate the most information.

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