Insect Investigations

Jaime Souza, Audubon Center of the North Woods, Sandstone, MN, based on a recent Bio-blitz that I participated in at the July MnStep in Sandstone
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Typical human reactions to insects are often not positive and those tiny creepy critters have no chance against a fly swatter or the bottom of a shoe. Could it be that these small, six-legged creatures might deserve to live because they serve a greater purpose that benefits us? In this class, students will explore the life cycles of insects, how they are classified by scientists and their role within an ecosystem. Students will also investigate three different habitats to observe the biodiversity of insects found in each environment, and how they are adapted for that environment.

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Learning Goals

Learning Goals:
- Explain how entomologists research insect populations in the field, through direct experience.
- Search for, collect, identify, record data and classify insects found as a scientific investigation.
- Present information to their classmates about one insect Order and one insect.

- Entomology is the scientific study of insects.
- Entomologists classify or organize living organisms by defining characteristics.
- Insects have many kinds of interactions with humans and other forms of life on earth.
- Insects have two different types of metamorphosis or life cycle change; complete and incomplete.
- The greater the variety of insects living in a habitat, the greater the biodiversity of that habitat.

Vocabulary: Entomology, Biodiversity, Metamorphosis, Taxonomy, Classification

Context for Use

This lesson will work well for the average class size and it can be used by any type of educational institution. This lesson can be easily adapted for any grade level. It can be more advanced for high school biology students or even simplified for primary students. Half of the lesson will take place out in the field, and by out in the field, I mean out in the school yard, the school forest, grassland, etc. The beauty of this lesson is that insects are found everywhere! Two to four days will be necessary if this lesson is done in a normal school setting. I work at an Evironmental Learning Center, and we set aside three hours for this class, which is plenty of time to accomplish the goal of this lesson. Equipment includes insect nets, bug boxes, hand lenses, the attached ID guides and data sheets, ID books, petri dishes and microscopes. The heart of this lesson is searching for and collecting insects, and that will take the most time, however, equal time could be spent sorting and classifying the insects. Again, this lesson is easily adapted for different settings, because there is no lack of insects in this world.

Description and Teaching Materials

D. Lesson Preview—You are all now scientists, in fact you are entomologists, who study entomology, which is the scientific study of insects. Your assignment this (morning/afternoon) will be to try to put yourself in bugs' shoes. What is life like for them? We need to study insects, today, to better understand how they live and behave. In order to do that, we will be studying different groups of insects and which insects are closely related and distant relatives. Entomologists spend a lot of time out in the field, and so we will explore three different habitats where we will be searching for as many different types of insects as we can find. Once we have collected the insects, we will do the scientific thing and bring them back to our lab to study them more closely.

C. An Order of Insects (20 min.)—Classification can be a confusing concept for students to grasp. Begin with a simple example, such as recycling. There will be four small recycling bins in the class box, with an example of each type of item that should be thrown in to each bin. Ask the class how recyclables are separated and why that's necessary. What are the characteristics of each item that cause us to organize our recyclables? Brainstorm the characteristics that the students suggest on the board. Similarly, living organisms are classified into taxonomic groups: Kingdom, Phylum, Class, Order, Family, Genus, species. (Anachronism: King Phylip's Class Ordered a Family of Gentle sparrows). Insects are organized by defining characteristics, similar to how we organize our recycled goods, clothes drawers, books in a library, food in a grocery store, etc. Today, we will only be organizing insects down to their order, and we will focus on seven common orders that we experience in daily life. (On board: Kingdom: Animalia, Phylum: Arthropoda, Class: Insecta). Introduce each Order and briefly describe what the name of the Order means, ask what similar words they can think of that support the Order's definition (e.g. hemiptera means half: hemisphere), and brainstorm what insects might be found in each Order.
1. A Bug's Life—Split the class into six groups, and hand out a laminated Order Profile to each group. As a small group, they should collect information on the Order they were given. Each person in the group should report one unique fact or characteristic about their specific order to the rest of the class when we gather again as a large group.
D. Insect Discovery Hike
1. Collection (40-60 min.) - This is the heart of the class. Before departing the classroom, ask the students where they believe they will find the most insects? Why? Walk to your first collection site. (Visit three sites: prairie, ecotone of prairie and forest and wetland). As you begin the hike, point out insects or signs of insects (holes in leaves, leaf miners, leaf galls, ant hills, etc). Explain how to use the equipment before handing it out. They should be responsible for the equipment; it should all be returned to the classroom after they are done collecting. Before turning them loose, remind them that they are collecting living beings, and the insects should be treated well. Have the students raise their right hand and repeat after you, "I, state your name, promise to be respectful insect collectors. I will collect as many insects and spiders as possible. I promise not to squish them, pull of their legs, torture them with a stick or fry them with a magnifying glass."

