Making ‘pooters’

You can’t study insects without catching them. So this term’s classes started off with discussing different ways of collecting insects (see this information from the Queensland Museum), and my students making their own ‘pooters’ from plastic tubs or water bottles, a couple of tubes and some modelling clay. If you want to make your own there are many different versions on the internet. Here’s a local naturalist making one from an old-fashioned camera film cannister.

We looked at the ‘keys’ that biologists use to identify creatures in the field, and tried out different types of keys. There was a side discussion about sea creatures when the children in one class found out that several are named after creatures in Greek myths (e.g. medusas and hydras).

We discussed health and safety issues (stay near me, don’t suck up ants, don’t stick your hand into a pile of dead leaves, watch out for funnel webs and redbacks, etc!) and then went out into the backyard to look for insects. I also used the inverted umbrella trick that I had first seen on The Happy Scientist and collected quite a few creatures from our back hedge.

The backyard yielded plenty of ants, flies, a cockroach, ladybirds, leaf bugs and some tiny white things that might have been moths. (I am not very good at identifying insects yet. I hope I will improve over the term.)

We saw a beautiful praying mantis in one class. I spotted this creature on our front hedge in another.

If you can’t see it, look for the red eyes. What a great example of crypsis (adaptations that help insects to blend in with their surroundings).

My own children have been spotting insects and getting me to photograph them in between classes.

In the second class I asked children for any interesting facts they knew about insects, and any questions they wanted answered. We discussed biological classification and I explained the bionomial system for naming species. We went out again into the nearby park and found loads of flies – yep, it’s fly season again here in Sydney. We saw several hoverflies, which have stripy abdomens to mimic wasps or bees.

Some children have had a great time in these classes. Some children were disappointed that they didn’t catch much when we went out. (It’s a problem for the specialists as well, as this article from the Australian Museum points out.) Some children would probably admit that collecting insects is not their idea of fun.

It’s up to me to make this term’s classes as fun and informative as other terms, even for the people who are not keen on insects.
Over the next few weeks we are going to venture into different habitats to see what different creatures we can find. I will try to build my own Berlese funnel. (My first attempt was miserable.) We will draw insects, learn about beneficial and harmful insects, make our own keys and, finally, I hope each child will give a presentation to the rest of the class about an insect of their choice.

Here are some links if you or your children want to know more:

Identifying insects
If your child wants to look up insects they have found, try these sites

Wildlife of Sydney

Interactive keys


The Australian Museum has loads of information about insects in Australia.

E-book about Aussie insects

And real life book ‘Australian Insects and Spiders: A Pictorial Guide’ by Niki Horin, pub. The Five Mile Press, 2010. Dewey Classification 595.70994

Attracting butterflies to your garden.

Insect body parts

Printables on Enchanted Learning (for younger children)

Ant anatomy printout

The Living World Part 5: Growth and change, and virtual experiments

This was the final class in our series on The Living World. The younger group reviewed life cycles and played a card game matching parents with offspring. They also discussed how they looked after their plants or creatures at home, with a wonderful presentation from one of the boys about his hens.

The older group were supposed to be carrying out experiments either on butterflies or on woodlice, but the weather meant both butterflies and woodlice were scarce in my garden. Instead we looked at an animation based on a classic experiment to see how digger wasps find their way back to their nest. You can find the animation and a description of the experiment here.

The older group also reviewed their criteria for defining something as ‘living’ and discussed whether a robot could do all the things they had listed.

I was disappointed not to finish the term with a real experiment and I hope to plan classes better when I next present ‘The Living World’.