Friday, November 30, 2007

Wrapping up our Fall Term Study of Insects

We have had several insects that we have seen and identified but not taken great photos of for the blog. One was an earwig that I found in my kitchen. I hate earwigs.

The Handbook of Nature Study does not have any information on the earwig but it is a great insect to identify the parts of an insect with. I knew what kind of insect it was so we did a quick internet search and found loads of information about it.

We also found a millipede which we quickly discovered was *not* an insect. It is an invertebrate. You can find an illustration of a millipede and a caption about it on pages 448-449 of HNS.

We also found a tarantula in our garage, dead and stiff. This made for some interesting observations. At first I was horrified by its appearance but then, after I knew it was dead, I was able to observe its parts and really see it up close. I don't care to do that too much but it was interesting this one time. :) So even though it technically isn't an insect, we did learn something about tarantulas.

Here's what the Handbook of Nature Study says on page 435-436:
"There is an impression abroad that all spiders are dangerous to handle. This is a mistake; the bite of any of our common spiders in not nearly so dangerous as the bite of a malaria-laden mosquito. Although there is a little venom injected into the wound by the bite of any spider, yet there are few species found in the United States whose bite is sufficiently venomous to be feared. With the exception of the tarantulas of the Southwest, and the hourglass or black widow, which seems now to be extending its range from the South, the spiders of the United States are really as harmless to handle as are most of our common insects."

Believe me, I will not be handling any tarantulas in the near future. :)

We are wrapping up the focus on insects and we will be moving on to mammals for now. I am sort of excited to start since I know we are going to learn so much about what has been under our very noses and we have missed it.

Barb-Harmony Art Mom

Monday, November 26, 2007

Paper Wasps-A Work of Art

You need to click on the photos to enlarge the photos and really see the wasp nest.

My dad found this paper wasp nest for us to look at in the tree behind his house. It is sooooo big I can hardly believe it. It does look like something has pulled it down and you can see the actual honeycomb cells that are exposed. Here is a better shot.

The texture of the nest itself is truly amazing. I found a resource online that says that they make the nest from a papery pulp of chewed up wood fibers mixed with saliva.

Page 378 of the Handbook of Nature Study has a lot of very interesting information about wasps in general.

Another great day out.

Barb-Harmony Art Mom

Crickets in the House

I have been busy trying to wrap up our fall study of insects. I never imagined we would enjoy finding and viewing insects as much as we did and I am sure part of it was the information provided in the Handbook of Nature Study. Anna Comstock provides such great investigations into the individual insects and we learned so much just by taking a few minutes each time we found a new insect to stop and really look at it. I think everyone in our family has gained a new appreciation for the little creatures we pass by so often.

Speaking of that topic, I had completely forgotten that we had our own personal laboratory in our house for studying a particular insect. Our Fire-Bellied toad eats crickets every morning and we keep a ready supply on hand but I had never thought to investigate them in the HNS. Sure enough, there on page 344 there is the start of a whole section on crickets. On page 346 there are instructions for making a "cricket cage". Pages 347 and 348 have observations questions for you to use with your cricket.

Here's something interesting from page 346:
"There would be no use of the cricket's playing his mandolin if there were not an appreciative ear to listen to his music. This ear is placed most conveniently in the tibia of the front leg, so that the crickets literally hear with their elbows, as do the katydids and the meadow grasshoppers. The ear is easily seen with the naked eye as a little white, disclike spot."

Our crickets don't make any noise so I don't know what that means. They are rather small and we purchase them at the feed store, 40 crickets for $2.00. They are much smaller than the local crickets we find in our yard. They are golden in color. I am going to ask at the feed store the next time we get crickets and see if they know what variety of crickets they are. Even though our particular cricket is not listed in the HNS, we can still read through the sections on black crickets and snowy tree crickets and apply the information to our crickets. See, I am learning to not use this big book as a field guide but as a way to familiarize us with general information about something we find in our nature study. :)

Barb-Harmony Art Mom

Thursday, November 22, 2007

Nature Walk in the Big Trees

Big Trees.......Sequoiadendron giganteum

It is really hard to get a good photo of the big trees and all your kids at the same time. It is rather dark underneath this forest canopy .

Fallen trees are great for walking on, or falling off of in my case. I was so busy trying too look at some cool fungus that I slipped totally off and fell down. Okay, everyone laughed but it wasn't too funny for me. :)

Seed cones from the sequoia tree are rather small.

Baby sequoias

A variety of fungus was all around at this time of year....too bad I didn't have a field guide. Oh well, next time.

That is just a sample of our day out today.

