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We were able to travel to Prescott, Arizona last weekend. Not only was it cool, but we got some rain in the night. Early the next morning the plants and insects both were wet. We saw a lot of interesting wildlife, and I actually overwhelmed my poor camera at one point.

ladybug with raindrop

This is a native ladybug or lady beetle known as the convergent lady beetle, because of the white lines on the thorax that slant towards the center (although I guess from another point of view it could be the divergent lady beetle). It carried a rain drop for quite a ways.

harmonia lady beetle

On the same plant, a few branches away, was a larger lady beetle with a rough "M" on it's thorax. This is the introduced multicolored Asian lady beetle. The Asian lady beetle is the one that comes into houses in the fall to spend the winter indoors. The convergent lady beetles also cluster together, but usually choose outdoor locations. This beetle had smaller droplets of water.

In the same location, we also saw some white-lined sphinx moths flitting from flower to flower, like insect hummingbirds. I hope to get some pictures of their large yellow or green and black-striped caterpillars which are probably feeding on desert weeds about this time of year. If you scroll down the page at Caterpillars of Southeastern Arizona you will see a picture of one. Click on the word adult for a photo of the moth.

When they have finished eating and are looking for a place to pupate in the soil, these caterpillars can migrate in large numbers. To people who don't know what they are or haven't seen them before, it can be quite alarming. As with many insects. however, it doesn't take them long to find a good place to dig into the soil and they will disappear.

Books for more information on ladybugs:

For young children try “Are You a Ladybug?” Like the rest of this series, the book compares humans and ladybugs in an informative and gently humorous way.

Although the title of this First Discovery Book is “The Ladybug and Other Insects,” it really is mostly about ladybugs. Some of the pages are clear with illustrations on them. When flipped they show things like the underside of the ladybug. These books in this series are great fun, and my son still enjoys flipping through them even though he is well past the targeted age range.

This is a newer version of the same book in paperback.

“Face to Face With the Ladybug” is a bit more detailed and is for the older child.

My son asked me whether you can make a thermometer using water. Of course we both realized that if the temperatures fall below freezing, the water would expand and could potentially break a glass, bulb-type thermometer. We also found various other suggestions, such as water doesn't respond as much to heat because of it's high specific heat index (how much heat it can take before it begins to get hot), to the fact water does not expand in a linear relationship to temperature (don't you love physics?)

Here is a YouTube video that shows how to make a simple thermometer. At the end he discusses why he uses alcohol rather than water.

We also found some explanations about a thermometer which may be filled with water called "Galileo's Thermometer."

Here is what one looks like. (Photo from Wikimedia Commons, see Galilean Thermometer link below) Isn't it beautiful?

galileo thermometer

This Galilean Thermometer link is a very clear explanation of how they work.

Fun alert: Arizona's Geotechnical, Rock and Water Resources Library link shows a graph of the density of water versus temperature to show that the relationship is not linear. But they also have a cool interactive illustration further down the page which allows you to change the temperature and see how the glass bottles move up and down. Have fun.

And finally, you might want to take a look at this activity using thermometers I wrote that is over at the Leaping FromThe Box website.

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My family and I were just talking about how much we enjoy our pets, and I thought it would be fun to investigate some science-related activities you can do with pet animals.

This week let’s start with mice. Be sure to leave a comment and tell me what pets you’d like to see next week. I'd like to hear about your favorite pet.

mouse

Have you ever had a mouse, gerbil or rat for a pet? They are lively and interested in everything that is going on. Here are some science activities to help you explore mice. Many of them do not even require that you actually own any mice.

Identification/Classification of Rodents
Learning to identify or classify animals is an important scientific skill. What kind of animals are mice? They are a type of mammal known as rodents. If you are unfamiliar with this term, you might want to visit to the “What is a Rodent?” Activity Page to learn more.

