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it is another case of "if you plant it, they will come."

Right now the common desert shrubs called brittlebush (Encelia farinosa) are in full flower.

Many pollinators use the flowers as a source of nectar and pollen, including honey bees, butterflies, and flower flies.

In addition to the dainty little flower fly on the right, this flower has another visitor, an easily recognizable one. It is a lady bug, or more accurately lady beetle, of course.

Many of the flowers had lady beetles sitting on them. Why?

It is well known that lady beetles can supplement their diets with flower pollen, but these plants also offer something else.

Aphids!

Lady beetles are mostly aphid specialists. The larvae eat many aphids per day. The aphids feed on the brittlebush, which in turn feed the lady beetles.

The plants actually support two kinds of lady beetle. In the above photograph is the seven-spotted lady beetle, Coccinella septempunctata. Common in Europe, it was introduced to North America in the last century. As the name suggests, it has seven black spots on its forewings.

The species we encountered first is the convergent lady beetle,  Hippodamia convergens.  Native to North America, you can tell these beetles by the two "converging" white lines on the back of the thorax.

The number of spots on the wings of convergent lady beetles varies a lot and sometimes the spots are tiny/nonexistent like on the beetle in the photograph above.

Now you are an expert, can you figure out what species of lady beetle is featured in the header of this blog?

 Where did the lady beetles come from?

Lady beetles migrate.

Aphids are cool season insects, so here in the low desert they arrive in late winter and early spring. By summer the aphids are gone and so are the lady beetles. The beetles fly into the mountains where they may complete another generation and/or form large aggregations to overwinter. When temperatures begin to warm, they fly back to low lying regions to start the cycle again.

The bottom line is that without the brittlebush and without the aphids, we wouldn't see lady beetles.

Are there flowers in bloom where you live?

In another in our series of STEM story times, let's explore reptile-themed books, learning centers, and activities.

The Books:

To start story time, I began by reading an older picture book from my bookshelf, Lizard in the Sun by Joanne Rider and illustrated by Michael Rothman.


Although this book works well when read one-on-one, it was a bit long for a group of preschoolers. They began to distract each other.

After talking about what reptiles are and visiting the activity stations, we finished with their choice from a pile I provided, Get to Know Gila Monsters (Get To Know Reptiles) by Flora Brett.

STEM Activity Station 1. Lizard in the Sun (Under a lamp)

Explore the concept of "cold-blooded" or ectothermic (having a internal temperature determined by-and-large by the external environment.)

Gather:

  • Two lizard shapes cut from black construction paper
  • Small desk lamp

Place one lizard shape directly under the lamp and one at least three feet away, preferably in a shaded or dark area. Have the children compare the temperature of each.

(Older children could record the temperature difference with a thermometer.)

Optional:  Added graphic of temperature vs. lizard activity on page 3 from Sonoran Desert Museum's Leaping Lizard's handout.

 

STEM Activity Station 2. Box of Reptiles (Sorting activity)

Gather:

      • Toy or model reptiles:  snakes, alligators, lizards, turtles
      • Box or bin
      • A few toy or model animals that are not reptiles:  mammals, birds, insects, fish, or frogs

Mix the animals in the box or bin. Prepare a sign that reads:  Some animals were put into the box of reptiles by mistake. Can you find the ones that aren't reptiles and take them out?

STEM Activity Station 3:  Senses Learning Station

Gather:

  • Images of snakes with prominent heat sensing pits (sense heat)
  • Images of snakes tongues and Jacobson's organs (smell)
  • Point out the eyes (sight)
  • Hearing- although reptiles don't often have obvious ears, they can hear

Place this station near the lizard in the sun station so can compare how we detect heat with how a snake detects heat.

(I included this station because we had previously learned about human senses).

STEM Activity Station 4:  Make a macaroni snake craft (fine motor skills)

Gather:

  • Chenille stems (pipecleaners)
  • White glue
  • Pasta shells
  • Penne (red lentil for color)
  • Marker
  • Red craft foam cut into tongue shape (Y)

Make a loop in one end of the chenille stem to form the head. Feed the penne onto the chenille stem to cover the body. Bend the end back to hold the penne on. Add eyes to a pasta shell and slip over the head loop. Glue into place (do this after the body so it doesn't get dislodged). Glue on the tongue. Allow glue to set before playing with the snakes.

See our previous snake craft using paper beads and a more detailed pasta version at The Pinterest Parent.

STEM Activity Station 5:  Make a reptile book

Gather:

  • reptile book PDF - print out number of copies needed
  • Scissors
  • Markers/crayons/colored pencils to decorate

For instructions how to fold the book, visit the Making Books website or watch this video:


Note:  This project was a bit too difficult for preschoolers, but their parents seemed to enjoy it. The children will color/decorate them at home.

Mini field trip:

The center where the story time was held had a timely exhibit of snakes and lizards, so we made a mini field trip to see it.

The information about Gila monsters probably sparked the children's interest in reading the book about them at the end of story time.

The exhibit included an actual shed snake skin to touch. Cool!

Pointed out the different sizes and shapes of the scales on the bottom versus the top.

This unit was a hit. Please let me know if you have any questions or comments.

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Visit our Pinterest Board for more reptile STEAM ideas.

Want to read more children's books about reptiles? Try our growing list at Science Books for Kids.

While visiting a local wildflower garden, I spotted a white butterfly.

It contrasted nicely against the dark red flower.

Although you might have thought I was referring to the color, the common name of these butterflies is "white." The family name is Pieridae and the subfamily is Pierinae.

It can be difficult to identify whites to species because the color varies, sometimes between seasons. The one above is likely a checkered white.

This is a cabbage white from last fall.

Related:

March 14 was National Learn About Butterflies Day.

If you'd like to celebrate all week, try:

Please let us know if you have any questions.