Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Ants, Ants, Ants

So often I overlook the ants in my life....they seem to be everywhere. These ants were busy inside the rotting pear under our tree.

From page 372 of the Handbook of Nature Study:
"However aimless to us may seem the course of the ant as we see her running about, undoubtedly if we understood her well enough, we should find that there is rational ant sense in her performances. Therefore, when ever we are walking and have time, let us make careful observations as to the actions of the ants which we may see."

Page 372-373 of the Handbook has 14 different activities to use when observing ants.

I think we will be studying ants again with our ant farm in the near future. I had not realized that the HNS had so much information about ants and their nests.

Barb-Harmony Art Mom

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

A Little Off-Topic: Rock Climbing

View this slideshow created at One True Media
Rock Climbing 10/29/07

Click the photo for a video and short slideshow

We spent the afternoon at an indoor rock climbing facility. The boys have climbed on climbing walls before but the free climb area where they are not harnessed in was a new experience. I never knew they were such spiders when it came to climbing. They had a blast and this will be something we will do again and again.

How does this fit in with nature study? Well, it is preparing them for a little rock climbing that we will do next summer at Yosemite National Park. They have no fear of heights, unlike their mother.

Enjoy the video,
Barb-Harmony Fine Arts

Mosquito Eater, Or Is It?

Okay so we usually call these guys "mosquito eaters". It is actually a crane fly or scientific name: Tipula paludosa.

They look like giant mosquitoes and this one found its way into my son's workshop. He sat very still while I took a few photos and then with the magic of cropping, it really shows what he looks like.

This is from Wikipedia:
Numerous other common names have been applied to the crane fly, many of them more or less regional, including, mosquito hawks, mosquito eaters (or skeeter eaters), gallinippers, gollywhoppers, and jimmy spinners."

I was visiting my dad last week and we had a conversation that went something like this:
"Dad, you know those bugs we call mosquito eaters?"
"Well, I just learned that they are actually called crane flies."
"You know those big flying bugs we see in the house, they are really big flies and they don't eat mosquitoes at all."
"Mosquito eaters, they are mosquito eaters."

Oh well, he can call them mosquito eaters. :)

More information from UC Davis' website:
"Adult crane flies emerge from the soil beneath turfgrass, pastures and other grassy areas in late summer and fall. The adults have very long legs and resemble large mosquitoes. Females mate and lay eggs in grass within 24 hours of emerging. Eggs hatch into small, brown, wormlike larvae that have very tough skin and are commonly referred to as "leatherjackets". The leatherjackets feed on the roots and crowns of clover and grass plants during the fall. They spend the winter as larvae in the soil; when the weather warms in spring, they resume feeding. During the day larvae mostly stay underground, but on damp, warm nights they come to the surface to feed on the aboveground parts of many plants. When mature, the larvae are about 1 to 1-1/2 inch long. Around mid-May they enter a nonfeeding pupal stage and remain just below the soil surface. In late summer, pupae wriggle to the surface and the adults emerge. There is one generation a year."

Barb-Harmony Art Mom

Sunday, October 28, 2007

Katydid or Grasshopper?

This little critter has been hard for us to identify. We found him and put him in our magnifying jar so we could take a really good look at him. I have never paid much attention to the differences between katydids and grasshoppers but now after identifying this guy, I know so much more about it.

This is what is called a Chapparal Katydid.

From the Handbook of Nature Study, page 343:
"I love to hear thine earnest voice
Wherever thou are hid,
Thou testy little dogmatist,
Thou pretty katydid,
Thou mindest me of gentle folks,
Old gentle folks are they,
Thou say'st an undisputed thing
In such a solemn way." -Holmes

From page 344:
"The katydids resemble the long-horned grasshoppers and the crickets. They live in trees, and the male sings "katy did" by means of a musical instrument similar to that of the cricket."

There is lots more information about katydids in the Handbook of Nature Study on pages 343-344.

Barb-Harmony Art Mom

Here is a little graphic my son made on the computer showing complete metamorphosis. Katydids go through incomplete metamorphosis. (see page 298 of the Handbook of Nature Study)

Friday, October 26, 2007

Nature Study for Children: Part 1

When to Give the Lesson From page 6:
“It might be better to give it a regular period late in the day, for there is strength and sureness in regularity. The teacher is much more likely to prepare herself for the lesson, if she knows that it is required at a certain time."

