Nature Feed

🐛Bugs 🐜Insects and other 🐞🐝🕷️Arthropods

While most adults do not have a deep affection for bugs, children, on the other hand, spend hours in a backyard flipping over rocks and inspecting blades of grass in search of the coolest caterpillars and tiny crawlers. And little ones are smart to befriend bugs since without little creature our entire ecosystem would shut down. Animals such as fish, bats, and amphibians would have nothing to eat; rivers and lakes would be overrun with algae, and flowers would remain unpollinated. Teaching children about insects is a great way for them to learn about nature in general since everything in our world is interconnected. Also, bugs are the most accessible of all creatures since children can most closely approach them. So, suppress your squeamishness and delve into the wonderful world of bugs and other insects!

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To explore bugs and insects in a fun hands-on sensorial play, I set up an Autumn-Inspired sensory bin with fresh leaves and acorns children found during nature walks, shredded paper, this bug loupe and these insects. 

DSC_0426 An ant, besides being able to lift 50 times its weigh, has the biggest brain relative to its size amongst the insect kingdom!

DSC_0426Entomology is the study of insects, including their relationship with other animals, their environments, and human beings; making Adrian an entomologist for a time being.
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Insects are creatures with three body sections, six legs, and usually four wings and two antennae. Although some people use the words "bug" and "insect" interchangeably, a bug is a certain type of insect such as boxelder bug, milkweed bug, assassin bug, and stink bug. True bugs have a stylet (a mouth shaped like a straw) that they use to suck juices from plants. That is all bugs are insects, but not all insects are bugs. Scientists have discovered already over one million species of insects: also called arthropods, and every day they are discovering new species.

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Some insects have wings, and some do not, but there are few characteristics that all insects have in common:

  • Insects do not have bones or a backbone like humans do, and thus are invertebrates, meaning that they have a hard exoskeleton or shell on the outside of their bodies which protects them.
  • All insects have three parts: the head, the thorax (the middle part), and the abdomen (the end part).
  • Insects have two antennae and six legs.
  • All insects hatch from eggs, and the babies are called larva.
  • All insects go through the same lifecycle: beginning as an egg. The egg hatches and larva emerge. Larvae usually look nothing like the adult insect. The larvae enter a pupa, chrysalis or cocoon. An adult insect emerges from the pupa.
  • Note: spiders are not insects. Spiders have eight legs, and they are related to scorpions and belong to the arachnid family. 🐌 Snails, on the other hand, are gastropods. 

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Bugs A-Z book (in the middle) is a perfect book for any child fascinated with bugs! A simple text from A to Z provides interesting and concise buggy facts in addition to reinforcing the first letter association: A is for Ant, B is for Bee, C for Caterpillar etc. Larger than life full-color photographs of creepy crawlies include locusts, caterpillars, beetles, flies, grasshoppers, ants, praying mantis, and more! Also, the facts provided under each insect are fascinating and engaging enough even for a three-year-old. At the end of the book, there is a glossary review, which I use to reinforce the concepts learned. 

DSC_0003Scorpions are not insects! They are arachnid, with eight legs, instead of six.

Scorpions can be found on all continents except Alaska (and Antarctica). They are predatory animals of the class Arachnida (having eight legs) making them cousins to spiders, mites, and ticks. Insects, on the other hand, are Arthropods with six legs, two antennae, and three-parts segmented body.

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Tarantulas are the largest known arachnids (spider family) measuring seven to ten cm in length, capable, however, of exceeding 30 cm (that is twelve inches: the size of a regular laptop). Besides their size, tarantulas are known for their dense and hairy body. Also, they are night-time (nocturnal) hunters who will pounce on their prey, such as insects, beetles, and grasshoppers. Interestingly, although not spinning traditional webs, tarantulas are capable of producing silk and can use it for similar purposes, depending on species. Many of the arboreal tarantulas make silken homes in tree holes or other crevices. Even the burrowing terrestrial species use silk to line their burrows, and some use silk to create door-like entrances to their burrows. The tarantula’s silk acts as an alarm system, alerting the arachnid to the presence of threat or prey outside its home. If the intruder is potential prey, the tarantula will capture and subdue it.

DSC_0006The cladogram below shows the relationship between the arthropod's groups:

Arthropoda
 

Chelicerata (sea spiders, horseshoe crabs, and 🕷️arachnids: 8 legs)

 
Mandibulata
 

Pancrustacea (crustaceans and 🐞insects: 6 legs)

 
 

Myriapoda (centipedes, millipedes, and allies)

 

 

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To examine tiny creatures up close, children like to use this bug loupe, which provides a 5X view of what’s underneath! The above-shown Bugs collection (buy here) comes with twelve insects in clear acrylic blocks for up-close examination. A mini-guide that comes with it provides a concise description of the species included as well as interesting details. This set is a perfect starter collection of insects for any entomologist!  DSC_0003
Little Explorer Insects book (on the left - buy here) provides further insight into these buzzing, stinging, and creepy crawlers: where they live, what they eat, and why they are so important.