Barb-Harmony Art Mom

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Honeybee: Gardens that Help

In the latest issue of Organic Gardening, the cover article is all about bees. I had heard how honeybees had a bad winter last year and there are far fewer of them around but I hadn't taken the time to find out what it was all about. Interesting stuff. The article brings out that scientists estimate that "more than 30% of the nation's 2.4 million honeybee colonies died out over the fall and winter of 2006-2007" due to Colony Collapse Disorder. 35 states reported damage due to CCD. The damage was as high as 80-90 percent of their hives for some beekeepers.

What can we do to help the situation as home gardeners? The article brings out some easy steps that can make a difference. I always start planning my spring garden during the cold winter months so this article came at the right time and had lots of practical ways that I can plan my garden to benefit the local honeybee population.

Here are some ideas from Organic Gardening:
1. Plant flowers that are blue, purple, violet, white or yellow. The article suggests leaving the dandelions and Dutch clover in your lawn. Tip: Visit your local nursery and buy whatever you can find that has bees on it. My tip: Color and lots of it.

2. Skip flowers like marigolds and hollyhocks, impatiens, and salvia. The flowers are too dense for the bees to gather much nectar.

3. Try to plant for a three season bloom. The article says, "Spring is tough for bees. Common spring bulbs like tulips and daffodils aren't attractive to bees. It's good to have fruit trees or flowering shrubs to cover their early season needs." Some choices they list for spring are calendula and wild lilac. For fall they suggest sedum, asters, and goldenrod.

4. Bees stay longer in gardens at least 3 to 4 feet in diameter.

5. Bees need a water source.

The article was very enlightening and will help me plan my garden to include plants and flowers that can help my local honeybees. This is a great way to tie your study of insects into your gardening time. I am planning on keeping track of which plants have bees on them. I know they *love* my spanish lavender and I have it planted in two long rows along the edge of my garden. Even now in the middle of November it has many bees in it every afternoon. I have observed bees in my cosmos that are left in the back of the garden. The plant doesn't look as nice as it did in the middle of summer but the bees seem to enjoy it. My neighbor's rosemary plants are always full of bees so that might be a good plant to try too.

It may not seem like each individual garden can help but according to this article about bees, we can.

Barb-Harmony Art Mom

Saturday, November 17, 2007

"Into The Dewy Clouds"

Before your sight,
Mounts on the breeze the butterfly, and soars,
Small creature as she is, from earth’s bright flowers
Into the dewy clouds.


Thursday, November 15, 2007

Ladybug, Ladybug Fly Away Home!

Photo from last spring in my garden

How many times have you seen a ladybug? Do they make you smile like they do me? I have lots of memories of lady bugs from my growing up years and now in my own garden, I love to find them crawling around on my plants.

The Handbook of Nature Study has information on the ladybird (lady bug) on pages 364-366. On page 364 there are illustrations of the larva, pupa, and adult of the lady bug.

From the Handbook of Nature Study, page 366:
"The ladybird is a beetle. Its young are very different from the adult in appearance, and feed upon plant lice."

"These little beetles are very common in autumn and may be brought to the schoolroom and passed around in vials for the children to observe. Their larvae may be found on almost any plant infested with plant lice. Plant and all may be brought into the school room and the actions of the larvae noted by the pupils during recess."

Page 366 also has ten observations you can perform on either the adult or the larvae of the lady bug.

From page 365:
"From our standpoint the ladybird is of great value, for during the larval as well as adult stages, all species except one feed upon those insects which we are glad to be rid of."

"The ladybird is a clever little creature, even if it does look like a pill, and if you disturb it, it will fold up its legs and drop as if dead, playing possum in a most deceptive manner."

We enjoyed learning more about this common garden friend.

Barb-Harmony Art Mom

Monday, November 12, 2007

Handbook of Nature Study: More than a Field Guide

This is probably the single most useful aspect of this book. In the beginning I was hung up on the fact that this giant book didn't have many of the creatures in it that I wanted to study. I was trying to use it as a field guide and then as an just isn't meant to be either of those things.

Handbook of Nature Study does have many specific creatures to study, broken down into categories. You can look them up either in the table of contents or in the index. If you find that the specific creature you are looking for is not listed, you can turn to the introductory pages for the category.

For example:
We have lots of Western Scrub Jays in our backyard. We had a nest in our magnolia tree last spring and we were able to watch the baby learn to fly.The Scrub jay is not listed in the index of the HNS but we could use the HNS to learn more about how birds fly or about how they use their beaks. If we wanted to know more about the Western Scrub Jay, we should look it up in our field guide for particular information. The HNS will not help you identify every bird but it will help you to learn more about a lot of common birds. It also has activities for observation that you can use with any bird.

