Archive for ‘Bugs’

July 17, 2014

Backyard Connections: Easy Bug Traps

by Melissa Harding

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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:

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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.

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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.

Observation
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

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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)

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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

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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 3, 2014

Home Connections: Butterfly Scavenger Hunt

by Melissa Harding

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The butterfly forest at Phipps is one of our most popular rooms. Full of butterflies from all around the world, visitors flock to watch them flutter around our beautiful flowers. Some of the butterflies should be familiar to local visitors, who may also see monarchs, painted ladies and spicebush swallowtails in their own backyard. Others, hailing from regions all over the globe, may be less well-known. All together, there are a dozen different species currently inhabiting the butterfly forest, although the number fluctuates over the course of the season.

We love to take our campers into the forest and let them observe all the of butterflies in action, as well as to see them in their chrysalides. One way to help our campers identify all the different species is through a butterfly count worksheet. Some children love the challenge of trying to find each one, whereas others like to draw and make notes about what they observe. If you are bringing your own children to Phipps to see our butterfly forest, print off a copy of the worksheet below and take it with you to help you look a little closer at our fluttering friends.

To download this file, simply click on the image below and a printable PDF will appear.

 

Butterfly Scavenger Hunt

Try to find as many butterflies as you can!

Curious what is going on inside that chrysalis? Check out this blog post!

Click here to learn more about raising butterflies as home!

The above photos were taken by Science Education staff.

 

June 30, 2014

Summer Camp Recap: Bugs in the Burgh

by Melissa Harding

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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 Bugs in the Burgh, an insect-based camp for campers 6-7 years of age. Bugs in the Burgh 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 stamps, made their own lip balm and released lady bugs into the Conservatory.

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

 

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

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

May 29, 2014

Little Sprouts Flutter Through the Conservatory: Our Butterfly Friends

by Melissa Harding

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Butterflies are beautiful creatures that are not only important to plants, but pretty fun to learn about too! Our Little Sprouts were especially excited to learn about these pollinating pals; in the latest Little Sprouts: Singles, Our Butterfly Friends, campers learned how butterflies help plants as they searched for them in the Butterfly Forest.

To begin, campers created caterpillars out of cardboard and fabric stripes. When they were finished, they decorated a giant butterfly mural with different color dots, making a beautiful butterfly. Campers used both crafts in the lesson as they learned about butterfly body parts and the process of metamorphosis. They learned how a butterfly starts out as a larva, slowly growing until it creates a chrysalis, then finally becoming an adult butterfly. Campers acted out the process with their bodies and looked through butterfly goggles to pretend they were butterflies about to drink some nectar.

After learning so much about their butterfly friends, campers took binoculars through the Conservatory to find some live ones. They found quite a few fluttering in the Butterfly Forest and even stopped to find some flowers that these critters might like to eat! They used their fingers to find the pollen and nectar inside of the flowers and used their senses to explore some especially sweet-smelling blooms.

If you would like to learn more about butterflies with your own Little Sprout, check out these books:
The Very Hungry Caterpillar by Eric Carle
Looking Closely Inside the Garden
by Frank Serafini
Butterflies in the Garden
by Carol Lerner
Becoming Butterflies
by Anne Rockwell and Megan Halsey

Our next Little Sprouts, I Eat Plants, is scheduled for June 9-12, from 10:30 am-noon. This camp is currently full, but if you would like to join our waiting list, please contact Sarah at (412)441-4442 ext. 3925.

For a complete list of all our Little Sprout offerings, including summer camp, please visit our website.

To see more photos from camp, check out the slideshow below!

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The above pictures were taken by Phipps Science Education Staff.

May 16, 2014

Bee Behavior Decoded: What is the Deal with Bees and Hexagons?

by Melissa Harding

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We have been talking an awful lot about bees lately and here’s the reason: learning about these buzzing insects is important because, as pollinators, they are crucial to the success of many flowering plants. Without bees, we would not have many of the plants that sustain our lives every day. Not only are they important to our lives, but bees are pretty incredible creatures. From the way they dance to communicate with fellow bees to how they use their eyes to see patterns in ultra-violet light, bee behavior is pretty un-bee-lievable.

Robert Krulwich, National Public Radio blogger and co-star of WNYC’s Radiolab, investigates bees and bee behavior in this week’s Krulwich Wonders column. Specifically, he asks the question: why do bees like hexagons so much?

It turns out that this is a pretty tough mystery that has only recently been solved. The answer lies in the figure of physicist and writer Alan Lightman, who argues that bees build their honeycombs out of hexagons in the name of efficiency. Not only do bees always create hexagons, but they are considered to be “perfect hexagons”, meaning that all sides are of equal length. Lightman proposes a multi-faceted answer. First, whatever shapes the bees use need to fit together perfectly, creating a secure structure. Every cell is designed to fit seamlessly into the next one. This rules out random polygons and blobs, as well as shapes like circles and pentagons, since none of them fit together tightly. In fact, the only three shapes that fit this criteria are squares, triangles and hexagons. In addition, according to Lightman, the creation of the chosen shape needs to use as little wax as possible, since this is a valuable commodity within a beehive. Hexagons use less wax to create than both squares and triangles; a hexagon-based structure is both the most compact and the least resource intensive. Thus the hexagon wins!

Want to know more about the math behind hexagons and delve deeper into the world of bees? Read the original article here.

It’s not just bees that like patterns. Want to learn more about symmetry in nature? Check out Lightman’s most recent article, The Symmetrical Universe, in Orion Magazine.

The above photo was taken by Julia Petruska.

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