While you are at it, think about how to identify rats, hamsters, gerbils and mice. What are the similarities, and what are the differences between them? If you are interested in getting a pet rodent, you might want to research what each type needs in the way of housing and care, and make a list of the advantages and disadvantages of ownership. For example, hamsters are likely to sleep all day, whereas mice are have active periods during the day making it easier to interact with them. Mice produce more urine and feces, however, so need to be cleaned more often than gerbils. Decide what factors are more important to you.

Did you know there are many types of wild mice? You might want to find out about some really wild mice like jumping mice, cactus mice and grasshopper mice. Spiny mice are an interesting species kept in zoos and used for research. Gerbils and kangaroo rats have special characteristics for living in the desert.

Food/Nutrition
What do mice eat? Did you say cheese? You hear about mice and cheese everywhere, but in truth it isn't a good idea to feed cheese to mice, it can make them sick. Can you believe it?

Now might be a great time to investigate what mice really do eat. One source of information, in addition to books and the Internet, might be the ingredients on the back of commercially available pet food. In a previous post, we introduced the idea of theme gardens. Once you have a good idea what mice eat, you can design a garden to grow some of their favorite foods, for example sunflowers and/or peanuts. If you don’t have mice, the birds and humans will still appreciate the results.

If you have some mice and you aren’t sure what they like to eat the best, you can do a food choice experiment. Gather a clean cardboard egg carton. Cut out a section of four egg carton cups. Place the items you want to test in the separate wells. You might want to mark them so that if all the food disappears, you’ll know which was which. Always provide your mice with something you know they like, so they won’t go hungry. Watch to see which food the mice eat first. Come back every hour and record which food is disappearing. To be very accurate, you can weigh each type of food beforehand on a kitchen scale and then at the end of the experiment. If the experiment doesn’t go as expected, think of ways to modify your methods and try again.

Making Houses and Toys
Another fun project might be design and build a house and/or nest box using wood or cardboard. The San Diego Zoo has a mouse house made out of bread! We saw one when we visited the zoo a few years ago. The idea seemed weird at first, but then we got to thinking it might be fun to live in a house that you can eat.

I cheated and used our bread maker to create the loaves. The mice seemed to enjoy being able to modify the structure and eat at the same time.

bread house

We found our mice always rush to investigate new objects. They also are very active, and love to run and climb. In addition to providing standard running wheels, you can design your own playthings like ladders or tubes to run through. Just make sure the toys are safe, that the mice can’t get tangled or fall. Adding toys and other fun items for the mice to examine helps with behavioral enrichment, so they don’t get bored.

Animal Behavior
Our mice are handled every day, so they are easy to pick up and hold. If you have new mice, you can tame them by gently picking them up and holding them. Once your mice are tame, you can train them to do tricks, such as sit on your shoulder. You can also make a maze, and see how fast the mice learn to go through it. We made a maze of lightweight CD cases, so there was no danger to the mice.

When you have mice, you will hear them make many different sounds and also behaviors. Investigate how mice communicate to one another. Recently scientists have found out that male mice sing a song when they meet females, but the sounds are ultrasonic, which means humans can’t hear them.

Mouse Development
Here is a link to an adorable story about a classroom mouse named Cheeser who gave birth. The website tells the story, complete with pictures of the growing young mice. If you don’t go to any other link, try this one.

Finally, be sure to write down your experiences, keep records, and share your stories. Who knows, you might come up with the next exciting scientific finding about mice.

Books:

There are literally 100's of fiction books with mice as main characters. Now would be a great time to reread some of your favorites or try a new one (images and linked titles are affiliate links to Amazon).

Could You be a Mouse? (1990) is a nonfiction book that is a fun game. The reader actually makes choices about what a mouse should do and then flips the pages to find out the results. Caution: There is a drawing of a dead mouse which could be disturbing to young and/or sensitive children. Older children should find it fun and informative.


Of Mice & Rats (Rookie Read-About Science) by Allan Fowler

Mice (Pet Care) by Rebecca Sjonger and Bobbie Kalman (2004)