Tagging Monarchs for Science

monarchs-caughtFor those of you who don’t know, I work at a natural history museum as the head of citizen science.  I oversee the collection and entry of data for about 40 citizen science projects at my museum’s field station, do a ton of education based on citizen science projects, create my own citizen science research projects, and help other people create and/or promote their projects as part of the overall program at the museum.  It’s a ton of fun and I absolutely love what I do, but I especially like it when my current life as a natural history museum citizen science person and my past life as an entomology researcher combine.  It should come as no surprise, then, to learn that one of my favorite projects to participate in every year is Monarch Watch.

Monarchs have been a focus of citizen science projects for a long time.  The first major monarch project was called the Insect Migration Association and was started by a pair of Canadian entomologists named Fred and Norah Urquhart.  For 40 years, they tracked movements by gluing small paper tags to monarch wings and enlisted the help of enthusiasts throughout Canada and the US to track where they went by reporting the tag numbers back to the Urquharts.  Thanks to their efforts, in 1975 another couple who participated in the project, Ken and Catalina Brugger, tracked the monarchs through Mexico and eventually found their overwintering grounds in the oyamel fir forests in central Mexico.  It’s a pretty miraculous story, but also one that could never have happened if the Urquharts didn’t enlist the help of many other people.  It’s a great example of a citizen science project, and one that worked amazingly well in spite of getting its start long before the convenience of the internet made this sort of research so much easier.

tagged-monarch-before-releaseThe Urquhart’s project eventually became Monarch Watch under Chip Taylor at the University of Kansas and the process is essentially the same.  Now we use stickers instead of paper tags that need to be glued on, but you still have to catch the monarch, handle it gently while you affix the tag, record the data (date, location, sex of the butterfly, wild or reared, and the tag number), and release it. Monarch Watch does a survey in Mexico each year to look for tags and eventually reports back to the public about where monarchs were tagged and which ones made it all the way to Mexico.

I really enjoy participating in Monarch Watch.  I’ve gotten my process down well so that I can catch, tag, photograph, and release a monarch in under 30 seconds. As much as I like tagging monarchs myself (I spend many hours every year walking up and down the dirt road at the field station catching and tagging monarchs), I think I might actually enjoy teaching other people how to do it even more.

taqged monarch feeding on nectarI’ve been catching butterflies a long time.  I started my insect collection when I was about 11 years old and I’ve handled hundreds, maybe thousands, of butterflies.  While I adore monarchs and think that tagging them is a wholly worthwhile experience, I don’t think I get the same sort of rush from it that the people I teach do.

Most of the people who come to the monarch tagging programs I host have never held a butterfly before.  Many are terrified of hurting them and some people refuse to hold them.  They’ll watch me tag the monarchs they catch instead.  Most of these people have been told that touching a butterfly will rub scales off the wings (true) or kill it (unlikely if you’re handling them carefully) and worry about hurting them. They also worry they’ll get the tag in the wrong place or break a wing vein.  I don’t pressure people to tag the monarchs themselves if they show any hesitation, but I usually ask to release the butterfly by setting it on their arm.  The way their faces light up when they see a tagged monarch flap its wings and take off on its way to Mexico is amazing.  It is usually a look of pure, unadulterated joy, a rare moment of pure peace and tranquility.

Other people want to dive right in and do the tagging themselves.  They will bring the first monarch they catch over to me and have me show them how to get the butterfly out of the net.  They’ll usually put the first tag on themselves and will take the butterfly from me when I pass it to them.  These people release them from their hands, then rush off to catch another one so they can do the whole process again themselves. They might be a little more focused on the hunt and a little less worried about hurting the butterflies than other people, but the moment the monarch leaps into the air from their hands, they get the same beatific look on their faces as everyone else.  It’s simply amazing to watch.

There’s something so awe-inspiring about handling a small, fragile animal knowing that it might fly all the way to Mexico, overwinter high in the mountains, and then fly all the way back to the US.  I suspect that when people release a tagged monarch, they form a sort of connection to the migration.  Perhaps they think that part of them will travel with the butterfly as it completes its amazing journey.  That this monarch you hold in your hands might be the same butterfly that researchers record when they survey the monarchs in Mexico – well, that’s a truly awesome thought.  I think this idea is the source of that joyous smile as people watch the butterflies fly away, but I never ask.  I’d hate to ruin the moment for them by asking them to dissect their feelings immediately after having what is clearly an amazing experience.

tagged monarchI’ll keep tagging monarchs and I’ll keep teaching other people to do it because I love it.  Since I moved to North Carolina in 2012, I have generally tagged between 6 and 15 monarchs each year.  This year has been a magnificent monarch year at the field station: I’ve tagged 26 so far.  That’s 26 butterflies out of millions that I held in my own two hands that will attempt to fly to another country.  Only time will tell how many of them make it, but I wish them the best of luck on their journey.