DSC_0074 bee copyDid you know that a bee has five eyes, none of which can see the color red!

Honey bees are very important pollinators of flowers, fruits, and vegetables, transferring pollen between the male and female parts of the plant, thus allowing plants to grow seeds and fruit. Honey bees live in hives (or colonies) everywhere except Antarctica. The members of the hive are divided into three types:

  •  Queen: One queen runs the whole hive. Her job is to lay the eggs which will spawn the hive’s next generation of bees. The queen also produces chemicals that guide the behavior of the other bees.
  • Workers are all sterile female and their roles are to forage for food (pollen and nectar from flowers), build and protect the hive, and clean and circulate air by beating their wings. Workers would be the only bees we ever see flying around outside the hive.
  • Drones are the male bees, and their purpose is to mate with the Queen. Several hundred live in each hive during the spring and summer. But come winter, when the hive goes into survival mode, the drones are kicked out! 

DSC_0003Lastly, National Geographic Little Kids First Big Book of Bugs (top right - buy here) explores backyard favorite bugs, such as ladybugs and lightning bugs, and also introduces more exotic species which inhabit rain forests and deserts around the world. Colorful photos are paired with profiles of each insect, along with facts about the creatures' sizes, diets, homes, and more. "Little Kids First BIG Book of" series is my children's favorite non-fiction series. 

To put all this knowledge to use, seek out ways together with your child to get to know just how amazing Earth's little inhabitants are! Parks, local playgrounds, and forests are great places to introduce children to the wonders of the local insect population. Go outside and explore by examining dead wood, banks of streams, and the underside of rocks and leaves. Backyard bugs can usually be found under potted plants, rocks or deck furniture. On forest trails, look for bugs in flowers, on trees or near water.

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During nature walks, explore the world of bugs, insects and other creatures, first hand by doing a scavenger hunt. (Do not forget a bug container, bug tweezers, and a magnifying glass.)

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Do not rush and stay close to the ground as bugs are easy to miss. Most are small and many camouflages, making them tough to spot at first glance. 

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Take it slow and let your eyes roam the area for anything that moves.

DSC_0394.JPGLook under moss, rocks, leaves or underturned trees. 

DSC_0038With close observation, you will find that local fauna is full of surprises!

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"There is no description, no image in any book that is capable of replacing the sight of real trees, and all the life to be found around them, in a real forest. Something emanates from those trees that speaks to the soul, something no book, no museum is capable of giving." Dr. Maria Montessori.

DSC_0038If you find a caterpillar feeding on a plant and wish to bring it home, be sure to include that exact plant it was eating since many insects can only digest one type of plant and will starve without it.

DSC_0394.JPGDr. Maria Montessori strongly believed that the intelligence was a result of joyful learning and not a mere memorization. So learning need not take place inside of a classroom: there is nothing more inviting than a forest school!

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Invite your child to be a naturalist! Zoos, botanical gardens and even local parks might offer classes which introduce children to the wonders of the local insect population.

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Having contact with nature will allow children to understand and appreciate its natural order, the harmony and the beauty in it. Such contact will allow them to be friends with animals: big and small, creeping and crawling, scary and beautiful. All Earth's inhabitants are necessary for the equilibrium of life: all life form is precious. So, let's explore, go outside and be with nature!

For more on Autumn-themed activities, read here a roundup of all our activities we have done during the month of 🍂September and 🎃October: over 20 of them! arranged by the area of study in a post "🍂Fall & 🎃Halloween Inspired Homeschooling 101 Unit Study."


Science in a Bottle: DIY 🍂Terrarium🍃 and The 🌧️ Water Cycle (Science🔬⚗️⚖️ 101 🎥Series 🎇)

Today, we are learning about the water cycle by making a terrarium and simulating rain, while understanding a very basic concept of how clouds hold water. Did you know that the amount of water on Earth is finite and has been the same since the early formation of the Earth? Yes, the glass of water you might be holding in your hand could have fallen from the sky when Brachiosaurus walked through lakes feeding on plants. And, when knights and kings ruled the land, they drank from wells, your glass of water could have been part of. And that same glass of water might fall from the sky as snowflakes hundred years from now. 

