Archive for ‘A Bug’s World’

January 20, 2015

We Are Getting SO Excited About Summer Camp!

by Melissa Harding


We’re so excited and we just can’t hide it! Summer is almost here and we have just finalized our offerings for the upcoming camp season. We are so pumped to offer a new selection of summer camps to help your child connect with nature. Highlighting ecology, conservation, healthy living and art concepts through hands-on activities, each camp offers a fun and unique Phipps experience. This year we are expanding our age groups to include older campers, as well as continuing to offer the popular programs that families love. We have a great line-up of immersive experiences designed to increase your kid’s enthusiasm for the natural world, with something to offer for every child, no matter what their interests:
Do you have a child who loves BUGS? A camper who likes to make homes for all the insect friends she finds in the yard and who knows all about dragonflies? Then check out our bug camps for campers ages 4-7: Bugs in the Burgh and A Bug’s World! Your camper will have fun hunting for bugs all over the Conservatory, inside and out, and learning what makes bugs so important.

Check out this post to learn how to trap bugs at home, just like we do at camp!

Do you have a camper who loves to dance and perform? A child who pretends to be a cat under the table or a dinosaur at bedtime? Then Dancing with the Plants, for campers ages 4-5, is just right for him. Your camper will learn about plants and animals through dance and movement exercises!

Not sure that your child will love dance-based camp? Check out these fun photos from last summer – a great choice for boys AND girls!

Phipps Science Education (3)ghghghgh
If you have a child who loves to draw, paint, sculpt, or tell stories, then our art camps are right up her alley. We are offering nature-based art camps for children ages 4-5 and 10-11: Backyard Art and EcoArtist. Your camper will use nature as her inspiration to create beautiful and unique projects.

Can’t wait to start making nature art? Prepare for spring by making seed balls at home!


Do you have an older child who loves exploring nature and learning new facts about plants and animals? A camper who pours over books about his favorite animals and wants to be park ranger or a scientist when he grows up? Check out our new camp for children ages 8-9: Nature Explorers!

Want to practice observation skills at home? Check out this post for ideas!

DSC_2906Does your child have a passion for environmentalism? Does she love to learn about different places in the world? If your 12-13 year old camper is a budding steward of the plants and animals of the planet, then Climate Defenders is the right camp for her! Campers will learn all about world biomes while experiencing them right here at Phipps, as well as how their actions can have a positive effect on the world around them.

Learn how spending time in nature helps all children to become better stewards of the Earth!


These are just a few of the camps that we are offering this summer. Check out our website to see our entire line-up, including Little Sprouts, cooking, fairytale, bug, dance, and ecology camps. Our summer camps are both educational and super fun – at Phipps, we LOVE camp!

If you would like to register your child for summer camp, contact Sarah Bertovich at  412|441-4442 ext. 3925.

We hope to see you there!

The above photos were taken by Science Education staff and volunteers.

July 17, 2014

Backyard Connections: Easy Bug Traps

by Melissa Harding


There are more bugs on this planet than any other animal. That means that there are millions and millions of insects out there, outnumbering us all in multitudes. There are so many insects, in fact, that it is difficult for scientists to truly know them all. Researchers are discovering new insects all the time; if you are looking to discover an animal and name it after yourself, entomology is your best bet. Thankfully, you don’t need to be a learned entomologist to appreciate how awesome insects are. Being a bug scientist is easier than you think. At summer camp, we teach all of our campers to use observation to practice good scientific skills. While we are always able to look through our native landscapes to find insects to study, we also like to set a variety of bug traps to see what we can catch. We set both bait and pit traps over the course of the week and check them daily, hoping to find an insect friend or two.

This activity works well in the Conservatory and even better outside! Here is how we do it:

Day 1 Bugs 050

Bait Traps
Bait traps attract insects with food. Rotten meat attracts carrion feeders, while other insects like overripe fruits, fermented foods, sugary foods, or oils (peanut butter). While not all of these are suitable for bait traps at home, knowing what you want to catch will help you decide what kind of bait to use. At Phipps, we use sugar and baked potatoes.