 

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

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Smoky Mountain Insects

Oh wow, it’s been a month since I last posted anything.  Whoops!  Can only say that it’s been a REALLY busy month and work with a lot of long hours and evening programs. But things slow down for a little while and that means I have the time and energy to blog!

Last weekend I went to Great Smoky Mountains National Park and helped one of my coworkers lead an educator trek.  At the museum where I work, educator treks are open to formal and informal educators (people who work at museums, zoos, environmental education centers, and the like) and take them out into the field for one to seven days to learn about nature and science firsthand.  For this particular three-day trip, we spent a day at the facility at Purchase Knob learning from the rangers about citizen science efforts that are being done at the park and getting some hands on experience.  It’s a spectacularly beautiful place:

We looked at the status of a bunch of trees for the Nature’s Notebook project and did a leaf litter arthropod study that the park oversees.  The latter involved putting leaf litter into a shaker box, shaking it vigorously, and then using an aspirator (also known as a pooter or, as our ranger calls them, “suckie upper thingies”) to transfer any animals to a vial for examination back in the classroom.  It was fun watching the teachers respond to the insects they caught once they were projected onto a big screen with a video microscope:

In the afternoon, we walked a very long way down a very steep mountain to get to a stream to check for salamanders along some transect lines the park has set up in the area.  I know next to nothing about salamanders, but apparently the pygmy salamanders we saw are very interesting and we saw 7 species altogether.  As the last group finished measuring the salamanders they’d caught and recorded their data, the rest of the group wandered down to the stream to look for more salamanders.  Now I love salamanders, but you all know I’m much more into stream insects than anything with  a backbone.  We found a bunch of flat-headed mayflies clinging to rocks and someone brought over this stonefly:


I think it’s a perlodid stonefly, but honestly I didn’t look at the mouthparts because I was partly in charge of the group.  One of the teachers was looking for salamanders in a little puddle between a big rock and the shore and found one of these:

A roach-like stonefly!!!  I did a little happy stonefly dance and may have yelled a little as I tried to get everyone else excited about it.  Sadly, most of the group was much more interested in the salamanders to care about this amazing stonefly, but it didn’t diminish my excitement over it.  The same teacher found another one too.  I’ve seen specimens, but never a live one, so it was very, very exciting for me.  It’s hard to describe the joy you get from seeing something in the wild that you’ve been hoping to see for a while. It’s a pretty amazing feeling.

After the long trek back up the hill, we went on a wildflower hike.  The Smokies are known for their amazing wildflowers and there were many species in bloom.  We had the group do some nature journaling so they could just sit and look at the flowers for a while. Totally by accident, the trillium that I chose to sketch had insects on it:

Two longhorn beetles that ended up getting frisky as I drew my flower and a teenie, tiny caterpillar was starting to make a tiny hole in the petal when I left.  Insects always improve flowers as far as I’m concerned, even one as awesome as a trillium.

It had apparently been unusually dry in the Smokies for a while, but it rained hard our second night there.  We went to Cataloochee Valley the last day to hike a bit, look for elk, and learn about human impacts in Great Smoky and everything smelled clean and bright.  When we arrived back at the vans, we were treated to a HUGE group of butterflies puddling in the damp dirt:

This photo doesn’t even begin to do justice to the number of swallowtails in the area!  I suspect that because it had been dry for a relatively long time, the butterflies may have been hard up for the salts and minerals that they usually suck out of the soil when they “puddle.”  Dry weather means dry soils and limited puddling opportunities, but the rain seems to have brought the butterflies out in force.  I have never seen so many large butterflies in one place at one time in the wild and they were swirling all around us.  It was amazing!  One of the teachers wandered off a bit and came across this:

That’s a big bunch of butterflies on a big pile of scat, happily sucking nutrients from the wet surface.  If you look closely, you’ll also see a burying beetle.  The butterflies were doing a pretty good job keeping it away from the scat as they fed, so at one point it climbed right over the top of their wings in an unsuccessful attempt to find a place where it could feed also.  The beetle made the whole amazing butterfly experience even better!

