Sunday, September 30, 2007

Fiery Skipper

I am going to share something with you about these photos. I was walking to my mailbox the other morning to put a letter in to my sweet aunt. I went right past my newly planted butterfly bush and saw to my delight that there were about six butterflies skittering around the blooms. I was so surprised that within a matter of days, my new bush had attracted such a flock of butterflies.

I immediately ran inside to get my camera, hoping that they would still be there when I got back. As I approached the bush, they flew away to the lavender that is planted in the same row. I sat down quietly almost in the flowerbed, hoping that they would come back and they did. I must have taken twenty photos of the butterflies because I wasn't sure any would come out clearly. I sat and observed these beautiful insects as they flitted from bloom to bloom and noticed so many details about them. I am finding it is easier to remember what I see if I actually say it out loud. Hairy body, small wings, orange and black, dots underneath, long legs....anyone walking by would have thought I was a little nuts. But, it did make it easier when I came inside and pulled out the field guide. I confirmed what I suspected it was by doing a search online and looking at images.

Hylephila phyleus
Fiery Skipper

The zoomed in photo of his head makes me laugh every time I see it. He looks as if he is wearing sunglasses. Can you believe the shape and size of his proboscis? Amazing creature and I will never forget the morning sitting in my lavender, waiting for the butterflies to come back so I could see them.

Harmony Art Mom

American Hover Fly

This insect was hovering over the sweet alyssum in the pot on my back deck. I just happened to catch him hovering and eating the nectar. I have been fascinated with his hovering and had always suspected he was some sort of bee. After doing some research online, I discovered in fact that he is an American Hover Fly or Metasyrphus americanus. Adults eat nectar but the larva preys on other insects such as aphids.

On page 10 in
The Handbook to Nature Study, under the heading of "The Uses of Scientific Names", it says, "Disquieting problems relative to scientific nomenclature always confront the teacher of nature-study. My own practice has been to use the popular names of species, except in cases where confusion might ensue, and to use the scientific names for anatomical parts. However, this matter is of little importance if the teacher bears in mind that the purpose of nature-study is to know the subject under observation and to learn the name incidentally."

So we now have a new purpose to our nature study: To know the subject under observation and not necessarily to name it. I am assuming the author means to not necessarily know its scientific name. I am no longer satisfied to just observe, I want to identify what I am looking at. Nature study has aroused in me a great curiosity to know more deeply the creation around me. Now I have a new friend, the American Hover Fly.

Harmony Art Mom

Saturday, September 29, 2007

Daddy Longlegs (Harvestman):Not an Insect

I know this is a crazy photo of this daddy longlegs but he wasn't going to cooperate with me at all. He had been sitting near his web waiting but when he saw me move closer, he went like lightning down to the bottom of the deck railing to a safe place. I zoomed in as much as possible and got this shot of him hanging out.
So here is what I learned from page 295 from the Handbook of Nature Study. "The word insect is often applied incorrectly to any minute animal; but the term should be restricted to those forms possessiong six legs and belonging to the class, Hexapoda. The name Hexapoda is from two Greek words: hex, six; and pous, foot. It refers to the fact that the members of this order differ from other arthropods in the possession of only six feet. Thus spiders, which have eight legs, are not insects." So even though we are focusing on insects for the fall term, we still enjoyed seeing this creature that is really an arachnid.

What is a spider? Spiders are arachnids not insects, but both spiders and insects belong to the largest group of animals on Earth, the
arthropods - animals with hard external skeletons and jointed limbs (greek arthro = joint, podos = footed). So there you have it the difference between insects and spiders. :)

Edit: Here are some more links to learn about daddy long legs.

Daddy Long legs or vibrating spiders

Daddy Long legs Myths

And I found an article that even says that daddy long legs are not even spiders. Here is an exerpt:
"Although they resemble spiders, daddy long-legs, more correctly called harvestmen, are neither spiders nor insects. Taxonomically, they are arthropods, in the same class as spiders, Arachnida, but in a different order, Phalangida. Anatomically daddy long-legs differ from spiders because their three body segments -- head, thorax and abdomen, are joined as one compact body segment. Spiders have two body segments -- the head and thorax are joined as the cephalothorax, and the abdomen is the second body segment. Insects, which are taxonomically in the class Insecta, have three distinct body segments." Found at Wisconsin Natural Resources magazine.