I am learning the value of the HNS as a tool to observing and learning about the creation around us. It is not the sort of book that you pick up and read from cover to cover. Its value is in the way you can use it to guide you through a study of a specific type of nature. We are working our way through the insect section this term but we are also using it to find out about other things we find on our nature walks.

Barb-Harmony Art Mom

Sunday, November 11, 2007

Swallowtail in the Garden

Western Swallowtail, Papilio rutulus
Handbook of Nature Study pages 301-304

This is an old photo of a Western Tiger Swallowtail butterfly that we from time to time have in our garden. The size of this particular butterfly makes it an easy target to watch. We planted butterfly bush in our yard many years ago and have found that it attracts both butterflies and hummingbirds to our butterfly garden. We have a two purple ones and a white one.

Page 301
“This graceful butterfly is a very good friend to the flowers, being a most efficient pollen-carrier. It haunts the gardens and sips nectar from all the blossom cups held out for its refreshment; and it is found throughout almost all parts of the United States. The grace of its appearance ismuch enhanced by the “swallowtails,” two projections from the hind margins of the hind wings.”

Page 303
“The caterpillars of the swallowtail butterflies have scent organs near the head which they thrust forth when attacked, thus giving off a disagreeable odor which is nauseating to birds.”
I just remembered that I had these photos from a trip to Yosemite this past summer of a swallowtail that made friends with my son. He even let him hold him on his finger.
Look at those legs? Amazing!

What a beautiful creature. I am always humbled by the simplicity and perfect symmetry found in our natural surroundings. Our God is a master Designer.

Barb-Harmony Art Mom

Thursday, November 1, 2007

More aphids-green this time

This day was a day of amazing proportions. I realized just how "big" an ant is to an aphid. Can you see the ant on the left and the two aphids on the right?

From the Handbook of Nature Study, page 353:
"Aphids have the mouth in the form of a sucking-tube which is thrust into the stems and leaves of plants; through it the plant juices are drawn for nourishment. Aphids are the source of honeydew of which ants are fond."

Page 353-354 also has eight activities to observe aphids in your nature study. Anna Botsford Comstock suggests observing a plant infested with aphids with a hand lens. We were delighted for a long time watching the ants and aphids on our rose bush.

You have to love this from the HNS, page 351.
"I know of no more diverting occupation than watching a colony of aphids through a lens. These insects are the most helpless and amiable little ninnies in the whole insect world; and they look the part, probably because their eyes, so large and wide apart, seem so innocent and wondering."

Here is an ant on the front of the rose leaf.....see the tiny little aphid on the leaf on the left? Amazing.

Barb-Harmony Art Mom

Monarch Butterflies, Milkweed, and My Garden

Monarch on showy milkweed
Monarch Butterfly on Showy Milkweed-Yosemite National Park, Summer 2006

Last summer our family observed monarch butterflies among the milkweed at Yosemite National Park. There is a big meadow filled with milkweed within view of Half Dome. My interest in Monarch butterflies has grown from that experience and since we have a butterfly garden in our backyard, I began to think about adding some milkweed to the variety of plants we grow.

The Handbook of Nature Study talks about Monarch butterflies on pages 305-310 and page 309 has the observation questions for all three phases: butterfly, caterpillar, and chrysalis. I learned a lot from reading just those few pages and now I can refer back to them when we start to observe the life cycle of the Monarchs in our backyard habitat.

“This lesson may be given in September, while yet the caterpillars of the monarch may be found feeding upon milkweed, and while there are yet many specimens of this gorgeous butterfly to be seen. The caterpillars may be brought in on the food plant, and their habits and performances studied in the schoolroom; but care should be taken not to have the atmosphere too dry.”

Page 307
“The caterpillar will feed upon no plant except milkweed; it feeds both day and night, with intervals of rest and when resting hides beneath the leaf.”

“The monarch chrysalis is, I maintain, the most beautiful gem in Nature’s jewel casket; it is an oblong jewel of jade, darker at the upper end and shading to the most exquisite whitish green below; outlining this lower paler portion are shining flecks of gold. If we look at these gold flecks with a lens, we cannot but believe that they are bits of polished gold foil.”

I don’t have milkweed or monarch butterflies in my backyard. I did find a website that will send you milkweed plants to grow in your garden and in my ongoing development of a great butterfly garden, I am going to plant some milkweed. I am going to get some monarch caterpillars so we can start hatching them this spring and start an area that they will visit us in.

Here is the website:Live Monarch

I have been to Pacific Grove, CA and seen the monarchs in the monarch sanctuary where they winter up in the trees and it is quite a sight to see. The
Handbook of Nature Study has some great suggestions for studying these insects and I will keep you posted as our Monarch butterfly project progresses.

Barb -Harmony Art Mom