Students Learn about Ecology through Insects

07/15/97 by Staff Writer

From the July 15, 1997, issue of the Salisbury Post

Their instructions were to bring them back alive.

Nearly 250 rising sixth-graders swept nets over the tall grass in Catawba College’s 156-acre ecological preserve to find creepy-crawlies that have more than two eyes, that use camouflage for protection, that look like plants.

During two weeks in July, academically gifted 11-year-olds threw themselves into the ecological scavenger hunt with abandon. They divided into teams, which they dubbed the Killer Bees, the Lady Bugs, the Funky Fungus Gnats, the Crazy Caterpillars and the Fire Ants.

Students from Anson, Cabarrus, Davie, Lincoln, Stanly, and Union counties and from Albemarle, Kannapolis, and Lexington city districts celebrated biodiversity at Catawba’s camp, sponsored by the Southern Piedmont Educational Consortium.

Anna York of Monroe hunched over a cloth near a stand of millet. As her classmates emptied their nets, she placed insects in a small jar.

“I got a real tiny one right up there,” she said, pointing to the top of the jar. “Most of these bugs I’ve never seen before.”

Josh Haigler of Stanfield caught spiders and grasshoppers. Josh Roesch of Davie County found bees, June bugs and ants.

Taylor Colson of Concord discovered that millet and cowpeas attract insects. “The flowers must have a lot of nectar,” he says, “because we must have seen hundreds of bees flying around.”

Professors were preaching biological diversity, according to Dr. Lou Ann Kasias, Catawba professor of education and summer camp director. “We wanted them to recognize that it takes all living creatures to make our world better,” she said.

Dr. John Wear, director of Catawba’s Center for the Environment, noted that understanding the connection of all organisms is important to understanding environmental issues.

“This is one way of understanding that interconnectedness,” he said, “by looking at a single topic in depth as an example of why biodiversity is important.”

The students picked up on the theme quickly. Michael Martin of Stanly County volunteered that rainforest sections the size of a football field are destroyed every second. Nicole Griffin of Kannapolis noted, “We’re wasting a lot of oil by using too much electricity, and it’s going to run out some day, and there’s not going to be enough for everybody in the future.”

Curtis Cook of Denver said he learned “how the homes of animals are being destroyed and how oil is being spilled into the ocean and it’s hurting the birds.”

The theme obviously made an impression on the young minds in other areas. Computers allowed them to morph their pictures into an animal or insect of their choice. They made masks of insects in art class, employed nature sounds in music and learned cooperation and leadership skills on the campus challenge course.

Erica Earnhardt of Kannapolis painted a yellow jacket mask. “I think they have pretty colors, and they’re aggressive,” she says. “That’s what I like about animals.”

Grace Riddle of Davie County painted her mosquito mask orange and black with a green proboscis – “the little sucker thingy,” she called it. “I think they’re very interesting how they live off of humans.”

Brandy Phillips of Harrisburg chose to construct a bumblebee mask. “Where we live in the city, there aren’t very many bugs,” she said, “but we have a lot of bees because we have clover in our yard.”

Bumblebees, wasps, mosquitoes and beetles. The summer camp students learned about the environment by focusing on insects. Said one especially enthusiastic participant: “I didn’t know hunting for bugs could be this much fun.”

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