The Length of the Lesson
From page 6-7
"The nature study lesson should be short and sharp and may vary from ten minutes to a half hour in length."

Nature Study as a Help in School Discipline
From page 4
"Much of the naughtiness in school is a result of the child's lack of interest in his work, augmented by the physical inaction that results from an attempt to sit quietly. .....Nature study is an aid in both respects, since it keeps the child interested and also gives him something to do."

More next time,
Barb-Harmony Art Mom

Monday, October 22, 2007

Little Red Spider

I just love these photos of a little red spider in the middle of a dahlia blossom. It reminds me of a Georgia O'Keeffe painting.

Although the Handbook did not help me identify the spider, I was able to skim down the table of contents to find the section on spiders in the book.

Here is from page 435:
"The spiders are the civil engineers among the small inhabitants of our fields and woods. They build strong suspension bridges, from which they hang nets made with exquisite precision; and they build airplanes and balloons, which are more efficient than any that we have yet constructed; for although they are not exactly dirigible, yet they carry the little balloonists where they wish to go, and there are few fatal accidents. Moreover, the spiders are of much economic importance, since they destroy countless millions of insects every year, most of which are noxious-like flies, mosquitoes, bugs, and grasshoppers."

I looked online and found out that it may be a spider called a "Flower Spider" or Misumenops but I have to do a little more research.

Barb-Harmony Art Mom

Friday, October 19, 2007

How to Use the Handbook of Nature Study

Here is what made me not use this book before:
1. Size-over 800 pages doesn't transport well in my backpack

2. Black and white photos

3. I was trying to use it as a field guide.
4. I wanted to just start at the front and work my way to the back like a "regular" book.

5. I thought it would take too much time to use this book in our nature study because of the size and the sheer volume of information.

Here are some thoughts that I have now that I took the plunge and started using this wonderful book:
1. Read the pages at the beginning of the book that talk generally about nature study.

2. Pick a topic to focus on and read the introductory pages for that section only. We are focusing on insects this term but you can pick anything that seems appropriate for your family. You could change your focus each season if you wanted to.
3. Take the time after your nature walk to look up things that you saw on that nature walk. I turn to the table of contents and just scan down the list and see if I can find what I want to research. For instance you might have seen a honeybee and it is very easy to skim down and find honeybee and turn right to those few pages.
4. Read the small section (usually 1 or 2 pages) that pertain to that object or creature.
5. Write in the book......gasp. Yes, write in the book as you go along to highlight the little bits of information that you want to share with your children.

6. If you don't have time after your nature walk to look something up and share it right then, research it in the Handbook before your next nature study session and then share it the next time.

7. Realize that nature study is a lifelong project, or at least I think it should be. You don't need to cover every aspect of everything you find.

Anna Botsford Comstock suggests that nature study be only 10 minutes to half an hour in length. (page 6) I am finding this is a wonderful way to spend a few minutes outside with my boys each day....yes we are committing to 10-60 minutes outside per day. We all feel so much more refreshed and it has actually helped us be more focused when we are doing our indoor work.

Sending lots of encouragement,
Barb-Harmony Art Mom

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Daddy Longlegs Exoskeleton

Okay, so you *have* to click on the photo to make it larger but you can really see the exoskeleton of the daddy longlegs. I went hunting for one today and I found this one in the eaves of my house....I was trying to take a photo and it blew down onto the potted plant and I thought it made a pretty background.

Barb-Harmony Art Mom

Fall Color: Tahoe National Forest

Here are some photos from our nature walk last weekend that I haven't shared with you. The color of the aspens against the blue sky and greens of the evergreen forest make for a beautiful eyeful of complimentary color.

Would you ever get tired of seeing this view out your window? I would love to build a little cabin in the woods to retreat to when my life gets too stressful.

