Saturday, May 20, 2017

Adventures Among Ants (and Other Insects)

This is my own photo, taken of an ant herding aphids on a rhubarb stalk.
Okay, I stole this title from Mark Moffett's excellent photo safari that you should definitely purchase.  He inspired me to get better at photography, especially of one of my favorite subjects: Insects!  I've been photographing insects from all 12 orders of insects.  (Some have been a lot harder to find than others!  It took me over a year to find an example of Neuroptera, or lacewing!)

I've also returned to my previous art forms, drawing and painting.  After breaking my thumb last year in my "drawing hand", the first thing I drew was a Megachilid bee.  Now I'm photographing as many bee species as possible, crouching by my blueberry bushes to watch bumble bees buzz out the pollen or an Anthidium chew off some hairs from the fuzzy mullein I also keep in my garden.  I'm drawing bees as playing cards and having my 5th graders choose one of 19 Genera to illustrate in their own card design, then search for in the garden.  In June, I will be collecting bees and wasps for the RINHS BioBlitz.

Meanwhile, back to the ants.  I've seen "animal behavior" lists for nature explorers that cover such actions as preening, flying, eating, etc. for birds and running, burying, carrying, etc. for squirrels.  These are great for teaching individual children about animal behaviors, but with a class of 25, birds and squirrels take off.  So I made my own behavior list and illustrations for ants.  We tested them out with kindergarten and first grade.  They gave me great ideas for improvements too!

Below are the behaviors we noted, along with how many times each were tallied.  Although it's not a reliable count, as many ants were counted more than once and some behaviors were misunderstood, the students really enjoyed the experience.  Some got frustrated that the ants moved so fast and they couldn't draw them.  I instructed them to sit on the sidewalk, observing the ants in the bare soil and in the freshly planted annual bed along the walkway into the school, and let the ants come to them.  The ones who were able to sit still the longest saw the most behaviors.  When we returned to the classroom, many had stories to share of ants they've seen at home, some even IN their home!

Grooming (ant cleaning itself) 16 times
Carrying (we saw two ants carrying worms or caterpillars in one of the classes) 15 times
Herding (this is seen with ants herding aphids for their honeydew and I doubt this was actually observed) 15 times
Fighting (rival colonies may fight, or ants may fight ladybugs over aphids) 24 times
Swarming (more than a large group of ants, this is usually seen when a choice food is found or a colony is moving) 16 times
Building (there were numerous ant hills present) 43 times
Running (added by students) 260 times
Eating (perhaps carrying food?) 4 times

FREE Insect Lecture: Good and Bad Bugs

I will be giving a FREE lecture May 24th at 6:30 PM on insects in the garden at:

The Lincoln Library
145 Old River Road
Lincoln, RI 02865

Wednesday, May 3, 2017

Earth Day: One More Thing

Earth Day has come and gone, but isn't EVERY day earth day?

Here's a list of 10 "one more things" you can do to help the earth (and our own species):

1. Take a reusable shopping bag to every store you shop at.

2. Return plastic bags to grocery, pharmacy, or department store, including packaging from foods.

3. Buy unpackaged foods as much as possible, using a mesh bag for vegetables, etc.

4. Use a reusable travel mug and water bottle.

5. Wear a sweater instead of turning the heat up and open windows at night to reduce using A/C during the day.

6. Vacuum under your fridge, keep your freezer full, and your fridge clean to save more energy.

7. Cook at home and compost plant food waste.

8. Recycle all paper (except freezer packages), plastic containers, unbroken glass containers, and metal/aluminum containers.  Key word is containers.  No coat hangers, light bulbs, scrap metal, etc.

9. Take coat hangers, light bulbs, scrap metal, old paint, and batteries to a disposal center.  In RI, that's Eco-Depot on Saturdays.

10. Don't flush old medications!  Take them to drop-off boxes, often at police stations and post offices.

Sunday, March 5, 2017

Why I Do What I Do



The garden at Waddington Elementary has helped our children feel closer to nature and empowered to help protect it. We study live insects and draw and make models from specimens. The children hide their camouflage mantid sculptures in the school yard for someone to find and take in swallowtail caterpillars to raise into butterflies. We see bees stick out their tongues and animals leave their footprints. We look for evidence of tracks, scat, and homes, plant veggies, share salad, soups, and teas with our produce, and learn to work as a team. We brave the "jungle" hiking two miles down the street to follow a creek and have older students show us what lives in it. We make posters of our favorite creek creatures and were awarded a grant from the RI Environmental Council to produce these posters as signs to prevent litter. We paint and draw birds, make bird feeders, and track winter birds. We learn how seeds travel and design our own seed packs. We make art out of leaves and identify trees. It's non-stop exploration at our school, even measuring soil moisture and rainfall to track el Nino for GLOBE and NASA and designing our own anemometers! We do this all through collaborations with URI Master Gardeners Desourdy School Gardens program, Barrington Land Trust, ASRI, parents, other volunteers, and the environmental curriculum developed by Melissa Guillet through 15 Minute Field Trips™.

