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This week we have science activities and resources for learning more about dragonflies and damselflies, Order Odonata.

  1. What is a dragonfly and what is a damselfly?

Dragonflies are the large, showy insects seen around ponds and other bodies of water. They have large eyes, which often take up most of their head. When they land on a plant or other object, they hold their wings straight out.

flame-skimmer

Damselflies, on the other hand, are usually a bit finer, more delicate looking. They rest with their wings folded behind their backs.

Dragonflies and damselflies often are bright colors, such as red, green and bright blue. In addition, the colors of many dragonflies change as they get older. They can be just as colorful and fun to watch as birds or butterflies.

Activity:  Make models of adult dragonflies and damselflies.

Either gather photographs and illustrations of dragonflies and damselflies. Use these to draw the adults, or make models.

Pay attention to their anatomy. For example, the legs and wings are attached to the thorax. Damselflies have smaller eyes than dragonflies. The wings have numerous veins that give them a net-like appearance. The legs have spines and are used to scoop up prey in midair.

dragonfly-anatomy

The Enchanted Tree has instructions for a Folded dragonfly craft

See our Dragonfly crafts for kids Pinterest board for more ideas and resources (click on title to go to board, or individual pins to go to that link).

Follow Roberta's board Dragonfly crafts for kids on Pinterest.

 

2. Dragonfly and Damselfly Life Cycles

Dragonflies and damselflies have incomplete metamorphosis, similar to grasshoppers and crickets from last week. The main difference is the adults look quite different from the nymphs.

The adult female dragonflies and damselflies lay their eggs in the water, or on plants or debris in or near the water.

dragonfly-laying-2

Female dragonfly laying her eggs in the water.

The eggs hatch into nymphs (sometimes also called naiads).

Dragonfly nymphs live under water where they prey on other organisms. Dragonfly nymphs have "masks" at the bottom of their heads. The special lower lips (labium-singular or labia -plural) shoot forward to capture or scoop up prey. The labia are also used to hold prey in place while feeding.

In this video of a live dragonfly nymph catching food, look for both uses of the labium.

When they are mature, the nymphs crawl to the surface, sometimes onto a plant or even onto land, before emerging as adults.

dragonfly-nymph-exoskeletonExoskeleton or the shed "skin" of a dragonfly nymph

The white lines in the photograph above are the remnants or linings of the breathing tubes (tracheae) that pull out as the adult dragonfly emerges. The adult will produce new tracheae.

Activity:

Go to a local pond or wetland when dragonflies and damselflies are active and search for shed exoskeletons along the shore and in emergent vegetation. If allowed, take an aquatic sweep net or dip net, and search for nymphs in the water.

Activity:

Investigate, and then draw and label the life cycle of dragonflies and damselflies.

You may also print out a worksheet to help:

3. Dragonfly watching

Nothing beats strolling out to a pond, stream or lake and simply watching dragonflies and damselflies in action.

One of the first things you notice about dragonflies or damselflies is their strong ability to fly. They have four wings, and can move the fore and hind wings independently. In this video clip you can see a dragonfly's amazing flight slowed down.

Often dragonflies are searching for food when they are flying. They catch other flying insects, such as mosquitoes, while on the wing. In fact, one common name for a dragonfly is "mosquito hawk."

Male dragonflies and damselflies may also fly to look for females or to chase away others from their territories.

dragonfly-on-redbird

Perching is another common behavior. Dragonflies and damselflies often rest on a plant or similar object looking for prey to fly by. An adult may return again and again to the same perch.

4. Dragonfly Swarms

The Dragonfly Woman blog by Christine Goforth has a good deal of information about dragonfly swarming.

What is a dragonfly swarm? When a group of insects gather together in a large group, for whatever purpose, it is often called a swarm. In the case of dragonflies, the swarm may be a bunch of dragonflies feeding together at one location. This is called a static swarm. Dragonflies can also form large groups and move from place to place. This is called a migratory swarm.

Christine's video of a dragonfly swarm:

Do dragonflies occur where you live? Have you ever seen a dragonfly swarm? For a citizen science project, check out  Dragonfly Swarm Project where you can report swarm sightings.

You might like to see Dragonfly Woman's posts about making a dragonfly collection using a scanner as well. I love the idea of being able to preserve the insect's image and let the dragonfly go again.

Children's Books About Dragonflies and Damselflies:

Dragonflies of North America: A Color and Learn Book With Activities by Kathy Biggs and Tim Manolis (Illustrator) is not your average coloring book. First of all, the author has written two field guides to dragonflies, as well as maintains a website about the dragonflies of California. You can tell by the quality of the text that she has a great understanding of, as well as passion for, dragonflies. Did you know that dragonflies often perch with only four legs, and use their front legs to wipe their eyes like windshield wipers?