The Handbook of Nature Study has some wonderful ideas for tree study. From page 622:
"During autumn the attention of the children should be attracted to the leaves by their gorgeous colors. It is well to use this interest to cultivate their knowledge of the forms of leaves of trees; but the teaching of the tree species to the young child should be done quite incidentally and guardedly. If the teacher says to the child bringing a leaf, 'This is a white oak leaf," the child will soon quite unconsciously learn that leaf by name. Thus, tree study may be begun in the kindergarten or the primary grades."

autumn leaves

Page 623-626 has activities to complete during each of the four seasons with your tree. I am anxious to apply these to the study of our tree that we are watching for a year. If you want to read about that study you can read these two blog entries on my main blog:
Tree study #1
Tree study #2

I am finding so much to learn about nature in my own area of the world.
Barb-Harmony Art Mom

True Bugs: Brown Marmorated Stink Bug

Here is a link to read more about this bug that we found in our kitchen. The photos are a little unclear since I took them through the top and bottom of the plastic magnifying container that we have for observation of bugs. You get the idea though of what he looks like. We think that he came in on some fruit or veggies or flowers from the garden and was a little lost inside the kitchen. We took him back outdoors when we were finished studying him.

Brown Marmorated Stink Bug

From page 297 of the Handbook of Nature Study:
"It must be remembered that while many people refer to all insects as bugs, the term bug is correctly applied only to one group of insects. This group includes such forms as stinkbugs, squash bugs, plant lice, and tree hoppers."

Barb-Harmony Art Mom

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

More on Daddy Longlegs

We had this daddy longlegs make his web** right on the outside of our window glass. We decided this was the perfect way to observe him as he moved around his web. We could get right up underneath him and look at his body parts. We had already learned that he is not an insect but we still thought he was an interesting subject for our nature study.

From page 434 of the
Handbook of Nature Study:
"In the North, all except one species die at the approach of winter; but not until after the female, which, by the way, ought to be called "granny longlegs." has laid her eggs in the ground, or under some protecting stone, or in some safe crevice of wood or bark."

"They get their growth like insects, by shedding their skins as fast as they outgrow them. It is interesting to study one of these cast skins with a lens. There it stands with a slit down its back, and with the skin of each leg absolutely perfect to the tiny claw! Again we marvel at these legs that seem so threadlike, and which have an outer covering that can be shed. "

I found one of these exoskeletons in the web of this daddy longlegs. It looked just like the daddy longlegs and I wondered how it slipped its slender legs out of that skin. I read on another website that the daddy longlegs will shed its skin every ten days. I also read that they can grow a new leg if one gets broken....amazing and fascinating.

Page 434:
"Put a grandfather greybeard (daddy longlegs) in a breeding cage or under a large tumbler, and let the pupils observe him at leisure. If you place a few drops of sweetened water at one side of the cage, the children will surely have an opportunity to see this amusing creature clean his legs."

The Handbook of Nature Study on page 434 also lists out eight activities you can do to observe the daddy longlegs. We are going to give a few of them a try the next time we have a daddy longlegs come to visit.

Here's my original post on daddy longlegs:
Daddy Longlegs: Not an Insect

**I have since been told that daddy longlegs don't construct webs. I did some additional research online to find the answer.
Here's another source that may clear up the mystery and I will just cut and paste from Wikipedia:

"The Pholcidae are a spider family in the suborder Araneomorphae.

Some species, especially Pholcus phalangioides, are commonly called daddy long-legs spider, daddy long-legger, granddaddy long-legs spider, cellar spider, vibrating spider, or house spider. Confusion often arises because the name "daddy longlegs" is also applied to two distantly related arthropod groups: the harvestmen (which are arachnids but not spiders), and crane flies (which are insects)."

Barb-Harmony Art Mom

Monday, October 15, 2007

Eagle Watching at Taylor Creek

Yesterday we took another shot at finding some eagles to watch. We have an eagle habitat about 45 minutes from our house, near a salmon spawning creek. We went up there a few weeks ago to watch the salmon and we thought we saw an eagle circling overhead, up over the pines. Of course we hadn't brought our binoculars along on that trip so we weren't sure if it was eagle.

The dead tree in the distance along with the green trees has a nest in the top. Click the photo to make it larger and then you will see in the tree that looks dead a sort of platform nest on the top of it. Eagles nests are huge when they are being used.

This time we went back with binoculars in hand to see if we could spot him again. We didn't. We did see a nest in the distance. We did see an snowy egret or egretta thula, some Canadian Geese, and several varieties of ducks.

