Friday, June 26, 2020

Bugs are in Danger!

One last bug book for the month!

Bugs in Danger
by Mark Kurlansky; illus. by Jia Liu
176 pages; ages 8 - 12
Bloomsbury Children's Books, 2019

“If we care about the health of our planet, we can’t choose which animals’ lives we want to save,” writes author Mark Kurlansky. “We have to care about them all.” And that includes insects, because they play an important role in the earth’s ecology. But there’s a problem: populations of fireflies, bees, butterflies, and ladybugs have been declining.

Kurlansky divides his book into four parts. In part one, he introduces the insect world, shows how bugs fit in and highlights their diversity. He talks about the biggest threats to insects: habitat loss, invasive species, pollution, and climate change. Then he talks about how insects evolved with plants – not just bees, but butterflies, beetles, and flies. And he shares the secret of why it’s so hard to sneak up on a fly.

Part two focuses on bees. There are a lot of kinds of bees, he writes. About 25,000 bee species have been catalogued and scientists have discovered another 40,000 that have yet to be named. He takes a close look at bee life, focusing on honey bees – which were introduced into North America in 1622 by Europeans.  At that time there were somewhere near 5,000 native bee species. Unfortunately, Kurlansky doesn’t address the impact of introduced honey bees on native bees. This is a shame, because native bees pollinate many of the crops we eat.

In the third part, Kurlansky introduces beetles as pollinators and beneficial (pest-controlling) insects. Native ladybug populations are in decline even as gardeners and farmers seek alternatives to insecticides. Even fireflies are vanishing.

Part four is all about the leps: butterflies and moths. He highlights monarchs, introduces endangered species, and discusses efforts to save butterflies. In the final chapters he mentions more insects that are endangered: dragonflies, grasshoppers, stoneflies. Individual insects may be small, but their impact in ecological systems is profound. A decline in insect population affects entire food webs.

The biggest problem, by far, is the impact of humans on natural ecosystems. There are, fortunately, things everyone can do to keep the world a safe place for bugs:
  1. stop squashing bugs when you see them!
  2. grow flowers to attract pollinators.
  3. if you have fireflies, turn off floodlights at night.
  4. Stop Using Pesticides!
  5. leave leaf litter and twigs on the ground beneath trees.

Thanks for dropping by today. On Monday we'll be hanging out at Marvelous Middle Grade Monday with other bloggers. It's over at Greg Pattridge's blog, Always in the Middle, so hop over to see what other people are reading. Review copy provided by the publisher.

Thursday, June 25, 2020

Endangered Pollinators

 Pollinators are keystone species in natural ecosystems. But habitat loss, climate change, and use of agricultural pesticides contribute greatly to population decline and disrupt ecological interactions.

One of these endangered pollinators is the Rusty Patched bumble bee (Bombus affinis). They formerly inhabited the eastern coast of the United States and extended west through the Midwest towards Minnesota and North Dakota. Now you can find them only on a fraction of this region.

From bees to butterflies to bats - and even birds - you can learn about endangered pollinators, and the plants they associate with, over at the Pollinator Partnership - and even download a full-sized poster.

Wednesday, June 24, 2020

Explore Outdoors ~ Looking for Lepidoptera

Not only is this month "Bug Month" for Archimedes  - it's #pollinatorweek!

Today we're Looking for Lepidoptera ~ butterflies and moths. 

 There are so many kinds of butterflies and moths, as you can see here. See how many different kinds you can find: 
  • small
  • large
  • fancy
  • plain
  •  night-flier
  • act like hummingbird
  • larva
  • feathery antennae
As always, if you have a camera, capture the butterflies, moths, and caterpillars you see in photos. Or draw some pictures and share them with your friends.

Tuesday, June 23, 2020

Things Kids Can Do to Help Pollinators

There's lots of fun stuff for kids over at the Pollinator Week website: yummy things to bake (and eat), a pollinator puzzle, and a tip sheet for Five Things Kids Can Do to Help Pollinators.

It doesn't take much to be kind to pollinators ~ mostly treat them the way you would like to be treated: with respect.

