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:

backswimmer

Backswimmer

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:

hellgrammite

Hellgrammite

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

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!

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

Friday 5: Giant Water Bugs, As Depicted by 7 Year Olds

When I TAed for the Insect Discovery program at my university last semester, the kids worked their way through 4 stations and then got back together as a group to do drawings of insects at the end.  I posted some of my favorite drawings of imaginary insects the kids came up with several months ago, but some of the kids also did really excellent drawings of real insects they’d seen at the stations.  We used a water bug at one of the stations and the kids were fascinated by them, so they ended up in the drawings the kids did from time to time.  Today, I give you my five favorite giant water bug drawings done by 7-year-olds.  Prepare for total cuteness!

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We would often attempt to feed the giant water bugs with the kids, so most of the drawings included the food we gave them, mealworms.  This lovely drawing includes a rather fanciful habitat (oddly enough, we do not use pink and purple rocks in the bottom of our containers), but it does include two mealworms for the water bug to eat when it’s ready for a snack.  They’re conveniently floating above the water so that they won’t drown before the water bug has a chance to eat them.  Pretty considerate, don’t you think?

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This gem of a drawing shows the water bug AND his food in the water, but take a look at the jaws on this one!  Apparently we didn’t do such a great job of explaining the piercing-sucking mouthpart to this kid’s group…  This water bug is clearly about to rip the mealworm on the right side of the page to shreds before it devours it:

The kids were supposed to write down or include in their drawings where the bug lived, what it ate, and how it protected itself.  This one ‘bits” to “btat it,” which in adult English likely translates to “it bites to protect itself.”  It’s useful to be able to read 7-year-old when you look through Insect Discovery drawings.  :)

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In the next drawing, a cockroach-centipede looking giant water bug is about to attack his helpless prey, the mealworm at the right.  The mealworm is apparently sentient and cries out for help, but as there’s nothing in the drawing except the water bug and the mealworm, I fear he is about to meet his demise.

Poor little mealworm…

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This drawing came with a thank you letter, one in a pile of 25 or 30 that a teacher made her kids write after their visit.  He claims the water bug was his favorite insect, and I believe him because this is really a pretty good drawing for a kid to do a week or two after he saw the water bug!

We’ll ignore the taxonomic mistake (it’s a bug, not a wattr bettl, or “water beetle” in adult English) for now and give the kid a break.  Not exactly sure what the bubbles coming out of the bug’s mouth are though.  Most of the preceptors teaching the kids discussed how water bugs collect oxygen at their back ends and pull it into an air space under their wings.  I know they did because when I asked the kids about their water bug drawings, they’d usually say something like, “They breathe through their butts!”  Not entirely true, but close enough.  :)

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And last, I give you my favorite of the water bug drawings:

This kid clearly got the message that the water bugs can eat impressive things, including vertebrates like fish.  The drawing is spot on, with the water bug in a perfect sit-and-wait predator pose, aquatic plants drifting serenely in the water nearby, food about to swim toward it.  In essence: awesome!  I love this drawing.

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Really, is there anything cuter than looking at drawings by young children?  Browsing through the drawings and talking to the kids as they drew them was one of the best parts of the entire Insect Discovery experience.  I hope the incoming TA thinks so too!

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Unless otherwise stated, all text, images, and video are copyright © TheDragonflyWoman.com

Friday 5: Great Works of Insect Art (by 7 year olds)

In the Insect Discovery program I am a part of this semester, we split whole classes into four groups and rotate everyone through four stations.  At each station, the kids learn about scientific concepts through hands-on activities with insects.  After all 30 or so kids have worked through all four activities, we get everyone together for one final activity: a drawing.  It’s a very simple activity where we ask the kids to draw an insect, either real or imaginary.  When they finish with their drawings, we have them write or tell us where their insect lives, what their insect eats, and how it protects itself.  We then give them each a blank sheet of paper, distribute markers throughout the room, and set them loose.  The kids LOVE this activity!  And, when they’re done, they’re given the choice of keeping their drawing or donating it to Insect Discovery so we can use their art to decorate the room the following year.  We have a really big pile of drawings already, even though we’re only a third of the way through the semester and most of the best drawings end up going home with the artists!