This is really a hard photo to see the snowy egret but he is the white dot in the brown tree in the middle of the the photo to make it larger. They are normally down by the water but this one kept flying up into the trees.

Spawning salmon-click the photo to make it larger and you will see the beautiful color of the spawning Kokanee salmon

Thousands of salmon all trying to get upstream to colorful.

The highlight of the day was watching the Kokanee salmon spawning in Taylor Creek. There were hundreds and hundreds of these brightly colored salmon, all making there way up the creek to spawn and die at the end of their life cycle.

There was nothing in the Handbook of Nature Study about eagles...not a common bird for most. I will look further into the bird section of the book in the spring when we are focusing on birds.

Barb-Harmony Art Mom

Sunday, October 14, 2007

Water on Web

Just a really cool photo of a spider web with water droplets that I found in the garden.

Barb-Harmony Art Mom

Friday, October 12, 2007

Honeybee Study: Dead or Alive?

Yesterday the honeybees were still buzzing in the lavender in the front flower bed. I was wandering around looking for some insects and this worker bee let me take few photos while he did his gathering. This shows the eyes really well.

Here is a "behind" photo of the honeybee as he worked. I love the wings texture in this photo and I love to look at his legs...he is well equipped for his work isn't he? Check out the few little ants in the lavender blossom. I didn't notice them until I loaded the photos onto the computer. Amazing what life there is all around us that we don't notice until we focus.

From the Handbook of Nature Study page 394:
“In a colony of honeybees there are three different forms of bees, the queens, the drones, and the workers. All of these have their own special work to do for the community.”

All three bees appear differently and all three have different jobs. The bee we saw in our garden is the worker bee who does the actual gathering of the pollen.

Page 394 of the Handbook of Nature Study lists eight suggestions for observing the worker bee. I think it would be better to study a dead bee than to try to see all the intricate parts on the bee while it is working. The book suggests that in this case we should endeavor to find dead bees to look at with the hand lens or under the microscope at a low power.

From page 394:

“Although ordinarily we do not advocate the study of dead specimens, yet common sense surely has its place in nature study; and in the case of the honeybee, a closer study of the form of the insect than the living bee might see fit to permit is desirable.”

She says this sort of study is suitable for eighth grade work and not below that age.
I do have an acquaintance that has an aviary and I am going to ask him if he can provide us with a few bees to look at in our casual study of insects. We may even be able to talk him into giving us a field trip opportunity to his house to see his hives in action.


Harmony Art Mom

Thursday, October 11, 2007

Rain beetles: How to Identify a New Insect

Rain beetle: Although she looks dead, she really wasn't. She kept flipping over on her back and wiggling and stretching her legs.

Today was a first. I actually looked closely at a very ugly beetle. Yes, I am becoming an insect gal. I know this for sure because my daughter and her friend Shyloh brought me home a very large, very alive beetle creature. I had asked all my family to bring home any interesting insects they find and had even given them each a ziploc sandwich bag to bring them home in. Yesterday was the first time someone brought me an insect treasure. They said they couldn't bear to put it into a baggie so they used a small plastic container from my daughter's lunch box. She said there were hundreds of the beetles so she felt like she could bring one to us to study.

This photo shows her shiny covering and the hair on her underside.

At first I was disgusted by this creature but after taking her out of the container and looking carefully, I once again found the beauty in the design of the Creator. Now all that was left to do was to discover what sort of beetle this insect was.
1. I pulled out my field guide but could not see any beetles that looked like this one.

2.So it was off to the internet and we started by looking up "beetle, california" on Google. I am finding that if I Google something and then look at the images it takes me far less time to identify a creature.

3.Once you find an image that looks like your insect, click on the link associated with that image. The majority of the time this is enough to get you pointed in the right direction.

Here's what I learned about this little female insect: Rain beetle or P. puncticollis (more on classification at and can be found in California woodlands. The male is approximately 1" and the female can be slightly larger at 1 3/4". The males have wings but the females do not. They range in color from reddish-brown to black. The underside is covered in hairy bristles.

The interesting thing about this beetle is that it makes a sudden appearance after a soaking rain....hence the name Rain beetle. We had a really good rain all the night before so I think this is probably why we were able to see this amazing creature.