What that means, in people-terms is:
  • Give them space. When you see bees or butterflies or hummingbirds busy collecting pollen or nectar, it's OK to watch them. But make sure you're not crowding them. And definitely don't try to touch them when they're working.
  • If your family uses poison sprays on the lawn or in the garden, ask them to stop. Sure, that spray may kill weeds, but it also harms pollinators. And when you can, buy organic fruits and vegetables.
  • Plant some flowers for the pollinators - native species, if you can. If you're not sure what to plant, contact your local cooperative extension. And if you're planting a butterfly garden, remember to include host plants for caterpillars to eat (we grow milkweed in our garden).

Monday, June 22, 2020

Welcome to Pollinator Week

This week is National Pollinator Week ~ a time to celebrate pollinators and spread the word about what you can do to protect them.

Pollination happens when pollen is moved within a flower or is carried from one flower to another of the same species. It leads to fertilization which leads to apples or tomatoes or...

Here's the stuff you need to know: pollination is necessary for healthy and productive native and agricultural ecosystems.

Did you know that:

  • About 75% of all flowering plant species need the help of  animals to move their heavy pollen grains from plant to plant for fertilization.
  • About 1,000 of all pollinators are vertebrates such as birds, bats, and small mammals.
  • Most pollinators (about 200,000 species) are beneficial insects such as flies, beetles, wasps, ants, butterflies, moths, and bees.

You can learn all about pollinators over at the Pollinator Partnership website where you can also download this cool poster.

And download fact sheets and more.

Friday, June 19, 2020

Beetle Battles!

Beetle Battles: One Scientist's Journey of Adventure and Discovery 
by Douglas J. Emlen
176 pages; ages 8 - 12
Roaring Brook Press, 2019

Doug Emlen has been obsessed with big weapons for as long as he can remember: mastodon tusks and triceratops horns, moose antlers and all other sharp and dangerous things on display at the natural history museum. Now, a professor of biology in Montana, he continues with his passion, studying antlers, horns, tusks. It just so happens that those weapons belong to beetles – and some of the species “…so small that their weapons only become apparent with a microscope,” he writes.

In this book, Emlen takes us into the field as he determines to find a bizarre animal to study in an exotic location. And that meant searching for beetles. The cool thing about beetle weapons: they come in so many sized and shapes. Some are stubby, some long and slender, some like crowbars, some like sabers. They may look small to us, but relative to their body size, beetle weapons can be huge. For example, mammoth tusks represent 3% of the animal’s body weight; a beetle’s horns can be 30% of its body weight.

Emlen’s book begins with great hopes to study a rhinoceros beetle – but (as happens in science) he could not find a large enough population to study. So he switched to dung beetles – of which there is no dearth of supply! Emlen takes readers along on his adventure to Barro Colorado, where we learn what it takes to “do science.” His days are filled with designing experiments, collecting data, analyzing date, rethinking the experiments (when they don’t work), and doing it all again.

What I like about this book: I like the journal entries interspersed through the book, and the wonderful photos. I like his no-nonsense tips on collecting monkey dung. And I really like how he follows the logic of animal weapons to military weapons and the arms race. There’s a wonderful chapter in which he compares his “sneaky beetles” to cyberhackers.

In Which Doug Reflects on Science and Writing

A couple months ago, between zoom classes and research, Doug Emlen found some time to share his thoughts on beetles and science. Turns out that he was born and raised in the Finger Lakes region of New York, and went to Cornell University. We chuckled about the fact that he is now “out west” and I, raised in the west, am now living a few miles away from his alma mater.

Smithsonian Archive
“My goal in writing Beetle Battles is to reach people and make science fun,” Doug said. He wrote to middle graders because he figured they might be interested in digging into the tough stuff. And confessed that he learned a lot in the process. (It’s definitely not the same as writing a text book!) Along the way, he discovered his writing voice.

“When someone suggested re-writing a section, I did it,” he said, noting that he had to invest time and energy into learning how to tell a narrative story. And sure, there’s a lot of science in this book – the topic is evolution of weapons – Doug wanted to make it an adventure.

“I had fun with this project,” Doug said, admitting that he rewrote the book a few times. But each time he found what worked better. What kept him going was the desire to make his story accessible to fourth through seventh-graders. “I feel it’s important that more of us [scientists] find a way to reach this age group.” He especially feels this urgency because of the level of science denial he sees in our society.

