Did you know that honey bees aren't native to the Americas? The honey bee came to North America with the Europeans. The continent wasn't lacking in bees before honey bees came, however, because a vast assortment of native bees were already happily pollinating flowers.
Like these busy native bees working our sunflowers.
The pint-sized pollinators have been coming in a constant stream since the sunflowers opened.
They leave each flower with yellow pollen-laden legs loaded to overcapacity . How do they even fly?
Thanks to these bees we have a heavy crop of sunflower seeds. Go, bees, go!
Have you ever found something plant-like on the beach and wondered what it was?
Seems like a lot of beach plants are hard to classify. Are they algae, a sort of seaweed, or are algae and seaweed the same thing? Are algae plants or do they belong to a different kingdom? These are all good questions, and scientists are just beginning to answer some of them.
Many of the plants and plant-like creatures you see at the beach are technically algae. For example, kelp are giant brown algae.
Algae come in many colors, like these red ones.
The green algae are often found in freshwater ponds and lakes.
Ready to learn more? Here are some suggestions for activities to investigate algae. I'd love to hear your ideas, as well.
Activity 1. Make an algal collection
Gather algae on the beach and keep it moist in seawater. If you have never worked with algae, the Hawaii Botany Department tells you how to make an algal herbarium. Or if you don't want to disturb nature, you can take close up photographs of what you find.
Once you have a collection, visit these websites to help you identify what you have.
Once you have an idea what to look for, head to your kitchen and check to see if you have any foods that contain carrageenan or other products made from algae. Look at the cookbook listed below (or a similar one), and make some of your own dishes using algae. Asian markets are often an excellent source of ingredients.
If you are interested, a fun research project would be to investigate all the ways people use algae for food throughout the world.
Activity 4. Other important uses for algae.
See if you can make a list of other uses for algae. Here are some I found:
Algae are thought to make much of the oxygen we breathe.
This video shows a camera zooming in on the leaves and then the cells of a common water plant, Elodea. In the cells you can see the chloroplasts moving around. The chloroplasts are the sites of photosynthesis, the process that turns sunlight into chemical energy we can use as food. A by-product of photosynthesis is the release of oxygen. Although Elodea is actually a vascular plant, the process in green algae is the same.
If providing food and oxygen weren't enough, now scientists have discovered ways to use the oils found in algae to make biodiesel. In fact, algal oils can be made into jet fuel. See this previous post for more information about algal research at ASU.
If you are interested in algae, here are a few books you might want to try:
In addition to cicadas and tree crickets, toads also sing at night in the desert. Because it so dry here for most of the year, these toads stay dormant in underground chambers until the summer rains come. When the rains start the toads erupt from the ground, rush to puddles and attempt complete their entire life cycle before the puddles dry out, sometimes in only 7 days. We have several common species of frogs and toads, but one of the most amazing is the Couch's spadefoot toad.
In this video you can see and hear the adult males calling, tadpoles in temporary puddles, and "toadlets" hopping away. Note: If you have young, sensitive children be aware that cannibalism of tadpoles is mentioned, although not shown.
Sounds like sheep baaing? Well, maybe.
In this video a spadefoot toad is digging into soil. Spadefoot toads may stay underground as long as two years if the rains don't come. This video is silent.
1. Get to know your local frogs and toads.
First of all, what is the difference between a frog and a toad?
As it turns out, the terms "frog" and "toad" are common names, they are not scientifically-based groups. According to frog taxonomists, all frogs and toads belong to a group called "frogs." Although many people call the bumpy, dry land-dwelling creatures "toads" and the smooth-skinned, pond-dwelling creatures "frogs," there are a number of species that are hard to place into one of those groups, such as the smooth-skinned spadefoot toads shown above. Check Frogs and Toads for more information.
To learn more about frogs, take a field trip to a pond or wetland.
Pictures of frog and toad life stages
Identification guides if available
Camera and/or paper and pencil to record what you see
What you may see:
When I see frog eggs, I always think of punctuation. They start out a dark round periods, and then right before they hatch they turn into commas. Always leave eggs alone because handling them may damage their jelly coating.
The larvae, commonly called tadpoles, are often easy to spot along the shore. Sometimes you may see a mix of different kinds. In this case the larger light-brown tadpoles are bullfrogs.
If you are very lucky, you may discover some of the tadpoles beginning to grow legs.
Ask everyone to be quiet and stand still in order to see adult frogs. Typically the adults swim away quickly when there are rapid movements nearby.
Can you identify the adults? Are they common species?
Frog fact: Frogs regularly live 4-15 years, and sometimes much longer. Keep this in mind if you decide to raise one.
2. Frog Songs
Visit the same wetlands or pond at night to listen to frogs and toads singing. Ever hear the spring peepers? These tiny frogs can make a tremendous racket early in the spring.
If possible, make recordings of different types of frogs and toads singing. Or listen to recordings, such as at Sing to me baby! ...Ribbit!
Try to mimic the calls yourself. Can you tell the different kinds apart? Before long you should be able to recognize different frogs based on their calls alone.
Older kids might want to try playing recordings of male frogs singing at ponds at night and see if they can attract female frogs.
Think of ways to design an experiment to find out if only the male frogs sing, or whether the females do too.
3. Eat or be eaten
While you are studying frogs and toads, try to figure out what they eat at each stage and what eats them.
The spadefood toads mentioned above eat insects that swarm at the same time the frogs are active. Both ants and termites tend to produce new queens and males in swarms when the summer monsoons start. At times the air will be filled with flying and mating insects. It is a great time for the toads to store up a lot of food to survive the rest of the year underground. Amazing!
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