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For those of you who are interested in child-friendly citizen science projects, we have two special events happening this month as part of ongoing citizen science projects.

1. School of Ants has a writing contest for students.

School of Ants is the citizen science project where participants can collect backyard ants under different conditions and send them in for identification. This month the organizers are sponsoring a writing contest for students, with the deadline Sept 1, 2012.


  • Open to any student studying ants
  • Essay should be between 300 and 600 words in length
  • Be sure to include a short biography of author with photo
  • A photograph illustrating the essay topic may also be added (optional)
  • Multiple submissions are accepted
  • First prize is $500
  • Runner-up essays may be published on School of Ants website

See School of Ants for submission guidelines.

Even if your student is not interested in writing an essay, you may still gather samples to participate in the main part of the project. This video will give you an idea how it works and help get you started.

2. The Great Bee Count on August 11, 2012

In conjunction with the ongoing Great Sunflower Project, researchers are looking for volunteers across the country to spend 15 minutes on Saturday August 11, 2012 counting bees on flowers. If possible the flowers should be sunflowers (preferably, Lemon Queen), bee balm, cosmos, tickseed, or purple coneflower.

To participate, login or register at the Great Sunflower Project website. You will be asked to download a data sheet with detailed instructions to record your results. After you count,  you return to the website and click on the "Report your bee count" link to input your observations.

Just to be clear, you don't have to have participated previously. This is a special, one time count.

To help with identification:

A honey bee is brown with not entirely distinct dark bands on its abdomen. It is moderately hairy and has four wings.

Carpenter bees are often black and the top of the abdomen is shiny, not hairy.

Here in Arizona we have many different species of solitary bees.

They tend to be smaller than honey bees and come in a wide range of colors. Some are mining bees, sweat bees,

and these brightly-striped digger bees.

Leafcutter bees are dark gray and have a pad of white hairs on the underside of their abdomen.

In general, bees tend to be fuzzy.

For more about different kinds of bees, see a slide show at Scientific American

If you do either of these projects, we would love to hear about your experiences.

My School of Ants kit came in the mail today and I realized I hadn't told you about it yet.

This citizen-science project involves gathering samples of ants from near homes or schoolyards throughout the United States.

To participate you simply need to visit the website School of Ants, sign up, and order an ant sampling kit (the kits are free). Everyone is welcome to give it a try.

The kit will contain three types of vials. The blue-capped vials (they come with cookie bait) are to sample in a yard or other green space. The red-capped vials are for sampling a sidewalk location. If you have any other ants or even other insects, that you would like identified, send them along in the orange-capped vial.

You will need to leave the baited vials on the ground for one hour, open to let the ants crawl in. Then you cap the samples and place the ones with ants in the freezer for at least an hour (I recommend overnight).

You will need to purchase an envelope and postage to mail the samples back, so there will be some cost to you.

The ants you send in will be identified and recorded on a map. It's that simple!

I would love to hear from you if you decide to participate. Let me know what you find.

And if you'd like to find more citizen science projects, try the Citizen Science Network. There is a project finder feature that let's you search by keyword and whether it is family-friendly.