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To make a terrarium you will need:

  • nature's objects: such as bark, moss, marbles, leaves, pinecones, acorns, chestnuts (you can also use pea gravel or potting soil);
  • we also added forest animal figurines (buy here);
  • water + blue water coloring;
  • cotton balls to resemble clouds;
  • Gauze to seal the terrarium with a rubber-band.

 DSC_0087Since the Earth has a limited amount of water: the water keeps going around and around in what we call a "Water Cycle." This cycle is made up of few main parts:

  • Evaporation: the sun heating up water in oceans, rivers, and lakes, and turning it into vapor or steam. Also transpiration: when plants lose water out of their leaves.
  • Condensation: when water vapor gets cold (usually high up in the atmosphere where the temperature is cooler), it changes back into liquid, forming clouds.
  • Precipitation occurs when so much water has condensed that the air cannot hold it anymore. The clouds get heavy and water falls back to Earth in the form of rain, hail, sleet or snow.
  • Collection: when water falls back to Earth, it may fall back into the oceans, lakes or rivers or it may end up on land, soaking into the earth and becoming a part of the "groundwater" which plants and animals use to drink. Or it may run over the soil and collect in the oceans, lakes or rivers where the cycle starts ... ALL OVER AGAIN!

 DSC_0094Children used a dropper and blue-colored water to saturate the "clouds" causing precipitation.

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A terrarium (plural: terraria or terrariums) is a glass (or a see-through) container containing soil and plants, which is usually sealed, however, it can also be open to the atmosphere (similar to what we created).

Children learned, while practicing fine motor skills and eye-hand coordination, that when clouds become too heavy, it starts to rain. 

DSC_0094On the other hand, closed terraria create a unique environment for plant growth, as the transparent walls allow for both heat and light to enter the terrarium.
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This experiment was very illustrative to discuss the water cycle and how it works: 

  • Through transpiration, the moisture is carried from the soil through the plant's roots to small pores on the leaves.
  •  Evaporation occurs when tiny drops of water transform from a liquid to a gas (generally due to increased temperature).
  • Condensation takes place when the water vapor collects and turns from a gas back into a liquid.
  • And finally, precipitation happens when a lot of condensation forms, getting too heavy and falling to the ground, as here in the form of rain.

DSC_0087If you create a sealed terrarium, the heat entering through glass walls would naturally allow for the creation of a small scale water cycle. This happens because moisture from both the soil and plants evaporates in the elevated temperatures inside the terrarium. This water vapor then condenses on the walls of the glass jar and eventually falls back to the plants and soil below, representing a complete natural water cycle. 

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As the light passes through the transparent terrarium wall, this can also be a fun experiment on photosynthesis, which is an important aspect of plant growth.

For more on Science, and property of water, see here "Pour 💦it in! Liquid Illusion," and also see here a video post "🎶Musical 💦Water 🌈Glasses (Science🔬⚗️⚖️ 101 🎥Series 🎇)."


Epcot International 🌸Flower & Garden Festival

Spring is celebrated in Epcot with brilliant blooms, vibrant gardens, flower towers, wildlife habitats, walkways and interactive playgrounds.

DSC_0003The park boasts with more than 70 world-renowned Disney-themed topiaries.
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DSC_0076 Kids smelling flowers closer
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DSC_0230 Adrian Purple flowers
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DSC_0221Interactive playgrounds are build just for this event.
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DSC_0221Tomatoes.
DSC_0221Vertical Gardens.
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I had never seen such a breathtaking display of flowers and gardens. This was our most favorite time of the year to visit Epcot!


Unexpected 🌨Snow in 🌼March

When Adrian woke up this morning, he recited a part of his Winter Poem: "Snowflakes dance throughout the night, when I open my eyes, the world is white!" (See a post here.) And indeed it was:) We usually do not get snow in March, and to see all the buds plump and red, as well as bright yellow daffodils covered by few inches of snow, was quite unexpected!  

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DSC_0185How is the weather by where you live?


Trees blooming on the first day of February!

Blooming tress while snow is on the ground? Spring can not be that early! Groundhog better not see its shadow tomorrow. We just had snow, and while taking a nature walk, we saw buds thickening, little yellow flowerets emerging, trees blooming! How is it possible? We are in the Northern Hemisphere, and we do not see the first blooms until late March, early April. We usually head down to Washington DC for a Cherry Blossom Festival because by us, there is usually nothing blooming at that time. We really did not expect to see blooming trees that early! No wonder Chinese New Year holiday, though in a winter, is called a "Spring Festival" because the "Start of Spring" (4–18 February) is the first of the terms in the traditional solar calendar (read a post here).

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At the same time ... 

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DSC_0041-001Have you seen blooming trees🌸 and snow❄️️ on the ground at the same time? This is the first time we are seeing such a dichotomy in nature!