Tuesday, February 28, 2017

True Facts


12 TRUE FACTS ABOUT THE OWL (Channeling Morgan Freeman):

A baby owl is called an owlet.

The most common owl in RI is the barred owl.  That’s barred with a double “R”, not to be confused with Shakespeare and our Shakespeare in the Park and Roger Williams National Park.  I think heard a screech owl there.

A group of owls is called a Parliament.  Kind of what Canada has.  I want to move to Canada…

Owls borrow other birds’ (or even squirrels’) nests in the winter to lay eggs.

Owls are raptors and hunt prey, crushing it in their strong talons, swallowing their prey whole, and coughing up a pellet of fur, feathers, and bones.

Owls are zygodactyl, with two talons in the front and two in the back, and can exert 500 lbs.of pressure per square inch.  Do not shake hands with an owl.

Some owls bob their heads to better locate prey through sound.  This is called the night moves.  Okay, it’s not.

The great horned owl’s “horns” are feathers, not ears. 

Owls can’t move their eyes.  Instead, they turn their heads up to 270 degrees, kind of like the child in the Exorcist movie.

Most owls have asymmetrical ear holes.  Asymmetrical ear holes.  No, that’s not a Ska band.  No.  Put one hand over your ear.  Now put your other hand somewhere else.  That’s how an owl do, to triangulate the location of prey.

Throwing food out your car window kills owls.  Rodents and other animals go into the road for the food, and the owl swoops in, and…  Owlsare not Batman.

Owls are not the fastest raptors, but they have specialized soft feathers that make them the most silent.  Silent is deadly.

For more facts like these, comedy, poetry, live music, games, raffle, silent auction, and snacks, come to the 15 Minute Field Trip Show THIS FRIDAY!

Tickets also available at the door.

Thursday, February 16, 2017


Free Seeds!

URI MASTER GARDENERS and Ocean State Job Lot are giving away FREE seeds
Saturday, February 18, 10am - 2 pm
at the Hempe House, East Farm
Spring is coming and this snow is adding wonderful moisture to the soil.  Get ready by stopping by Hempe House on Saturday, Feb. 18 between 10 and 2 and picking up free seeds. Take as many as you can carry.  Bring your own bags.  Start them at home, with a scout troop, at a community center...  Pay it forward by planting some herbs to give away to friends, a senior center, or a food pantry. 
Check out how we grow herbs at our school: Milk Pot Plants.

There's still tickets available to our fundraiser!  Note the new venue:

Our GoFundMe page is here.

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

Loving Nature

What do I love about nature?  The calm it gives me?  The complex network of interactions and food webs?  The excited look in a child's eye as they hold a worm or discover baby pill bugs?

My fourth graders have been studying detrivores and trees, from rotting logs up to the tallest habitats.  This week, they imagined they were shrunk down to the size of a shrew, then a millipede, then got to soar as a bird through an activity in the Project Learning Tree Environmental Education Activity Guide.  We then drew, colored, and cut out animals that are part of that food web.  In May, all three 4th grade classes will take a bus to a manged forest as part of the Wheels to Woods grant I succeeded in getting for our school through RIEEA.  They are very excited!

I hope their love of the tiny and the tall leads them to protect these habitats when they are able to act as adults, through legislation, running for office, voting, participating in clean ups, and supporting environmental agencies.  

Meanwhile, I will continue to teach them, continue to work on my field guide, continue to love all of this.

There is a fundraiser March 3rd to support publication of a field guide, supplies, perhaps even non-profit status!  It will be moved to the Mediator, at 50 Rounds Ave. Providence, RI, from 6-10.  We'll still have live music and games, but home-made snacks instead of a sit-down dinner.  (Ticket sales were too low to have it a Twelve Acres.  There goes my deposit...)  We also have a GoFundMe page here.