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For our final week in this series we have science activities and resources for learning more about bees, ants, and wasps, Order Hymenoptera.

1. What are the characteristics of ants, bees, and wasps?

One characteristic feature of the members of the order Hymenoptera is the presence of two pairs of membranous wings that are different in size. The forewings are larger than the hindwings.

mystery-insect-wing-200Exceptions are the worker ants, which lack wings. The male and queen ants do have wings that fit this pattern.

Another feature of the order is that some of the females have an egg-laying tube, or ovipositor, that has been modified into a stinger. Some ants, bees, and wasps use stingers to defend themselves and their nestmates.

molestaCA1-S-alex-wild-public-domainPublic domain photograph by Alex Wild

Ants can often be distinguished from other insects by the fact their antennae have a bend in the middle, although some bees and wasps also have this characteristic.

2. What are the differences between bees and wasps?

Because many bees and wasps exhibit bright warning coloration in the form of contrasting light and dark colors (often yellow and black), people sometimes have difficulty telling them apart.

bee-wasp-infographicThe main difference between the two is that bee larvae are vegetarians and wasp larvae are not. The other physical differences often relate to those differences in diet.

Activity:  Dissect a flower to discover where pollen and nectar are formed.

Commercially available lilies are excellent for this type of dissection. Pollen comes from the anthers and nectar is produced by the nectaries.

Mature_flower_diagram.svg(“Mature flower diagram” by Mariana Ruiz LadyofHats. Public Domain image at Wikimedia Commons.)

3. Ant, bee and wasp life cycles

Insects in the order Hymenoptera undergo complete metamorphosis, with egg, larva, pupa and adult stages.

ant-life-cycleAnt pupae are unusual because some species form silken sacs, called cocoons, and other form bare pupae.

The Ask-a Biologist website has some coloring pages that show life cycles.

Links to .pdf files to download:

4. Ant anatomy

Ants and wasps are also unusual because although they look like they have the standard three body parts of most insects (head, thorax, and abdomen), the middle section actually contains some parts of the true abdomen. For that reason the parts are often given special names unique to the Hymenoptera.

ant-drawing-activity

Ask-a-biologist also has a detailed discussion of ant anatomy, although it uses slightly different terminology.

as well as ant anatomy coloring sheets

We also have an activity using marshmallows and toothpicks to make an ant model.

 

Additional Resources and Books:

ant-books-buttonSee our growing list of children's books about ants at Science Books for Kids.

honey-bee-books-coverWe also have an extensive list of children's books about honey bees.

Disclosure: I am an affiliate for Amazon. If you click through the linked titles or ads and make a purchase, I will receive a small commission at no extra charge to you. Proceeds will be used to maintain this self-hosted blog.

See the other lessons in this series:

Insect Science Investigations

1

This week we have science activities and resources for learning more about butterflies and moths, Order Lepidoptera.

  1. What are butterflies and moths?

Members of the Order Lepidoptera have four scale-covered wings as adults. They go through complete metamorphosis and the larval stage is commonly called a caterpillar. One unique trait of the Lepidoptera is that an adult butterfly's or moth's mouthparts, called a proboscis, is curled up under the head when not in use. The proboscis straightens out like a party favor blower when the butterfly or moth feeds.

The larval stages of butterflies and moths feed on plants (with a few rare exceptions). The adults feed on various liquids or don't feed at all. Many visit flowers for nectar.

Activity:  Demonstrate how the butterfly moth works with a party blower.

butterfly-mouth

2. What are the differences between butterflies and moths?

buckeye-butterfly-dbg-4Buckeye butterfly

hickory-tussock-moth-19Hickory Tussock Moth

butterfly-vs-moth-infographic2

See our Growing with Science website for a longer discussion of the differences between butterflies and moths.

Activity:  Gather illustrations of common butterflies and moths and have the children sort them into groups using what they have learned.

Related:

Butterfly identification for beginners

3. Butterfly and moth life cycles

Check our Growing with Science website for a detailed discussion of butterfly and moth life cycles.