Even though I was with a group and didn’t get to spend nearly as much time poking around for insects as I would have if left to myself, the whole trip was just fabulous. The teachers we had with use were amazing and very excited to get out into the mountains and we saw a lot of really excellent wildlife.  The insects were just a happy bonus!  But they make me want to go back and explore more.  Planning another trip there this summer!

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

Heads Up – New Project Starting on Monday and YOU Can Get Involved!

As many of you probably know, I work for a natural history museum in North Carolina and my job focuses on getting people involved in citizen science efforts.  My museum is part of a really fun collaborative project called Remix, Remake, Curate that brings together museum-based science and the arts (writing especially).  It encourages participants (especially K-12 students) to get involved in fun, hands-on science activities and write creatively about their experiences.  We’re partnered with the Tar River Writing Project and the Poetry Project, so our particular project has students learning about science through a variety of activities and then writing/performing poetry based on what they learned.  Participants then share their results – scientific and written – through scheduled Twitter chats and Google Hangouts and post their poems and photos from their scientific explorations on the Google+ community.  The project is offered in a massive open online course format, so anyone anywhere can get involved!  You don’t even have to be a kid to take part.

Prodaticus bimarginatus

Predaceous diving beetle at a light at night

Why should you care?  Because year 2 of the project starts on Monday and my team created a fun insect-themed activity focused on nighttime insects!  Over the next two weeks, we’re encouraging people to go outside at night, look at lights, and record observations about the insects they see.  I’ve created a simple guide to porch light insects to help people identify their critters and a datasheet for recording observations.  (Both are now available on the Educational Materials page!)   After making some observations of nighttime insects, we are encouraging participants to write a two-voice poem based on their experience and share the results (whether the poem itself or a video recording of two people performing the poem) on our Google+ community.  At the end of our two weeks, we will have built a huge collection of insect photos, datasheets with awesome insect drawings, artwork, insect poetry, and other insect awesomeness that everyone will be able to see online.  I think it’s going to be a lot of fun!

Plume moth G12

Plume moth

Want to get involved?  You can participate in a variety of different ways!  If you’re an educator, consider following along with your class.  Most of the people developing the activities for this activity are language or visual arts teachers and the activities are built for teachers to use in their classrooms.  We’d love to have you join in.  If you would simply like to participate in the project on your own, please do!  Even if you’re not a K-12 student or a teacher, we’d still love to see some of your porch light insect photos, poems, etc.  And, if you want to really make a kid’s day, you could also visit our Google+ community page over the next few weeks and comment on poems submitted by participants.  Last year, the kids who participated told their teachers that one of the best things about the project was the feedback they got from strangers, knowing that people out there were actually reading the things they had created.  I don’t expect any of you to become poetry trolls, but it’s worth saying that we hope that commenters will be kind.  Most of the participants are kids, after all!

Hebrew

Hebrew

I am planning to blacklight in my backyard each night next week and write a whole bunch of poems for the project.  I’ll likely post some of them here, so if you see my blog invaded by poetry, that’s why!  And just to get you in the mood, I thought I’d share a poem today.  The woman who administers Remix, Remake, Curate,  Stephanie West-Puckett (an instructor at Eastern Carolina University), attended the Educator Open House at my museum last week to drum up interest in the project.  She had the teachers who visited her station do a blackout poem, a type of poem where you take a piece of text and then black out all of the words that will not eventually become a part of the poem.  She chose my recent post about antlions as the text, so I’ll leave you with an antlion blackout poem.

Hope to see a few of you join the project starting Monday!

Going, Going, Gone
A Blackout Poem Created by North Carolina Teachers

Entomologist.
Prairie Ridge antlions at work
moving about.  There are hoards.
Hoards!!

For a moment, digging.
Abdomen, thorax, head.
Disappeared.
Mouth-parts for a moment.
Antlion.

Like the Sarlaccc in Star,
Sci-fi lover.  Antlion pits.
Little craters. Monster.
Rawwr!

Predators wait.
Unsuspecting victims slip into the cone-shaped pits,
Tumble to the bottom.
Loose sand.
Down.

Whole larva swallowed by the sand,
Cone-shaped pit, sand all over the place.
Lurking.