So now I can't even say that the daddy longlegs is even a spider! It is technically an arthropod, an Arachnida, and in the order of Phalangida. Whew! This is getting hard to keep track of but I am learning a lot.


Harmony Art Mom

Thursday, September 27, 2007

Red aphids

Now that we are focusing on insects, it seems we find them everywhere we look. This morning we were out on the deck looking at the flowers and look what we found right under our noses!

These little red guys are just crawling all over the chrysanthemums.

These red aphids I believe are Goldenglow aphids.
Dactynotus rudbeckiae

Here is what Anna Botsford Comstock says on page 295 about insects, "The abundance of insects makes it easy to study them. They can be found where-ever man can live, and at all seasons. This abundance is even greater than is commonly supposed. The number of individuals in a single species is beyond computation; who can count the aphids or the scale-insects in a single orchard, or the bees in a single meadow?"

Indeed, after taking a look at these aphids on my chrysanthemum, I can only agree. We are just scratching the surface in really "seeing" all the insects around us everyday.

The Handbook of Nature Study

We have tried to use The Handbook of Nature Study in our home school several times in the past, but we never felt very successful or productive. Sitting down to make a plan, I easily felt overwhelmed by the sheer number of pages and topics to cover. After many years of using other resources, I want to make a more systematic study of the natural world.

Our family has a great love for all things we see in nature. We travel quite a bit and spend lots of time in our own backyard and in our area of the world. We live at the gateway of the Sierra Nevada mountains and love to hike and camp. We are grateful to be so near Yosemite National Park and its many wonders and beauties. We also have worked for twenty years to make our backyard a habitat for wildlife and enjoy the birds and other critters that visit us every day.

I know that with added focus our family will be able to gain more insight into all the creatures and other creations around us. I hope to inspire others to take a gentle approach to nature study as outlined in Charlotte Mason's books. As a Christian, I will undoubtedly point out the design and qualities that our Creator put into each thing that we study.

So feel free to read along with us as we make our way this term through the insects section of the book. We have our eye out for new insects to add to our nature journals.

Barb-Harmony Art Mom

Wednesday, September 5, 2007

Nature Study: Starting a Year-Long Tree Study (Late Summer)

Last Friday we spent some time over at my parents' house down the road from our place. They have a great pond and we took the opportunity to do our nature study time there this week. As the days get shorter and the leaves begin to turn colors, I feel the need to fit in some time outdoors before the season slips away.
Pond Study 1So we made ourselves a little "jilly jar" pond scooper (Amateur Naturalist page 146) and we dipped in to find lots of interesting things to examine. We found three little fish, a pond snail, a whirlygig beetle, and another unknown insect. My son caught a Pacific Tree frog in a jar and we took some time to look at him and enjoy his sweet little face. Jilly Jar pond study

Here are some of our nature journal entries for the day. We used our field guides to identify the critters we found and we even used our pond guide to identify the duckweed floating on top of the pond. We each picked a tree to identify and realized that our tree identification book wasn't as thor
ough as we would like so we made a note to pick up a new one the next time we were at the book store.
Oak nature journal
My son picked an oak to sketch and he also made a leaf rubbing.
Pacific Tree Frogpond fish
Here are some more journal entries for the frog and the fish.
nature journal pond entry
The boys also did some exploring in the woods and found a great spot to stake out a place to come back and observe each month. They chose a place that has a tree and some stacked wood because they thought it might include a place that a critter may live. We shall have to see and we will share our results.
square study woods

If you look carefully you can see the purple yarn and tent stakes that we used to mark our square in the woods.

So that was some of our nature day from last week. I will list some of the books we used to get our ideas for the activities for the day so you can check your library for similar books. I absolutely adore the "One Small Square" series and this is the first time we used it for the pond study. I highly recommend this series to get you started with nature study.

Harmony Art Mom