(Affiliate link)

 

Activity:  Draw the life cycle of a butterfly and label all four life stages.

Butterflies have four life stages: egg, caterpillar (larva), chrysalis (pupa), adult.

Ask-A-Biologist has a monarch butterfly life cycle coloring page .pdf to download or print.

Activity: Draw the life cycle of a moth and label all four life stages.

Moths also have four life stages, but instead of a chrysalis the pupa is either bare, or develops within a wrapping of silk called a cocoon.

Ask-a-Biologist has a Manduca moth life cycle coloring page .pdf to download or print. Note:  Manduca moths do not form a cocoon.

To see a moth that does form a cocoon, try our Silkworm Moth Life Cycle post.

4. Butterfly and Moth Anatomy

The Growing with Science website also has a discussion of adult butterfly and caterpillar anatomy.

Activity:  Caterpillar anatomy

caterpillar-anatomy

Allow the children to observe a live caterpillar if available, or obtain some realistic plastic toy caterpillars if not. Explain that insect have six legs and caterpillars are not an exception, although it may look like they have more. The caterpillar has six true legs on its thorax (section right behind the head), but has additional fleshy appendages on the abdomen called prolegs. Those are not truly legs and are mostly used for gripping the plant.

5. Go on a caterpillar hunt outdoors

Young children benefit from experience being outdoors and seeing caterpillars in their natural habitat. If you are unsure where to look, find an experienced guide and/or scout the area in advance.

Six Tips for a Successful Caterpillar Hunt

Children's Books and Resources about Butterflies and Moths

butterfly-gardening-with-childrenCheck out our Butterfly Gardening with Children Week landing page for a list of links to related posts and activities.

moth-and-butterfly-books-for-children-list

At Science Books for Kids we have a growing list of children's books about moths and butterflies organized by reading level.

Disclosure: I am an affiliate for Amazon. If you click through the linked titles or ads and make a purchase, I will receive a small commission at no extra charge to you. Proceeds will be used to maintain this self-hosted blog.

See the other lessons in this series:

Insect Science Investigations

This week we have science activities and resources for learning more about beetles, Order Coleoptera. (Class:  Scroll down for instructions on how to care for mealworms).

Of all the insect orders, the beetles have the largest number of species by a wide margin, with over 350,000 species recognized so far.

We have covered many different beetles in our Bug of the Week feature, including:

2013-asparagus-beetleSpotted Asparagus Beetle

  1. What are the common features of beetles?

Beetles are insects, so they have three body parts (head, thorax, and abdomen) and six legs.

Beetles can be distinguished from other insects by the fact that most adults have some sort of hardened forewings, called elytra. Beetles actually fly with their membranous hindwings, which are usually hidden or folded up under the elytra.

Coccinellidae_(Ladybug)_Anatomy.svg(Illustration from Wikimedia)

Beetles also have chewing mouthparts and well-developed eyes. Note:  Although it is hard to tell in these illustrations, the legs and wings of all insects are attached to the thorax, never the abdomen. The pronotum is part of the thorax.

beetlesPublic domain illustration of beetles from Wikimedia

 

2. Learn About Beetle Life Cycles

Beetles undergo complete metamorphosis, which means they pass through egg, larvae, pupae, and adult stages.

Activity:  Rearing mealworms

Raising the larvae of a particular type of darkling beetle called a "mealworm" is a simple and inexpensive way to explore beetle life cycles.

Mealworms get their name from the fact that they feed on grains, such as oat meal, corn meal or wheat products. The mealworm is the larval stage of at least three species of darkling beetles. The most common is the yellow mealworm, Tenebrio molitor. Others are the dark mealworm, Tenebrio obscurus, and the giant or king mealworm, Zophobas sp.

Gather:

  • Clean plastic margarine tub or similar container with cover
  • Wheat bran, oatmeal and/or chicken laying mash (ground corn)
  • Potato or apple peels as a source of moisture
  • A substrate such as crumbled cork or crumpled paper for the adults to lay eggs on (optional)
  • Mealworms - Mealworms are used as pet food, and are readily available at most pet stores or online.