Sugaring is a method of painting tree trunks, rocks, etc. with sugar to mimic the natural weeping of sap from a wounded tree. This is a good method to catch nectar-drinking insects like butterflies and bees. To make sugar solution, mix two parts of sugar with one part warm water and stir until dissolved. Paint this solution on tree trunks, rocks, or other areas where you would like to attract bugs; areas that are easy to observe are best. Check after several hours to see what you’ve caught.

Baked potato traps are just what they sound like; the soft vegetation will attract decomposers like potato bugs, millipedes and ants. To cook potatoes, poke several holes in a potato and microwave on high power for 5-10 minutes until tender. Cut this potato in half and lay face down on bare soil. Choose a place that is shady and cool, not in direct sunlight. Leave the trap overnight and check the next day by lifting the potato and looking for bugs on the white underside.

059Pit traps
Pit traps are an easy way to catch ground-dwelling insects, such as ground beetles and millipedes. These little critters walk along on the ground and fall into your trap, where it is easy to catch and observe them. These traps also usually include some type of bait to entice bugs to come closer for a look.

We make our pit traps out of repurposed containers. Old pill bottles or small glass jars make great traps. Fill your trap with a small amount of mashed banana and cereal; add a small amount of dirt on top to give the insects something to hide in. Finally, smear a thin layer of petroleum jelly around the inside rim of the trap near the top. Take your trap and bury it in a moist, shady location; dig a hole deep enough that the entire container fits into the dirt and is flush with the top of the ground. Cover your trap with a large leaf to give it some cover. Let your trap sit for 24 hours and check to see what you’ve caught.


Creating a happy bug habitat
The bugs in your trap will not survive long if they are not put into a hospitable environment. While an empty bug box is best for observation, if you plan to keep your bugs for the long term they will need somewhere comfortable to stay. Creating a bug habitat is easy; all your bug needs is access to oxygen, food, moisture, and places to hide. A plastic bug box is built for this, but you can also use a shoebox or plastic container as long as you poke some small holes into the top for air. Next, add some vegetation and dirt for both places to hide and food. You can lightly spray your vegetation with water to add moisture to the environment. If you know what kind of bug you have, look up what foods they will enjoy most.

Once you have caught some critters, it’s time to observe them. This is the time to put your bug into a clear, small bug box or into a small, empty plastic container. Use all your senses to observe – look, smell, listen and, if appropriate, touch. Never taste or lick your bug friends – neither of you will enjoy the experience! Jot down your findings in a notebook; this is also a great time to draw your observations and make note of  your bug’s behaviors. When you are done observing, either let your bug back into it’s new home or let it go free.

This is a fun activity that you can do at home in your own backyard. Try out some of these fun and easy bug traps today – you may be surprised by the diversity of life that you find!

The above photos were taken by Science Education staff.




July 15, 2014

Home Connections: Homemade Lip Balm Made Simple

by Melissa Harding


Bees are incredible little insects. They pollinate the plants we need to eat, live in an incredibly complex hive society and have amazing bodies designed for flight and defense. Every summer camp eventually gets around to the subject of bees. We often talk about the importance of pollination and how bees play the key role in getting our food from plant to plate. We also like to talk about products made from bees, both honey and beeswax. Children understand honey, but beeswax can be confusing. To help our students understand what wax is and how it is used by bees through a hands-on lesson, we make our own lip balm. Not only is this incredibly popular with our campers, but their families as well.

There are many online tutorials about how to make lip balm. They don’t all have children in mind and some can be quite complex. Our recipe is not fancy, but it is so easy that a child can do it (with adult supervision). It has only a few ingredients and all are fun to feel and smell; making lip balm is a very sensory experience.

To make lip balm, you will need the following ingredients: bees wax granules, coco butter, castor or coconut oil, essential oils (optional), raw honey (optional)

A word about sourcing your materials: There are a variety of places to purchase lip balm materials, but your best bet would be to purchase them online. Before you purchase, look into the sourcing of these materials to be sure that they are sustainably harvested. Also be sure that the materials you order are meant to be used in cosmetic products and are food-grade quality.