Hapless ant, it’s next meal.
Antlions are crazy cool.
Larvae, they roll.  Ball.
Damselfly-like antlion. Same species.
Ant.

As that antlion lying in wait,
Jaws poised,
Just below the surface,
Hidden.
Sight. Life. Over.

Series of photos, re-burying itself.
Larvae crawl backwards,
Butt first, bewildered.
Larvae hooked the easiest
Misidentification pet.
Feel.

Repeating, burying itself.
Pit.  Lurks beneath surface.
Nightmares…

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

What Visited My Blacklight Last Week (Well-Nigh Wordless Wednesday)

I am part of a grant that is bringing together science and writing by partnering science museums, like the one where I work, with local chapters of the National Writing Project to create K-12 educational programs.  I’ll share more specifics about the activities we’re offering later (they’ll be online, so you can participate too!), but the activity that my team is developing and rolling out to the public next month explores nocturnal insects.  As my team’s science museum representative, it falls to me to create the science-related content that supports our activities – field guides, photos, videos, etc.  One of the things the English teachers and poets on my team really wanted was a time-lapse video of my blacklight sheet.  So, I took a camera out a few nights ago, snapped 2700 photos of my sheet, and this is the result:

Now, what I get on my blacklighting sheet in North Carolina is nothing compared to what I used to see in Arizona, but it’s still interesting to see what came to the light.  My favorite part: the damsel bug that shows up in about the last 30 seconds and starts eating other insects on the sheet.  :)

Anyway, I hope you all enjoy a glimpse at the insects I’ve been seeing at my backyard blacklight recently!

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

Collecting Dragonflies with Girls in Science (Well-Nigh Wordless Wednesday)

This post is going to be a bit longer than my usual Wednesday posts.  It’s not going to live up to the Well-Nigh Wordless name today, but I feel the need to tell a longer story, you know?

A while back, I posted a photo and told a story about a group of girls that I worked with last year that was particularly wonderful.  This group of girls included mostly low-income, mostly minority, teenage girls, a combination that often (in my experience at least) means that the students aren’t at all interested in what I have to teach them and they don’t want to do the activity I have planned.  Anyone who’s worked with groups of teenagers knows how important appearances are to that age group and how it’s often not cool for a teen, especially a teen girl, to show an interest in something like a dragonfly.  Few things break my heart like seeing that one kid who really wants to play with some bugs, who wants to learn, but pretends to hate it like everyone else so he/she doesn’t stand out.  That was 100% not the case with the group I worked with last summer!  They were THRILLED about the dragonflies and were completely and utterly engaged the entire two hours I spent with them.  I practically had to drag them back inside when our time was up.  That experience ended up being one of the highlights of my year.

I returned to do the same presentation for the new group of girls attending this year’s camp today and was worried: surely lightning doesn’t strike twice?  To my very great pleasure, this group was even better than last year’s!  EVERY girl in the group, even the two who were screaming every time a butterfly came near them, ended up catching at least one dragonfly.  Two girls caught 10 dragonflies each in the 40 minutes we were outside and another couple of girls caught 7 and 8 respectively.  Girls who probably haven’t intentionally run in years were chasing dragonflies down with the nets and made some of THE most impressive catches I’ve ever seen.  It was AWESOME!!  Here’s the group headed down the trail after successfully catching nearly a dozen dragonflies at the little stream that runs near the center where the camp is held:

campers walking down the greenway

I just have to say that, as someone who LOVES teaching people about insects and getting people outside to learn about the natural world, moments like these remind you of why you put up with any crap you have to deal with in your job.  These are the moments that make up for anything that’s ever gone wrong, any group that hated what you presented, and completely validate your career choices.  I am still on this amazing high from working with this group today – and I hope it lasts the rest of the week!

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

Friday 5: In the Stream

Hey everyone!  Took me a bit longer to get back on track after my recent travels and some very busy time at work, but I’m getting a Friday 5 up today.  Woo!  Feeling good about that.

I spent a big chunk of today working with various volunteers to collect data around the field station.  We tracked one of our box turtles this morning, and then I had a quick lunch before one of my school groups came out for their regular data collection.  The group I was working with today is a really excellent group of high schoolers from a nearby charter school.  They’re incredibly smart (they know it, but they’re really down to earth too) and they are all excited about learning.  They come every three weeks after school with their biology teacher to work with me as part of a research club they’ve developed at their school.  That’s right: these young men and women are coming to do science for fun on their own time, just because they want to learn something.  How can you resist loving a group like that?!