The life cycle of the Rain beetle is very long. The larvae, who feed on roots of live trees and bushes of oaks and conifers, take up to as much as 10-12 years to mature but once they become adults the males wait for the first rains to bring them out for their mating flight and the females dig a tunnel to the surface to wait for the males to find them. Here is the fascinating part:The conditions that trigger the males and females to emerge are so stringent that this may only happen in a population for a single day in a given year. This made the finding of this insect all the more precious since it is a rare event.

This is the head of the beetle and if you look closely you can see her little "horns".

The males fly slowly over the area, low to the ground, looking for the females who although rarely leave their underground burrow, wait at the burrow's entrance for the arrival of the males. She puts off a pheromone that attracts the males. After mating the female closes off the entrance to her burrow and lays her eggs. These mature the following spring.

I love this photo that shows her leg parts.

Wow, so much to learn. I have a new appreciation for the study of insects after learning that this was not just an ugly bug. It has a whole life story to learn and now I can share it with others.

Final thought from the Handbook of Nature Study, page 6:
"When it is properly taught, the child is unconscious of mental effort or that he is suffering the act of teaching."

I did all this research and it hardly felt like any effort at all. I will be striving to make our nature study so that it is interesting and feels not like work but like refreshment.

Barb-Harmony Art Mom

Tuesday, October 9, 2007

Oak Galls: California Gall Wasps

"A green little world
With me at its heart!
A house grown by magic,
Of a green stem, a part.

My walls give me food
And protect me from foes,
I eat at my leisure,
In safety repose.

My house hath no window,
'Tis dark as the night!
But I make me a door
And batten it tight.

And when my wings grow
I throw wide my door;
And to my green castle
I return nevermore."

The above poem about galls is shared on page 338 of the Handbook of Nature Study.

We found this interesting object on our nature walk a few weeks ago. I knew it was called a gall but I wasn't sure at all where it came from or what it was for. After doing some research in the
Handbook of Nature Study, I now know a lot about these interesting little houses.

Here's what it says on page 335:
"There are many forms of these gall dwellings, and they may grow upon the root, branch, leaf, blossom, or fruit. The miraculous thing about them is that each kind of insect builds its magical house on a certain part of a certain species of tree or plant; and the house is always of a certain definite form on the outside and of a certain particular pattern within. Many widely differing species of insects are gall makers; and he who is skilled in gall lore knows, when he looks at the outside of the house, knows just what insect dwells within it."

So now I know it is a home for an insect. I have grown up around these objects but have never taken the time to really get to know them. Here is some more on how they are formed.

From page 335-336
"A little, four-winged, fly-like creature, a wasp, lays its eggs, early in the season, on the leaf of the scarlet oak. As soon as the larva hatches, it begins to eat into the substance of one of the leaf veins. As it eats, it discharges through its mouth into the tissues of the leaf a substance which is secreted from glands within its body. Immediately the building of the house commences; out around the little creature grow radiating vegetable fibers, showing by their position plainly that the grub is the center of all of this new growth; meanwhile, a smooth, thin covering completely encloses the globular house; larger and larger grows the house until we have what we are accustomed to call an oak apple, so large is it."

Barb-Harmony Art Mom
Fascinating poster with oak galls in full color

Sunday, October 7, 2007

All Insects Are Not Bugs

From page 297 of The Handbook of Nature Study:
"It must be remembered that while many people refer to all insects as bugs, the term bug is correctly applied only to one group of insects. This group includes such forms as stinkbugs, squash bugs, plant lice, and tree hoppers."

I never knew there was a technical definition of "bugs" I know.

Harmony Art Mom

Thursday, October 4, 2007

Where There is a Web: Fall Webworm

Yesterday we went looking for more insects in our backyard. We saw some more daddy longlegs...actually lots of daddy longlegs. We saw a tiny little spider on the marigolds but he would not hold still for a photo. I took this pretty photo of my marigold anyway. Look closely and you can see the pollen.

Then we found this wonderful web on the crepe myrtle bush. I looked high and low but did not see what made the web. After doing some research, I discovered this to be the web of a Fall Webworm or
Hyphantria cunea. In the larval stage, they create these great webs where they feed entirely inside the web. The adult is a moth that has white wings and has grayish-brown spotting on the forewings.