Phipps Balm

4 TB Coconut or castor oil

3 TB beeswax

4 TB coco butter

15 drops essential oil

1 TB raw honey

Directions: Place oils, honey and beeswax in a double boiler (or heatproof bowl resting on top of a small saucepan of simmering water). (As a side note, we have a double boiler that is solely used for this craft and not for anything else, which makes cleanup easier.) Heat gently until everything has melted.

Remove mixture from heat, and add an essential oil (or two) of your choice. Stir until blended.

Ladle or pour mixture into containers, place covers on, and let sit to cool and set up.

(fills approximately one dozen 1/2 oz tins)


What are essential oils?
Essential oils are naturally made from plants; they are not actual oils as we would think of olive oil, but rather a distilled version of the plant itself. Essential oil is the real star of this lip balm, as it will give it fragrance and taste. Since essential oils are so concentrated, they should not be used directly on the skin. This is why this recipe uses a carrier oil of some kind – in our case, we use coco butter and coconut or castor oil, but jojoba, grape seed or almond oil will do. This carrier oil acts as a “carrier” for scents and flavors of the essential oils. The honey will add a subtle sweetness to your lip balm and is completely optional based on your desire. Finally, beeswax makes your lip balm harder; the more beeswax you add, the more solid your final product will be.

Essential oil suggestions
While most essential oils can be used for lip balm, there are many that will taste or smell undesirable. Citrus essential oils, like lemon and orange, are poor choices for lip balm as they can cause lip irritation. Flowery oils may smell nice, but will not taste great. Kid favorites at Phipps are peppermint and vanilla. Sometimes we combine them together, sometimes we just use one or the other. Keep in mind that your lip balm will have a chocolate fragrance, but not chocolate taste, so look for oils that will compliment that scent.

This fun craft is perfect for a rainy day or just to explore more about the products that come from bees. Enjoy!

The above photos were taken by Cory Doman and Science Education Staff.



July 11, 2014

Summer Camp Recap: A Bug’s World

by Melissa Harding

Bugs 108

Summer Camp Recap is our seasonal segment featuring our summer camp programs. This is the place for camp parents to find pictures of their campers in action and see all the fun things we did all week. It’s also a great place for educators to pick up craft, story and lesson ideas for their own early childhood programs!

This week’s camp was A Bug’s World, is an insect-themed camp for children 4-5 years of age. This programs takes campers on a journey into the world of arthropods. Campers learned about butterflies, honeybees, ladybugs, grasshoppers, worms and other garden friends. They even got to meet our resident bug expert and see his many bug “pets”, including milkweed beetles and a giant praying mantis. Campers went bug hunting every day, finding such neat bugs as squash beetles, leaf hoppers, aphids, dragonflies, and loads of potato bugs! They decorated T-shirts with bug stencils, made their own bug costume and released lady bugs into the Conservatory.

Check out the slideshow below for more images from our week!

For more pictures from Summer Camp, check out our Facebook page!

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The above pictures were taken by Science Education and Research staff and volunteers.

July 26, 2013

Summer Camp Recap: A Bug’s World and Shutterbugs

by Melissa Harding


Summer Camp Recap is our Friday seasonal segment featuring our summer camp programs. This is the place for camp parents to find pictures of their campers in action and see all the fun things we did all week. It’s also a great place for educators to pick up craft, story and lesson ideas for their own early childhood programs!

This week, we had two morning camps. The first, Shutterbugs, is a photography-based camp from campers 6-7 years of age. The second, A Bug’s World, is an insect-themed camp for campers 4-5 years of age. Both camps are full of crafts, games, stories, songs, and lots of fun!


Shutterbugs uses digital photography to give campers a new way to look at the world around them. Campers learned about perspective, lighting, framing and composition, practicing their skills as they toured the Conservatory. Every day, they viewed at their best photos from the previous day to look for different photographic elements. Campers also colored in black and white photos, created photo props for group pictures and even made their own pin-hole cameras! They loved seeing their skill improve every day.


A Bug’s World takes campers on a journey into the world of arthropods. Campers learned about butterflies, honeybees, ladybugs, grasshoppers, worms and other garden friends. They even got to meet a beekeeper and try on her hat and gloves. Campers went bug hunting every day, finding such neat bugs as a preying mantis, milkweed beetle and loads of potato bugs! Campers loved acting out the lifecycles and singing songs all about each featured critter.