Writers are often told to “show, not tell,” but that “showing” turned out harder to do than Doug expected. There were so many questions along the way: should he give priority to the science or to the narrative. He chose the narrative, showing what it is like to be a scientist.

“I wanted to help kids understand the day-to-day life of a scientist in the rainforest, and how the rainforest smells.” While his journey as a scientist didn’t begin until he was in college, his curiosity was whetted when he was a kid traveling with his father, also a biologist. The cool thing about science, he says: “Basic research turns out to be important in ways you don’t expect.” Who would have expected research on dung beetles to reveal a deeper understanding of the arms race?

You can find out more about Doug and his dung beetle research here – in an interview he did with NPR’s Terry Gross a few years ago.

Find out more about Doug’s childhood here.

Thanks for dropping by today. On Monday we'll be hanging out at Marvelous Middle Grade Monday with other bloggers. It's over at Greg Pattridge's blog, Always in the Middle, so hop over to see what other people are reading. Review copy provided by the publisher.

Wednesday, June 17, 2020

Explore Outdoors ~ Bees!

This month, Archimedes is focusing on bugs ... I mean, insects! So slip on your exploring shoes and head out to a garden - or anywhere that flowers are blooming - and spy on some bees. Just stay far enough away that you don't bother them.


Bees are a diverse group, as you can see here. When you find bees at work, remember: don't crowd them. See how many different kinds of bees you can find: 
  • loud buzzing bees
  • metallic bees
  • tiny bees
  • huge bees
  • bee covered in pollen
  • bee with pollen on its legs
  •  bees that crawl inside flowers
  •  bees that hang out on sunflowers
    If you like to watch bees, think about becoming a Citizen Scientist. You can help scientists by counting pollinators for the Great Sunflower Project.
    As always, if you have a camera, capture bees in photos. Or draw some pictures and share them with your friends.

    Friday, June 12, 2020

    What's the Buzz?

    This month, Archimedes is focusing on insects of all types. Today it's one of my favorites: BEES!

    Where Have All the Bees Gone? Pollinators in Crisis
    by Rebecca E. Hirsch
    104 pages; 12 - up
    Twenty-First Century Books/Lerner, 2020

    Bees are disappearing, and it’s not just honey bees. Bumble bee populations are in decline, too. For those of us who like to eat, this is a problem because bees pollinate 75 percent of the fruits, vegetables, and nuts grown in the United States – about $3 billion worth of crops each year. Plus, they pollinate plants and fruit trees that provide food for birds and other wildlife.

    In this book, Rebecca E. Hirsch dives right into the pollinator crisis. Sure, there are lots of animals that pollinate plants – birds, bats, beetles, and butterflies – but bees are the most efficient. And that pollinating efficiency is important to farmers and gardeners. Some flowers, such as tomatoes, peppers, and eggplants hold onto pollen so tightly that only bumble bees can shake it loose using a high-pitched buzz.

    What would gardens and orchards look like without the work of native pollinators? Hirsch describes apple orchards in Sichuan, China, where decades of pesticide use has killed off the the natural pollinators. Now orchardists have to pay people to climb ladders and hand-pollinate the blossoms.

    She devotes a chapter to the research on bumble bee decline and another chapter to the problems that neonicotinoids presents to wild bees. Even at low doses, neonics are harmful because they are long-lived and mobile. Bumble bees exposed to neonics in farm settings produced fewer queens, and another type of wild bee laid fewer eggs.

    Hirsch includes a chapter on bee evolution and a chapter on bee diversity, highlighting a year in the life of a bumble bee. She concludes with two chapters devoted to bee conservation and positive action people – and kids – can take: plant gardens for pollinators; engage in citizen science bee counts; and encourage organic farming and gardening. Back matter includes a list of online resources and links to citizen science projects.

    You can read an interview with Rebecca here - and look for an upcoming interview in STEM Tuesday next month.

    Here are some ways you can Bee active:

    Get to know your local bees. Most bees are so intent on collecting pollen that they won’t notice you, so you can get close enough to get a good look. If you have a camera, click bee pics so you can identify them later. Make sure to jot down notes: Is the bee as big as your thumb? Smaller than your pinkie nail? Skinny or fat? Smooth or furry? Striped? And definitely note time of day, as some bees are early risers. 