We have examined the stream to try to understand why there are so few insects living in what seems to be lovely water.  I’ve mentioned in a past blog post that I think flooding is to blame in this particular case, but my high schoolers are helping me monitor the stream as we try to solve the mystery of the missing bugs together.  They actually did a lot of the prep work for the project and have developed their own protocols and methods for the sampling they do.  I think it’s awesome, so let me take you through today’s visit so you can learn about what they’re doing!  First, we measured several water quality parameters:

Measuring water

Measuring the water

We’re using Vernier probes for this.  Someday I’d love to get a grant to buy a Hydrolab or some other swanky probe so we can measure all the water quality parameters at one time rather than plugging and unplugging every probe to get the readings, but for now it’s a long, involved process to get the data recorded.  We’re looking at temperature, dissolved oxygen, flow, salinity, nitrate, conductivity, turbidity, and pH.  Then we collect an insect sample from the stream.  I sadly didn’t get a photo of this part of the process, but they lay down what is essentially a quadrat (a plastic frame they built themselves) in the stream, hold a net at the end, and shake the hell out of the materials inside the quadrat to wash any insects into the net.  It’s a sort of MacGuyvered serber sampler.  Works pretty well!

Once we have a sample in the net, we sort the insects from the rest of the crud that ends up in the net with the insects:

Picking bugs

Picking bugs

Picking is a pretty easy process.  You just dump the sample into a white dish pan and remove any bugs you find.  We transfer any bugs we find into a super fancy sorting tray:

Sorting tray

Sorting tray

Okay, okay, so our sorting trays are ice-cube trays.  They work well!  At this point, all the insects are still alive, swimming around in the water.  Everyone watches them moving around and makes comments about what they think they might be doing.  However, because we can’t identify them down to a useful level at the stream, we preserve the bugs in alcohol and the group takes their samples back to school with them.  We’re planning a sorting/identification date so we can identify our insects to family and genus, and then all the data will go into a database.  At some point, we’ll tackle the data analysis and see what sorts of water parameters might be leading to the lack of insects in the stream.  Over the 3-4 years we’re planning to keep this project going, we’ll also be able to see seasonal patterns in the life histories of several of the insects and will document the aquatic insects living in the Prairie Ridge stream in a systematic way for the first time.

While I know the group enjoys the data collection part of the experience, we typically take the scenic route back to the top of the hill, wandering slowly about the grounds.  We’ve sampled grapes and persimmons.  We’ve watched birds and looked at plants. We go exploring up and down the stream.  A couple of trips ago, the group found an enormous cow femur in one of the pools upstream of their sampling area, and that was absolutely thrilling to them!  This time we wandered down to look at the pool where the damselfly nymphs live, and it had some lovely reflections:

Roots

Roots at the stream

And just because they hadn’t done it yet, today we wandered into the Nature PlaySpace, a nature-based play area we recently built for families with young kids to help get everyone out in nature.  I’ve got to say that it was really entertaining to see high schoolers running all over the play area like maniacs, sliding down the slide, and climbing up the center of the mole hill:

Mole hill

Mole hill.  The port with the ladder comes out of the center of the hill.

Five of them packed into the opening at the top of the mole hill at one point and had their teacher take a picture of them.  They all giggled the whole time!

All in all, a pretty good day!  A little chilly, but I spent a lot of time in the water, and that’s always good.  Add a bunch of enthusiastic volunteers into the mix and it’s even better!

Hope everyone has a good weekend, and to my American readers, have a great LONG weekend!

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

Friday 5: Things I Taught 6th and 7th Graders

Last week was the busy week from hell for me at work.  It was program after program after program all week, including Saturday.  In spite of my exhaustion and the fact that I’d already taught hundreds of people many different things, I spent last Friday at a middle school in rural eastern North Carolina teaching nearly 250 6th and 7th about my experiences as a scientist working with aquatic insects.  Essentially, I talked for about 5.5 hours straight.  And when I say talked, I really mean that I yelled over the many conversations going on and the window-mounted air conditioner and was to the point I could barely even speak by the end of the day.  So, I went home, didn’t talk the rest of the night, and photographed a bunch of the bugs I shared with the kids.  Today, I give you five factoids about some of the insects I shared with those 250 rural North Carolinian middle schoolers (who knew WAY more about aquatic insects than your average urban kid) on that completely exhausting, but exhilarating, day.