Today I thought I’d share some of my favorite drawings the kids have done so far this semester.  Narrowing it down to 5 was actually quite hard and I had to develop criteria for deciding which pictures were worthy of making my “top 5” list.  I eventually settled on creativity, those drawings that I thought were particularly well thought out or so bizarre that they made me laugh.  So, without further ado, I give you my favorite 5 insect drawings done by 7 year olds:

The Strong Bug

Strong Bug

Strong Bug

As you can see, Strong Bug lives in a hole in the ground, eats dirt (not terribly nutritious, but hey – to each his own!), and uses his super strong legs to protect himself.  However, I also imagine that this bug also stomps a lot of other bugs, maybe the ones he doesn’t like or that annoy him.  Or maybe he uses his giant body builder style legs to stomp the people who teased him as a kid for having scrawny chicken legs.  Remember that Gary Larson cartoon with the ant child wearing shoes in the house and stomping his siblings?  This bug reminds me of that, a scourge of smaller bugs that get in his way.  Love it!

The Rocket Bug

Rocket Bug

Rocket Bug

The Rocket Bug is a continental Italian omnivore that dines on ants with a light salad on the side.  When she is disturbed, the rocket bug fires up her rocket and blasts herself into the sky to get away from predators.  Rocket bug flies super fast when she needs to.  Pretty cool, huh?  Perhaps she’s powered by formic acid…

The Acid/Lightning Bug

Acid/Lightning Bug

Acid/Lightning Bug

The Acid/Lightning Bug is really amazing!  He lives in the desert and has a hard shell to protect himself.  But that’s not all!  Oh no.  This bug is also capable of shooting not only acid out of its butt, but lightning bolts as well.  Predators beware the butt lightning!  Did I mention he’s also invisible?  Probably makes him great for sneaking up on the things he likes to eat, though I’m not exactly sure what his favorite foods are.  The kid who drew this didn’t ever tell me what this bug eats.  Still, don’t you wish you were an invisible, acid-and-lightning-shooting bug with an impenetrable shell?  Acid/Lightning Bug rocks!

The Smoke Bug

Smoke Bug

Smoke Bug

The kid that drew this picture was about the most annoying second grader I’ve ever encountered, but that doesn’t stop me from loving his drawing!  Thankfully, he told me all about it because he didn’t record its natural history in writing.  This is the Smoke Bug.  He protects himself by waving those three tendrils coming off his head, giving the predator the impression that the bug is actually a small fire that’s giving off smoke.  Most things don’t like fire and will leave the bug alone.  But say a predator isn’t fooled by the miniature, rather improbable fire it encounters.  Never fear!  Smoke Bug has a backup plan!  See those eyes on each tendril?  They help smoke bug see, but when threatened they turn into laser shooters that fire lasers at the predator.  Don’t f*** with Smoke Bug!  He be shooting lasers out of his eyes!

Eater of Loved Ones

The Eater of Loved Ones

The Eater of Loved Ones

I nearly shot the water I was drinking out of my nose when I came across this one!  The description, written in that horrible nearly invisible yellow writing, really says it all:

“This insect is in my imagination.  It lives in my heart.  It eats my loved ones and ceeps track of them.  I protects its self by camouflaging with my heart because it’s red.”

I hope that this child didn’t mean that this bug eats her loved ones.  Maybe the bug is supposed to watch over her loved ones instead?  I’m also convinced that she didn’t think things through enough when she decided to make her cute little bug (though let’s not forget that this insect is a vicious man-eater!) a parasite of her heart.  I have this horrible picture in my mind of this bug that eats her relatives and then burrows into her chest to hide next to her heart…  Of course, I’m not exactly sure which part of the drawing is the insect.  I think it’s the stick person with the heart for a head that’s happily embedded in the heart.  Disturbing on so many levels, but you have to appreciate the creativity!

Aren’t these drawings fabulous!  I just love the thought that went into them.  It’s great working with children because they don’t see anything wrong with a bug that literally lives in their hearts or pretends it’s smoke to avoid being eaten by a predator.  I love looking through the drawings!  I’m thinking of posting some more of them on Flickr.  If you’re interested in seeing more, leave a comment below so I know if it’s worth the effort to scan/upload them!

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Unless otherwise stated, all text, images, and video are copyright © 2011 DragonflyWoman.wordpress.com