Check out the slide show below for more images from the week!

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For more pictures from Summer Camp, check out our Flickr page!

The above photos were taken by Amanda Joy, Christie Lawry and Hanna Mosca.

March 5, 2013

Let’s Rock Down to Electric Avenue

by Melissa Harding


Pollination is essential to the life cycle of a flowering plant. Plants grow flowers in order to make seeds; this requires pollination, the process by which pollen is transferred either within a single flower or among many for the purpose of sexual reproduction. Pollination is a hard job for a plant to do by itself and many of them rely on external sources for help. While some flowers are pollinated by wind or water, most  are pollinated by critters. This most famously includes bees and butterflies, less famously also hummingbirds, fruit bats, native pollinating wasps and more. There are over 200,000 pollinating species in the world that pollinate 90% of all flowering plants. Suffice it to say that this is an important job, though many of these animals don’t even realize they are doing it.

Their ignorance is due to the fact that while some of these pollinators are actually after pollen, most others are looking for something else entirely. Flowers have spent centuries perfecting just the right incentives to attract just the right pollinators. Brightly colored petals and sepals, strong fragrances, delicious nectar, directive patterns and interesting shapes help plants draw in various pollinators to feed, breed or shelter themselves within a flower. It is often while pollinators are sucking down nectar or mating that pollen adheres to their body; after they leave to visit another flower, the pollen from the previous plant fertilizes the next plant and the next. According to Gregory Sutton at the University of Bristol in the U.K., this is just the beginning. He and his researchers have found that flowers use something totally unknown to humans before: electric fields.

Bumblebees are positively charged. As they fly, the friction of the air and the bee’s body parts together creates a positive charge. In response to this, flowers have a slight negative charge relative to the air around them; at least, they do when bees are near. In the seconds before a bee lands on a flower, there is “electrical activity” in the plant. The flower changes its potential when a bee is in proximity.  This is because when a positively charged bee lands on a flower, the negatively charged pollen grains naturally stick to it, helping along the pollination process. Once the bee leaves, the field stays changed for about 100 seconds as a warning to the next bee that there is no pollen to be found.

Another advantage of this electrical activity is that bees can sense this field and use it to find sweet flowers. Sutton and his researchers gave bees fake flowers filled with both sweet nectar and bitter quinine. Initially, the bees were random in their foraging and didn’t seem to learn which flowers held nectar. When Sutton put a charge on the flowers, the bees quickly learned to avoid the bitter ones; when turned back off, the bees resumed their random patterns. This “electric avenue” allows flowers to attract and keep repeat customers all summer long.

To learn more about Sutton and his research and to see pictures of a flower’s electric field, check out this article in NPR’s Science section. You can also read Sutton’s paper in Science magazine.

The above photo was taken by Julia Petruska.

July 30, 2012

Buzzzzzzing Campers Land at Phipps

by Melissa Harding

Last week, campers were buzzzzzzzing with excitement. Why? Because there were bugs everywhere!

At A Bug’s World, our 4&5 year-old insect camp, we searched high and low for insects of all kinds. It didn’t take us long; we found dragonflies sailing in graceful arcs over the ponds, ladybugs on leaves and even potato bugs and ants along the dirt. Armed with magnifying glasses, campers looked for compound eyes, wings and a neat mouth-part called a proboscis.

We learned about ladybugs, butterflies, grasshoppers, beetles, bees, and ants; even cockroaches!

We went hunting for bugs around the Conservatory, played games and sang bug songs.

We had some special guests this week. Christina Neumann, of Burg Bees, taught campers about the importance of bees as pollinators. We tasted honey from her personal apiary and saw how it is taken out of the hives. Scott Creary, Phipps horticulturist and resident IPM expert, taught campers how bugs like ladybugs and lacewings can help plants by eating garden pests. He even brought some insect friends along for the class!

We had a very buzzzzzy week!

The above photos were taken by Julia Petruska and Christie Lawry.


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