Eating like insects

An adapation is a change in body structure, behaviour or physiology that helps an organism survive in a particular environment.

In the Friday class we started out with an adaptation game where the children had to say what adaptations a particular animal might develop to survive in a different environment to usual. We had a swamp cow, a desert hamster, a rainforest duck and an ocean centipede. I think the children had fun!

Desert hamster

This was based on an activity in an astrobiology handout I found. The full activity has children creating animals to live on a gas planet, or an icy planet, in addition to the biomes from Earth.  I have lost the website information for the handout I used but NASA has plenty of astrobiology resources such as this  and plenty of information here .

In both classes we then did an activity on insect mouthparts. We used straws to be like a butterfly, sharpened straws to pierce through cling flim and be like a mosquito, pliers to pick up raisins and seeds like beetles or grasshoppers, and scissors to cut lettuce leaves like leaf-cutter ants.

“Butterfly tongue”. Licensed under Public Domain via Commons –

More information

Why most animals are insects

Insects that look like leaves – mostly pictures with only a few words

Stick insect eggs look like seeds (Includes other information about adaptations – anatomical, behavioural and physiological.)

There is a simpler explanation of adaptations here on a site called Nature Works, with more information about North American animals and how they have adapted to the environment. If you go to Nature Files in the top menu you will find several pages which explain various concepts in biology and ecology quite simply.

The different insect mouthparts are explained quite well on the Backyard Nature site which also has a general page on insect body parts.

I watched this YouTube clip on silent, so I can’t comment on the voiceover, but I liked seeing all the different kinds of insects using their varied mouthparts.

What do entomologists actually do?

In Class 6 this term I planned a role play where half the characters had ‘problems’ and the others pretended to be entomologists who could help solve these problems. Prior to this we did the ‘minimum spanning tree’ activity described in my last post, and we talked about what organisations might employ entomologists.

Problem scenarios Experts who could offer a solution
Tomato plants not fruiting. They need buzz pollination.

“Tomato scanned” by David Besa from Sonoma, USA – Flickr. Licensed under CC BY 2.0 via Commons –


Don Griffiths, from the UK: You can introduce bumblebees (non native), with specially designed hives to keep the queens from escaping.

Ken Walker from the Museum of Victoria: You can use flowers to attract native bees.

Citrus plants affected by spined citrus bug

Spined citrus bug, Biprorulus bibax. Photo by Jason Green on Flickr
Adrian Nicholas, Senior Entomologist for the NSW Government, Department of Primary Industries. Use an aggregating pheromone to attract all the adult bugs to one place, then remove them. Many other insects can be used to remove the spined citrus bug, so it’s not a good idea to use a wide-spectrum insecticide like pyrethrin.
Vehicle routes for Coles delivery trucks. Tanya Latty, from the University of Sydney: Use studies of ants, who have very small brains but as a group are good at finding the shortest (or most efficient) route.
Maintenance schedule for Hydro Tasmania Wai Kuan Foong (computer scientist): Use ant colony optimization.

The role plays worked well in one group, but not so well in the other. I had given the children cards with quite a bit of text about each of their characters and the background to the issue. I think if I repeat this activity I will split them into groups and spend more time discussing the issue. Then I might have a pre-written script for the children to read out rather than expecting them to adlib (although some of the scenes were pretty funny).