By Andrew Brinker, Science Teacher, Paschal High School - Fort Worth Independent School District
Insects are by far the most diverse, and ecologically important group of animals on the planet. Historically, students have studied insects through collections that include capturing, euthanizing and pinning individuals with identification tags. Some of the more common problems with this technique include the chance of being stung/bitten, costs of supplies, and the always controversial use of euthanasia. This article describes how to create a digital insect collection, which avoids the potential issues of injury, cost and euthanasia.
Insects can be found on any High School campus in Texas, although the time of year is critical. The most productive season is springtime, when flowers are blooming and temperatures are rising. This lab should therefore be completed towards the end of the school year, and is an excellent final project following STAAR/AP testing. This lab activity can be used grade school teachers all the way through AP Biology, by modifying the directions and requirements. In an elementary class the students could take photos of flying insects and identify them using common names such as beetle, dragonfly, fly, mosquito etc. The example outlined below is from an AP Biology class at Paschal High School.
This lab lasts one week and begins Monday with a discussion of general insect anatomy, physiology and an overview of major insect orders. Some of the common misconceptions and key points about insects can be found in Figure 1. Tuesday through Thursday should be spent out-of-doors in search of insects. Each day students are required to photograph six different insects from at least five orders, which is easily accomplished in a 45 minute class. Using a biology text book, the internet or a dichotomous key, the students return to the classroom to identify the order of each insect. If students don’t have at least five orders they should go back outside to photograph new insects, and can also complete the lab during lunch or at home (student become much more efficient as the week progresses). Students then utilize an app, snapchat, PowerPoint or a myriad of other editing tools to add the name of each order onto the photographs along with the date of the collection (Figure 2 was created with the LiPix app). This photo is the final product that can be turned in to the teacher through email each day.
The project concludes with assessment on Friday. The assessment could be in the form of a lab practical with different insects laid out at stations and questions about unique characteristics or basic taxonomy. The specimens for the lab practical can be collected throughout the week by the teacher or students. A paper test with matching, short answer and multiple choice questions can be used in addition or in substitution of the lab practical. This lab can also be easily modified for plants with students photographing flowers or leaves.
Figure 1: Key points and misconceptions.
• pill bugs or roly-polies are not insects but terrestrial Crustaceans
• bugs are only found in the order Hemiptera
• spiders, ticks and mites are arachnids
• beetles make up nearly a third of all described insect species
• insects have an open circulatory system, without blood vessels
• insects are segmented with a three part body plan
• microclimates are found underneath rocks, logs, boards
• rocks, logs, boards should be returned to original position
• Hymenoptera and Isoptera are orders of social insects with specialized caste systems
• each day begin by calling on students and asking questions similar to the assessment
Figure 2: Example of an AP Biology collage, including insect orders and the date of the collection.