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A question just came in about what ant mandibles look like. Now this might not be something you think about every day, but it really is an interesting topic. I remembered a wonderful website that discusses all the things that ants do with their mandibles and shows some fantastic close up photographs of different species. I do have to warn you, however, it is written for adult scientists. The site is called Diversity of Ant Mandibles.

For a more child-friendly general discussionof insect mouthparts, check my recent post on the topic.

It's science fair season for us and we've been hard at work doing our research. I thought I'd share a few websites we found to be well-organized and helpful. Even if you aren't doing a science fair project, the ideas from some of these sites can lead to fun science explorations.

Useful Science Fair Websites:

Science Buddies has tons of free science fair project ideas. If you are looking for a topic, visit the “Topic Selection Wizard” which helps students narrow down their interests and pick a project. Although it does take a few minutes to wade through all the pages of questions, the end result was right on target for my son. The resulting projects were informative and had a lot of good, in depth detail.

The Exploratorium Learning Studio says it “receives many requests for help with science fair projects, both from teachers and students. We have brought together here some good places to start. Remember, they're just a start -- explore them!”

All Science Fair Projects has a lot of ideas, but beware, they have a lot of ads, too.

Science Fair Adventure seems well organized and easy to use

The Internet Public Library has a bunch of useful links to other sites, which seemed relevant and up-to-date.

Cool Science Projects has just what the name implies, with very interesting photographs.

Discovery Channel Education has information on the scientific method, etc. has a lot of links to science pages, seems to be a well-maintained site

Inclusion on this list does not imply endorsement, and as you know, sites can change overnight, so check each one before you let your child explore. If you have found a useful website you would like to share, please feel free to leave a comment.

There are numerous books available that are written to help kids find science fair projects.

Janice Van Cleave has a whole series of science fair books, such as:

Janice VanCleave's Guide to More of the Best Science Fair Projects by Janice VanCleave

Janice VanCleave's A+ Science Fair Projects by Janice VanCleave

You can find many other books about science fairs, too.

100 Amazing First-Prize Science Fair Projects by Glen Vecchione

The Complete Workbook for Science Fair Projects by Julianne Blair Bochinski

The Scientific American Book of Great Science Fair Projects by Scientific Americanand Marc Rosner

If a science fair project is in your child's future, help is only a book or a website away.

Carrying along the theme of insects that have changed the course of human history, let’s look at another species with humble beginnings and a big role. Here is a celebrity that can be found in the fallen, rotting grapefruit in my backyard.

fruit fly

This photograph is of a male fruit fly, Drosophila melanogaster. Notice the bright red eyes. I can tell the one in the middle is a male because the end of the abdomen is dark. You might recognize these little flies if you have ever taken a genetics class or left a banana out on the counter too long.

fruit fly

These are female fruit flies. Their abdomen lack the black block at the end.

Also called vinegar flies or pomace flies, these tiny creatures don’t actually feed on fruit, but their larvae feed on the fungi associated with decay. A sound, healthy fruit is of no interest to a fruit fly.

As for their benefit to humans, fruit flies have been the staples of biology labs for over a century. Much of what we know about genetics and developmental biology came from studies of fruit flies.

Drosophila melanogaster was not native to North America, but is now almost a domesticated species. It is found wherever people are found. In the western United States we have a few native species, including another fruit fly used in biology labs called Drosophilia pseudoobscura.

If you are interested in learning more about fruit flies, try the quirky adult nonfiction
book Fly: The Unsung Hero of Twentieth Century Science by Martin Brookes (Be aware that this book contains what would be considered adult themes.)

For kids, you might try a cute fiction picture book about flies, called
Diary of a Fly by Doreen Cronin, Harry Bliss (Illustrator). My son got to meet the author and illustrator of this book at a local indie bookstore, and they were a wonderful team. The illustrator had a big impact on my son, who loves to draw.