Dragonflies of North America covers the basics nicely, such as the differences between dragonflies and damselflies, and the dragonfly life cycle. Then the author presents the characteristics of a number of different kinds of dragonflies, with enough detail so you could actually distinguish one from another. Although written for children, this is one of those books that is also perfect for the interested adult beginner.

Are You a Dragonfly? (Backyard Books) by Judy Allen and Tudor Humphries is another picture book  in the Are you a... series that bring young readers into the book by making direct comparisons to insects. These books are fun and full of age-appropriate information.

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

3

For the next five weeks we are going to be sharing some activities to allow budding insect scientists to explore the common groups (orders) of insects, including:

Insect Science InvestigationsToday we're going to investigate the order Orthoptera, which includes the grasshoppers, katydids, and crickets.

Activity 1. Building a Cricket Condo

An easy way to study crickets is to make a cricket condo.

Gather:

  • Sturdy clear plastic container such as food storage jar or sun tea jar
  • Paper egg carton
  • Scissors
  • Jar lids
  • Paper towels
  • Cricket food (see below)
  • Square of cloth big enough to cover jar opening
  • Rubber bands (at least 2)
  • Crickets  (Most pet stores sell live crickets as pet food for various reptiles.)
  1. Cut the egg carton so it will fit vertically in the container and place it upright inside against one wall.

egg-carton-2252. It is best not to add open water to the container. Instead, prepare a cricket waterer in a jar lid by adding sopping paper towels. Add water to the towels daily and change to fresh towels regularly. Older crickets may lay eggs in the damp paper towels.

cricket-waterer-2293. Using jar lids as containers also make adding and cleaning up cricket food easier. You can buy commercially-prepared cricket food in many pet stores (images are affiliate links).

For short term care, a few cat food kibbles and fresh vegetable scraps will work.

4. Make a top using a square of cloth, fastened with rubber bands. Use at least two separate rubber bands, so if one breaks there will still be one in place. The cloth top allows the crickets to get plenty of fresh air while preventing them from escaping.

cricket-condo-lid-0239

crickets-in-condoAdd your crickets and watch their behavior. Look for differences between nymphs and adults.

Activity 2. Grasshopper and Cricket Life Cycles

Insects grow by shedding their outer covering or exoskeleton.

A. Molting Demonstration

You will need a large long-sleeved shirt or lab coat and a child volunteer. Put the shirt or lab coat on the child backwards (the insect's exoskeleton opens in the back during molting.) Overlap the opening in the back, but do not button it. Challenge the child to shed the shirt or coat without using his or her hands (suggest shrugging if they struggle).

B. Simple or Incomplete Metamorphosis

Most insects hatch from eggs. In the case of crickets and grasshoppers, the young insects resemble the adults, but lack wings. After each molt, they are bigger and have more adult-like characteristics. This type of change is called simple or incomplete metamorphosis and the young insects are called "nymphs."

grasshopper-life-stages(Public domain drawing by Snodgrass retrieved from Wikimedia.)

For more information, see earlier posts for about the grasshopper life cycle and identification of immature insects.

Activity 3:  Grasshopper and Cricket Anatomy

Insects have three main body parts:

  1. Head - has eyes, mouth, and antennae
  2. Thorax - where wings and six legs are attached
  3. Abdomen - where digestion and reproductive processes take place

Can you find the three sections on photographs of crickets and grasshoppers?

grasshopper-anatomyGrasshopper anatomy

Spiracles are the openings in the sides of the insects that allow oxygen in and carbon dioxide out.

For a fun demonstration to use, see our previous discussion of insect mouthparts

Wikimedia has two public domain line drawings of grasshoppers you can download and print for lessons,

Grasshopper_(PSF)Grasshopper_2_as well as a public domain line drawing of a cricket.

 

Cricket_(PSF)The long structure at the back of the cricket is the ovipositor or egg laying tube of the female cricket.

Draw a grasshopper, katydid or cricket and observe the parts closely.

how to draw a grasshopper

 

Activity 4. Grasshopper and Cricket Jumping

Most members of this group have large hind legs used for jumping. Large grasshoppers can leap as far as five feet, although smaller crickets can only jump about two feet.

Mark out a section of floor using 10 feet of painter's tape. Draw lines on the tape in one foot increments and challenge children to jump as far as a cricket.

For more information about the mechanisms involved see:

 

Activity 5. Grasshopper and Cricket Singing

Many of the grasshoppers, katydids and crickets produce sounds, usually the adult male insect calling to the female. Crickets and grasshoppers, however, make their sounds with different parts of their bodies.

Crickets make their chirps by rubbing a rough area on one wing against a special surface on another wing. The patches are commonly called the scraper and file. They detect sounds via special stretchy patches on their front legs (one is called a tympanum), near what could be called the "knee."

In contrast, the grasshoppers rub the rough surfaces on their big legs against their bodies or wings to produce sounds. They "hear" sounds using a stretchy patch on the side of their abdomen.

