Entomologist

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Category: Developing Talents

Duration: 1 session if you are not going to do the insect nets, 2 sessions if you want to do the insect nets.

Supplies:

  • 1 empty jar with lid for each girl (we had a bunch of empty tennis ball canisters left over from making the Ladder Ball game!)
  • pins (we used sewing pins just fine, but real insect pins purchased online are even better because they are thinner and longer)
  • A box with a lid for each girl (like a shoebox) and a piece of styrofoam for the bottom of the box (there must be at least 2″ clearance between the styrofoam and the lid of the box)
  • Paper (light enough to write on, but preferably a different color than the styrofoam).
  • Writing utensils
  • Glue (regular white glue works fine)
  • Access to bugguide.net, insectidentification.org, or an insect identification book (check your library). Even easier than these guides is to do a google search for a guide specifically for the bugs in your area. For instance, here in Tucson I searched for “Insects of the Sonoran Desert” and got a lot of useful guides that only include insects that actually live in this area!
  • Optional: I provided disposable gloves for those girls who were squeamish about touching bugs.

For the insect nets (per girl)

  • 1 yard tulle (I used a half yard for each but wished I had gotten one yard for each so they have a second layer in case of rips).
  • 1 wire clothes hanger
  • elmer’s glue
  • drill and drill bit
  • 1 dowel for handle
  • needle and thick thread, like button thread (preferably a different color than the tulle so the girls can see better what they are doing). We used ribbon for this part but the girls had a hard time pulling it through, so I would recommend thread or string instead!
  • Needle nose pliers (optional – depends on how tough your wire hangers are)
  • At least 8 clothespins

Preparation:

Week 1 (Insect Nets)

  • Using a sewing machine, sew three sides of the tulle together for each net.
  • Drill a hole on one end of each dowel to put the wire hanger into.

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Week 2 (Pinning the Insects)

  • If you won’t have time to do an insect collecting field trip with the girls during the day, hand out the jars to each girl ahead of time, instructing them to find 6-10 different kids of insects and place them in the jar (this jar is called the “relaxing jar” but you may want to warn some sensitive souls that this will in fact kill the bugs). Tell them not to collect worms (too soft) or spiders (unless parents can help them identify poisonous ones). When not collecting, the jar should stay in the freezer, which will keep the bugs soft for pinning.
  • Collect some bugs yourself, either for girls who fail to get bugs or to make a collection for yourself!

Activity:

Week 1 (Insect Nets)

1. Discuss the job of entomologists (They detect the role of insects in the spread of disease, discover ways to protect food, fiber crops, and livestock from pests. They also study the way beneficial insects contribute to the well being of humans, animals, and plants.)

2. Tell the girls that for the next few weeks they will be collecting bugs. Challenge to find at least six different bugs. If they find multiple of the same type of bug, they should still collect them so they can share with the other girls in the class (this really helped for our group since we had three girls who didn’t collect any bugs, but by the end of the night they all had a collection supplied by the other girls!) Tell them to keep their container in the freezer whenever they are not collecting, until they are on their way to the next activity. This will keep the bugs from drying out.

3. Now to make the insect nets! Give each girl a hanger and have them form it into this shape:

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4. Give the girls their net, and have them pull it over the wire about two inches, then secure with clothespins. This part is much easier with a partner! (Note that when I took these pictures making the first one at home, I glued the dowel on first, but decided later that it is easier for the girls to sew the net on without the dowel in the way!) The girls will want to put the wire into the holes of the clothespins, but they need to use them like clamps to hold the tulle in place, so make sure they are doing it right.IMG_20150729_191242_189IMG_20150729_191221_902

5. Tie one end of the thread to the handle of the insect net, and then, using a needle, teach them how to do a whip stitch to secure the net onto the wire (we used ribbon but it was really hard for the girls to pull through the tulle, so I recommend button thread). Once they get to the next clothespin, they can remove it.

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6. When they’ve gone all the way around, tie off the other end of the thread, straighten the “handle” of the hanger out straight, and glue it into the hole you drilled in the dowel. You may also want to trim off any extra tulle they might have. You’re done!

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Week 2 (Pinning the Insects)

1. Have the girls talk about their experience and stories collecting the bugs.

2. Take the bugs out of the jars. Show the girls how to pin the insect’s body at its largest point. For smaller insects, put a dab of glue on the end of the pin and just place the insect on top. (If you are using sewing pins this means anything smaller than a house fly.)
3. Use the identification site or book to find the names of insects and write them on the strips of paper. This gets pinned on the pin, too, or glued next to the pin. (If you’re really into making it like the “real thing,” you can also have the girls write the location it was found, the date, the name of the collector, and the environment -like “eating a leaf” or “in a sidewalk crack”.) Even easier than the  generic sites or guides is to do a google search for a guide specifically for the bugs in your area. For instance, here in Tucson I searched for “Insects of the Sonoran Desert” and got a lot of useful guides that only include insects that actually live in this area.
4. Put each pin straight up in the styrofoam of their display box.

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More Ideas:

  • It takes a lot longer than you might think to pin and identify the bugs. Set realistic expectations that they will only have time to pin 4-6 bugs that evening but you can send them home with extra pins and papers.
  • You can show pictures of how entomologists use a “spreading board” to spread out the wings of moths and butterflies and encourage them to try it at home (though you won’t have time for this in your activity).
  • Super glue or other fast-drying glue can make it easier for the small bugs. If even the bigger insects are hard to pin or fall apart when trying to pin, you can also skip the pins altogether and just glue the bugs right on the foam or piece of paper. Whatever works!
  • Bring some hand sanitizer for when you’re all done.
  • You could practice woodworking skills by making a simple insect display box, rather than using a cardboard box.
  • Two healthy treat ideas if you’re into bringing treats: strawberry ladybugs and grape caterpillars
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