It is up to you whether you want to split them up into three collecting groups for each habitat or have everyone collect at each site. If everyone collects at each site, keep track of which insects were collected in each habitat. Give them some hints where to look, set some boundaries, and let them go. As they collect, show enthusiasm as to what they have caught, and that will increase their interest. Provide interesting facts about the creatures that they are finding. Ask them questions about what they have found. How many legs? How many different colors do you see? Where did you find the insect? What do you think it eats? Insect_Ecology_-_Insect_Orders_ID_Sheets.ppt (PowerPoint 322kB Aug28 07) Insect_Ecology_-_Inspect_an_Insect.doc (Microsoft Word 21kB Aug28 07) Insect_Data_Sheet.doc (Microsoft Word 29kB Aug28 07)

Teaching Notes and Tips

1. If you show enthusiasm for what they are collecting, they will really get into the class and be excited about insects.
2. Classification is super confusing!!! Please pay attention to the recycling example I provided in the activity section.
3. Create your own groups. Do not let them pick their partners. Grade them in the field on their participation. Let them know you are doing so.
4. Create lab stations for sorting and classifying in the classroom.


III. Authentic Assessment
A. Investigate an Insect (40-45 min.)
Hand out the 'Investigate and Insect' sheet (for younger students) or the 'Insect Data' sheet (for older students). Spread out the insects into stations of four and break the students into groups of four. There should be two prairie stations, one forest station, and one wetlands station. Give each group laminated Order ID Guides. This should be a time for the students to move around and look at the variety of insects that were collected or to use scopes or hand lenses. As the instructor, you should go around the room and spend time with each student. Ask them some questions to see what they have learned. Challenge the students to tell you the order or to use an I.D. book to identify the Genus species. This will tell you if they have paid attention and what concepts they have taken away from the class. This strategy will also help you to improve your teaching. They should spend time with their group to complete their investigation data, and then each group will present their findings to the class. Ask questions about each group's data after they have presented. Guide a class discussion on interesting discoveries that the students made.


4.I.A.1 - uses & effects of science
4.I.A.2 - Responsible use of science
4.I.A.3 - Impact of science
4.IV.B.1 - Classification
4.IV.B.2 - Purpose of Grouping
5.I.A.1 - Current scientific knowledge
5.II.A.2 - Communication essential
5.I.B.1 - Controlled experiment
5.I.B.2 - Similar results expected
5.I.C.1 - Different work done in science
5.IV.E.1 - Survival of the fittest
5.IV.F.3 - Nitrogen Cycle
6.I.A.1 - Scientific evidence vs. personal opinion
6.I.A.2 - Scientists repeat investigations
6.I.B.1 - Identify questions
6.I.B.2 - Observation, prediction, inference
7.I.B.1 - Testable hypothesis
7.I.B.2 - Variables
7.IV.B.1 - Specialized functions
7.IV.B.2 - Adapt to environment
7.IV.B.3 - Behavioral responses
7.IV.B.4 - Dichotomous keys
7.IV.B.5 - Identify kingdom
7.IV.C.1 - Irreversible effects of human activity
7.IV.E.3 - Biological adaptations
7IV.E.5 - Common ancestry
8.I.A.1 - Ethics
8.I.A.2 - useful scientific models
8.I.B.1 - Scientific investigations
8.I.B.2 - Adequate Sample size

References and Resources