You can see a cricket rubbing its wings together to chirp in this video.

Here are some direct links to recordings of various cricket and grasshopper songs. (Please leave a comment below if these recordings don't work for you.)

Snowy Cricket Song

Snowy Cricket- warm temperature

Snowy cricket - cooler temperature

snowy-tree-cricket-1Tree Cricket

Texas Field Cricket 1

Katydid

Northern Mole Cricket

Tropical House Cricket

In this video, you can see a grasshopper using its legs to produce sounds.

Carolina Grasshopper

Marsh Meadow Grasshopper

A. Model Scraper and File

To make similar sounds, rub a wooden craft stick over a small comb to represent the file and scraper on the cricket's wings or grasshopper's legs. Try fast and slow movements to replicate the sounds above.

B. Model Tympanum

To make a model of the stretchy patches insects use to detect sounds, gather a balloon, rubber band and a stiff-sided cylinder, such as a small plastic vial. Cut out a piece of balloon big enough to cover the opening of the cylinder and tightly stretch it over. Affix with a rubber band. See how the surface moves and vibrates when tapped.

Feel free to leave a comment if you have any questions or suggestions for related activities.

Books about Grasshoppers and Crickets:

Nonfiction:

Are You a Grasshopper? (Backyard Books) by Judy Allen and Tudor Humphries is part of an adorable series with a narrative that allows young children to compare themselves to insects, and in this case grasshoppers. Details of grasshopper life cycles, anatomy and behavior are included.

Age Range: 5 - 8 years
Publisher: Kingfisher (May 13, 2004)
ISBN-10: 0753458063
ISBN-13: 978-0753458068

Grasshopper (Bug Books) by Karen Hartley, Chris Macro, and Philip Taylor is an informational book illustrated with color photographs.

Age Range: 5 - 8 years
Publisher: Heinemann; 2nd Edition edition (April 28, 2006)
ISBN-10: 1403483108
ISBN-13: 978-1403483102

Chirping Crickets (Let's-Read-and-Find-Out Science, Stage 2) by Melvin Berger and and illustrated by Megan Lloyd has excellent explanations and illustrations showing how crickets make and hear their chirping sounds, as well as other aspects of cricket biology. Has activity suggestions in the back.

Crickets and Grasshoppers by Ann O. Squire is another informational text, this time for the middle grade level reader.

Age Range: 8 and up
Publisher: Children's Press(CT) (March 1, 2004)
ISBN-10: 0516293575
ISBN-13: 978-0516293578

Related Fiction Books:
For the youngest reader, The Very Quiet Cricket Board Book by Eric Carle is a fun title about how a little cricket finds its voice.

The Cricket in Times Square (Chester Cricket and His Friends) by George Selden and and illustrated by Garth Williams is a chapter book for older readers.

For adults:
Field Guide to Grasshoppers, Katydids, and Crickets of the United States by John L. Capinera, Ralph D. Scott, and Thomas J. Walker

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.

Did you find the parts associated with insect senses from the previous post? Here are the labelled photographs to check.

Remember:

The following are public domain photographs taken by the USGS Bee Inventory and Monitoring Lab.  Name links will take you to the image in Flickr. Note:  For the squeamish, there are a few photographs of dead birds in their photostream (preserved specimens).

flower-fly-labelled-head

(Syrphid or flower fly, face view)

Flies have very interesting antennae. They are shorter and smaller than the antennae of many adult insects. Fly antenna also have a hair-like structure sticking out called the arista. A few kinds of flies, like mosquitoes, can "hear" when sound vibrations cause the arista to move.

The large eyes are made up of facets or ommatidia. Can you see the patterns they make in the eye?

They aren't labelled, but did you spot the sensory hairs around the ocelli and those just above the antennae? They are longer and thicker than hairs in nearby regions. They might help the fly figure out how fast it is going.

bee-antenna-labelled-head

The antenna of this bee looks very different from that of the fly.

bee-labelled-head

The  Eucera dubitata bee has smaller compound eyes than the flower fly.

The mouthparts are complicated, consisting of tube-like tongue to suck nectar but also biting jaws to dig nests in the soil. The long, whitish hairs at the top of the mouthparts are sensory hairs. They might help position the tongue in flowers.

The other hairs on the bee's body may not be not primarily sensory. They may help keep the bee warm and also to trap pollen. The bee scrapes the pollen off its hairs and bundles it into bee bread for the larvae to eat.

moth-labelled-headThe velvetbean moth has a thinner, more flexible moth for sucking nectar.

The antennae of male moths are often bushy and thicker than those of female moths.

Moths, which are active largely at night when it is cooler, have hairs on their body to help insulate them and keep them warmer.

Some moths also have tympana on the sides of their abdomen, which allows them to hear the echolocation signals of bats and avoid them.

Because there are so many different insects, there are of course many different insect senses. Please feel free to leave a question if you a curious about an insect we didn't mention.