    Create a bee-friendly spot for local pollinators. The easiest way to help native bees and other pollinators is to plant flowers that provide nectar and pollen. Just as important: eliminate the use of pesticides. Here’s a quick guide to bee plants, and – surprise! – some may already be growing in your lawn (a great excuse to not mow): asters, bee balm (monarda), cornflower, cosmos, dandelions, elderberry flowers, forget-me-nots, goldenrod, hyssop, harebell, indigo (wild), joe-pye weed, jewelweed, knotweed (aka: Pennsylvania smartweed), lupine, mints, mullein, nasturtiums, oregano, purple coneflower, poppies, queen Anne’s lace, red clover, sunflowers, thistles, violets, wild mustard, ox-eye daisy, yarrow, and zinnias.

    Become a Citizen Scientist. You can help scientists learn more about native bees by counting bees and other pollinators in your yard or neighborhood. Bumble Bee Watch is a collaborative effort to track and conserve bumble bees in North America. The Great Sunflower Project relies on volunteers to count the number and types of pollinators visiting plants (especially sunflowers). Learn more about pollinator conservation at the Xerces Society.

    Wednesday, June 10, 2020

    Today let's amplify black scientist voices

    In support of #ShutDownSTEM, I am not posting my regularly scheduled bug photos. Instead, I want to introduce you to an entomologist you probably haven't heard about. 

    photo from Wikipedia
      Margaret Collins was known as the “Termite Lady” and was also a civil rights activist.  While teaching at Florida A&M, she would take her family on collecting trips in Everglades National Park. Later, she moved to Washington, DC where she taught at what is now the University of District of Columbia. She also became a research associate at the Smithsonian. She was so dedicated to the cause of civil rights that she put her career on pause for five years. In the publish-or-perish world of science, that's one heck of a commitment! 

    The wonderful folks over at Ask an Entomologist have posted a great story of her life, with plenty of links - I encourage you to read it here

    Friday, June 5, 2020

    Bugs Everywhere!

    Bugs Everywhere 
    by Lily Murray; illus. by Britta Teckentrup
    32 pages; ages 6 - 9
    Big Picture Press (Candlewick) 2020

    theme: bugs, nature, observation

    The world is alive with bugs. There are millions of different species. In fact, there are so many that no one knows the exact number.

    After explaining what arthropods are, author Lily Murray describes where they live, what they eat, and some of their survival tricks. She highlights honeybees as an example of social insects, and Madagascan sunset moths as a migratory species. There’s a fun spread about bug parents, and one about bugs and people.

    What I like about this book: I love the illustrations! Britta Teckentrup is a fine artist with a fine eye for arthropod detail – down to the jointed appendages. I also like the challenges to readers: find the tortoise beetle hiding somewhere in the book; find the wasps raiding the beehive. I like that there is an entire spread about the evolution of arthropods – they’ve been around for ages! And I really like that the last page highlights the importance of bugs in the ecosystem, and what we can do to help protect them.

    Beyond the Books:

    Go on a Bug Safari. All you need is a camera (for capturing bugs of all types) or a sketchbook. Your mission: find as many different types of arthropods as you can.
    Note how many legs they have (they need 6 or more).
    Look at their colors and patterns. Do they blend in or stand out?
    What sort of place do you find them – in water? in grass? under stones?
    How do they move?

    Follow a bug. If you find a beetle or a spider – or even a bumble bee – off on a journey, follow along (but not too close). Where do they go? What are they doing?

    Listen to the sounds bugs make. Here are some recordings to get you started.

    Today we're joining Perfect Picture Book Friday, an event where bloggers share great picture books at Susanna Leonard Hill's website. Review copy provided by the publisher.

    Wednesday, June 3, 2020

    Explore Outdoors ~ Beetles!

    This month, Archimedes is focusing on bugs - er, insects! So put on your bug-hunting shoes and start looking. Today it's BEETLES!

     Look for Beetles in your backyard and neighborhood. Beetles are a large and diverse group - you can see different kinds here. Find beetles that are:
    • round
    • long
    • striped
    • spotted
    • glow-in-the-dark
    • big
    • small
    • red
    • green
    • swimming in water
    Take photos of the beetles you meet, or draw pictures of them.