1. Ever see the Alien movies?  The dragonfly nymph mouthpart is rather like that little mouth inside the alien’s mouth.

Common green darner, Anax junius

Common green darner, Anax junius

Dragonfly and damselfly nymphs have one of the coolest mouthparts ever!  It’s essentially a long, flat grabber that they keep folded up under their heads.  When they encounter something they want to eat, they squeeze a lot of blood into their heads, which causes the mouthpart (the labium) to shoot out away from the body.  (Thus, the allusion to the Alien movies!)  Hooks on the end of the labium grab the unfortunate animal and then everything is quickly retracted, bringing the still living animal into contact with the dragonfly’s chewing mouthparts so it can be eaten.  This all happens really fast.  It’s a pretty amazing, yet somewhat gruesome spectacle.

2. Dragonfly nymphs breathe through their butts.

Dragonfly nymph

Dragonfly nymph

Dragonfly nymphs are gill breathers and absorb oxygen through the water via their gills, but their gills aren’t on the outside of their bodies. Instead, they are packed inside a rectal gill chamber, which is inside the body.  The nymphs pump water into and out of their back ends, moving water over the gills inside the rectal gill chambers and stirring everything around so they can breathe more efficiently.  Thus, they breathe through their butts!  Imagine a super giggly 4-year-old girl.  Now imagine a 6th or 7th grade boy sounding just like that.  You say “dragonflies breathe through their butts” and giggling ensues, every time!

3. Damselflies breathe through gills at the end of their abdomens.

damselfly nymph

Fragile forktail, Ischnura posita

While studies have shown that nymphal damselflies can live without their gills, the gills vastly increase the amount of oxygen the nymphs can absorb.  They’re quite pretty too, with a long, slender leaf-like shape.  damselflies also use those gills to help them swim, making them look a lot like fish as they dart through the water.  It’s a pretty cool movement!

4. Giant water bugs are among the tiny handful of insects that exhibit paternal parental care.

Giant water bug, Belostoma flumineum

Giant water bug, Belostoma flumineum

You know what’s interesting?  You ask a group of 6th or 7th graders if anyone wants to guess what “paternal parental care” is and you’re met with a bunch of blank stares.  Then you tell them that you’re going to give them a hint and ask, “Who knows what a paternity test is for?” and a dozen hands shoot up instantly!  It’s fun to watch the gears grinding in their heads as it suddenly dawns on them that they can use the meaning of one word (“paternity”) that they know to understand what another unknown word (“paternal”) means.  I love those moments!  Every single class I talked to was able to work it out without my telling them based on their surprisingly vast knowledge of what a paternity test was for.

5. Predaceous diving beetles are SCUBA divers.

Predaceous diving beetle, Thermonectus basillarus

Predaceous diving beetle, Thermonectus basillarus

I talked a lot about aquatic insect adaptations to water while talking with the middle schoolers, especially respiratory adaptations.  I started by asking the kids this question: if you suddenly decided that you wanted to go live underwater in a pond, what would you need to survive?  I would listen to the kids come up with ideas (take a snorkel, bring flippers so you can swim, learn how to hunt food while swimming, etc) and then tell them that insects had come up with nearly all the same ways to deal with living in water that they had suggested.  I led the students into admitting that getting enough oxygen should be their top priority.  Then we discussed ways that people can get oxygen while they’re in water, and I demonstrated each method they described with live insects that did the same thing.  There were the breath holders, the snorkelers, and the gill breathers, but the kids really loved the idea of the SCUBA divers.  Insects like the predaceous diving beetle above have a space under their wings that they use to store air, rather like a SCUBA tank, and then use that air to breathe while they’re underwater.  Just like a person with a SCUBA tank, eventually the air runs out and the beetle needs to return to the surface to refill its “tank,” but then it can dive underwater again.  It’s a pretty neat trick if you think about it!  And, when you can relate it something a human can do, I find that it’s a lot easier for kids to understand.

Ah, middle school kids.  They’re an adventure!  They have an unbelievable amount of energy and an intense need to look cool, but you can still get them excited about things if you are animated and show them amazing new things.  I really enjoyed that school visit, and as tired and hoarse as I was at the end of the day, it was a totally worthwhile and fun experience.  Might even volunteer to do it again next year!

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