From page 295 of the Handbook of Nature Study:
"While the young pupils should not be drilled in insect anatomy as if they were embryo zoologists, yet it is necessary for the teacher who would teach intelligently to know something of the life stories, habits, and structure of the common insects."

I am finding this to be essential to our study of insects. I need to know a little information about each thing we find and weave it into our study. It doesn't take much time to open the Handbook of Nature Study, skim the table of contents, and turn to the page for more information. I am finding that just having read the introductory pages to the section on insects has provided more than enough information to get started.

From page 295:
"From the eggs, larvae (singular larva) issue. These larvae may be caterpillars, or the creatures commonly called worms, or perhaps maggots or grubs. The larval stage is devoted to feeding and to growth."

Now I have a little vocabulary to use with the boys when we see caterpillars. I can point out that these are insects in their larval stage and their main objective in life is to eat. We can find this stage annoying when they are eating the leaves of our garden plants but we can understand a little more about it.

We observed a bee dancing in the pollen of a cosmos flower. He was digging into the pollen and practically rolling in it. Here is a slightly blurry photo of him...try to get a bee to sit still. You can see the pollen on his body.

My favorite photo of the day is this one. It is a close-up of my son's dahlia flower. There had been a little insect on it that I was trying to capture but he was too quick.

Well, that is what we saw and observed yesterday. I am finding the more we look, the more we realize that we have to see.

Barb-Harmony Art Mom

Monday, October 1, 2007

Introduction to Insects

We are covering the introductory pages for insects this week. Let's just say right now that I am *not* normally an insect sort of person. This is a new world for me as we embark on our study of insects.

From page 294:

"Insects are among the most interesting and available of all living creatures for nature study. The lives of many of them afford more interesting stories than are found in fairy lore; many of them show exquisite colors; and, most important of all, they are small and are, therefore, easily confined for observation."

I am finding this to be the case in our everyday life...there are insects everywhere. The caterpillar above we found on our hike yesterday. The more we looked, the more we found. We think it is a wooly bear caterpillar which will transform into an Isabella Tiger Moth,
Pyrrharctia isabella. We found this really cute website that talks about "How to Catch A Bear". Next time we will be collecting one of the caterpillars and bringing it home to watch.

Edit: Since writing the above, I have found that I incorrectly identified the caterpillar in the photo above. It is a yellow woolly bear and is the larva of the Spotted Tussock Moth or
Lophocampa maculata.

This photo is from a few years ago and it shows a little better what this little guy looks like. No wonder he is called "woolly", he really is!

Here's a photo from our travels yesterday.....the aspen trees are just starting to turn a golden yellow. We are hoping to drive this way again in a few weeks and see the reds and oranges of the trees too.

Harmony Art Mom

Our Square in the Woods: The Tree (Fall Tree Study)

square 9 28 07
Our square in the woods hasn't changed much since last month. We did find some green acorns on the ground and there were quite a few more crunchy leaves on the ground. Here is the blog entry with last month's tree photo.

This trip we focused on trying to find some insects on our tree but we couldn't find any at all. We did enjoy the variety of moss and lichen on the tree trunk.
tree bark with lichen and web
Do you see the different kinds of lichen in the photo? Do you see the spider web?

We also enjoyed drawing the tree on our notebook sheet that will include drawings of the tree in all four seasons.

Free nature notebook pages that we used: Year-Long Tree Journal

drawing our tree
This system seems to work for us. We attach an empty ziploc bag to our clipboard and then use it to hold our little "treasures" that we find along the way. Until we devised this system, I always had my pockets filled with items the boys wanted to bring home. Now they can easily slip them into the baggie and hold it themselves.

We used our books to identify the tree as an interior live oak. We collected some leaves and acorns and then took a walk down the hill to see what we could find.

As we walked, we heard some sort of hawk above us screeching loudly. I could tell he was circling around us by the way the sound was carrying over the hill. Here are a few things we saw as we hiked back down the hill to the car.
fungus we think
Some sort of fungus.
buckeye leaves 2
Leaves from a California Buckeye tree
A beautiful sappy pinecone.

We had a great morning in the woods and will look forward to checking our square again next month.

That afternoon we ended our day with a bike ride with a friend on a local bike trail. The skies were grey but the boys had enjoyed their day outside.
Harmony Art Mom