Prepare the container by poke small holes in the lid for ventilation with a pin or brad, or remove a quarter-sized hole and cover with screen. Glue the screen in place with a glue gun.

Fill the container about one quarter full with wheat bran, crushed wheat cereal, oatmeal, oat bran or corn bran, or a mixture. You can also mix in dry cat food or chicken laying mash, if available.

Add a few small slices of apple or potato for moisture. Change the slices regularly. If you notice the flour is molding underneath, lay the slices on a bottle top or other clean lid. Add a piece of crumbled cork or crumpled paper for the adult beetles to lay their eggs on. Add the larvae and store in a warm, dark place.

mealworm-larva-332Mealworm Larva

After a few weeks, the larvae should change into something that looks like a soft, immobile beetle.

mealworm-pupa-282Mealworm Pupa

This is the pupal stage. The hard-shelled adult beetle will emerge in 10-20 days. Leave the adults right in the container. They should lay eggs and which will hatch into tiny larvae in a few weeks.

Add more food and remove larvae for experiments as needed. Eventually the mealworms will benefit from a thorough cleaning. Dump the contents into a tray, separate the larvae and pupae from the food, clean the container, add fresh food and return the larvae to their new home. If you don’t like to pick up the worms with your fingers, try a small plastic spoon.

Activity:  Draw the life cycle of a mealworm or lady beetle and label all four life stages (see resources below).

Activity: Compare Life Cycles of Different Species

1. Obtain two or three species of mealworm from a pet store or online. Practice rearing the larvae in individual containers such as film canisters or small plastic cups with lids. When you have adults laying eggs for all species, begin the experiment.

2. Prepare new containers with exactly the same diet and conditions. Add a fresh paper to your rearing container overnight to obtain freshly laid eggs. Cut out the individual eggs and add one to each prepared container. Label the species of mealworm on the container. Set up a similar number, such as ten, for each species.

3. Keep the containers together under the exact same conditions. Record how fast the larvae emerge, when they pupate and when new adults emerge. Which species has the quickest life cycle? Which is the slowest?

A time-lapse video of the mealworm life cycle

Handy Resources:

Insect Lore Ladybug Life Cycle Stages

Safari Ltd Safariology the Life Cycle of a Stag Beetle

lady-beetle-eggsLady Beetle Eggs

lady-beetle-pupaLady beetle larva (left) and pupa (right)

3. Lost Ladybug Project Citizen Science

Visit the Lost Ladybug Project for an opportunity to participate in a citizen science project, as well as for a wealth of free teaching resources and identification guides.

See our blog post of information and activity ideas for ladybugs (lady beetles) as well.

Children's Books and Resources about Beetles

Are You a Ladybug? (Backyard Books) by Judy Allen and illustrated by Tudor Humphries

Age Range: 5 - 8 years
Publisher: Kingfisher; 1 edition (May 16, 2003)
ISBN-10: 0753456036
ISBN-13: 978-0753456033

Ladybugs by Gail Gibbons

Age Range: 5 - 8 years
Publisher: Holiday House; Reprint edition (January 7, 2013)
ISBN-10: 0823427609
ISBN-13: 978-0823427604

If you can find a copy, Ladybugs by Jean C. Echols is a great resource for educators.

Series: Lawrence Hall of Science, University of California at Berkeley
Paperback: 100 pages
Publisher: Gems; Tch edition (September 1, 1999)
ISBN-10: 0924886196
ISBN-13: 978-0924886195

From Mealworm to Beetle: Following the Life Cycle (Amazing Science: Life Cycles) by Laura Purdie Salas and illustrated by Jeff Yesh

Age Range: 6 - 9 years
Publisher: Picture Window Books (September 1, 2008)
ISBN-10: 1404849254
ISBN-13: 978-1404849259

Disclosure: I am an affiliate for Amazon. If you click through the linked titles or ads and make a purchase, I will receive a small commission at no extra charge to you. Proceeds will be used to maintain this self-hosted blog.

See the other lessons in this series:

Insect Science Investigations