Nature Study: Mosquitoes

It started with a dead mosquito on the floor and turned into a two month long interest led, Reggio inspired nature study. Luckily (?) it was a banner year for mosquitoes, so we had plenty of opportunities to collect specimens, observe them, and to learn all about them.

At this age (5.5) most of our nature study is simply learning to look closely, notice details, and to translate what we see into words and drawings. We also practice thinking of questions and coming up with strategies for finding answers. 

To look at the whole mosquito body that we found, we first looked at it under our tabletop magnifier (we have one similar to this). Silas wanted to see it in more detail, so we got out our magiscope and used it for the first time. This is a popular microscope in homeschooling circles and for good reason. They are heavy duty, making them durable enough to take out in the field, and they are simple enough to use that even the very young can use them independently and without frustration. As an added bonus, you can use them with slides as well as with 3-D specimens, making it perfect for getting a closer look at our mosquito.

In our very first viewing I first wrote down all of Silas' observations as he narrated them to me. Then, I asked if he had any questions and wrote them down as well. Some of them were pretty straightforward ("why do they drink blood?" and "why do bug bites swell up and get red?") and then there were some that revealed inklings of critical thought ("If we're sick and they bite us, how do they not get sick?" and "How do we know it it's a he or a she?"). All of them provided points of entry for further study and discussion.

When we collected a second dead mosquito, we used it as an opportunity to practice wet mounting slides. I had been searching high and low for a collection of slides that included several mosquito parts and almost bought a vintage set, but then had the epiphany that we could just make them ourselves. At every stage he drew what he saw and asked me to label them for him.

At some point in the summer Silas filled up a tub of water and stashed it in a patch of weeds in our backyard saying that he wanted to "create habitat for the frogs." I kept saying that we needed to dump it out, but he insisted that there were "tiny little tadpoles" swimming around in there. Well, when I finally crawled back into the weeds myself, I saw that they were definitely not tadpoles. They were, of course, hundreds of mosquito larvae. We scooped some up to bring inside before we dumped the tub. As we set up the larvae in their new indoor home, Silas asked if we would set the mosquitoes free when they emerged. We raised butterflies in a similar fashion and released them once they reached adulthood, why are mosquitoes different? Good question! Why is a mosquito different than a butterfly? Who says kids can't think philosophically! 

Inside, we tried a couple different strategies to look closely at the little wrigglers. Of course, we just watched them swimming around in their jar, but we also put the larvae in a clear acrylic tray, along with some water, and then put the whole thing on the light table. 

We also got out the OHP and experimented with putting the tray on there to project their image on the wall. Here, Silas is holding a piece of paper up to the wall and is tracing the projections of larvae.

We made the assumption that there was enough bacteria in the water to feed the larvae, but we were wrong. They ended up cannibalizing each other until there was only one left. When we realized what had happened, we put in a small bit of an outer leaf of lettuce that had gone bad, with the hope that one little larva could find enough bacteria there to survive. It did and we did get to see it change into a pupa. An adult mosquito never did emerge, though, and the pupa seemed to just disappear. We've read that their metamorphosis is an incredibly sensitive time and jostling the water in the jar at just the wrong time could have caused a newly emerged mosquito to drown before it would have been recognizable as such.

Through all of this he was asking questions and finding answers. We read The Life Cycle of A Mosquito by Kalman and matched models with cards of the process to reinforce that learning.

We took an afternoon trip to our local museum of natural history to view their collection of mosquitoes. We adore our museum and go there very frequently. Their entomology collection is not on permanent display, so they got it out just for us to see and the collections manager did an amazing job of answering all of our questions. 

In all of our studies I try to find opportunities for us to engage with our larger community. While looking for resources I stumbled upon The Invasive Mosquito Project and it gave us a chance to participate in crowd sourcing data. The idea is that you put mosquito egg collection cups (just cups with water and strips of paper, really) outside. Then, after a week, you dry out the paper and any eggs floating on the water should be preserved on the paper, which you then send off to be counted and recorded in an attempt to gain a better understanding of which species mosquitoes are breeding where and in what numbers. We put out our cups, but didn't collect any eggs. It was quite a cool week that we set them out, so we may have missed our window of opportunity and will have to try again next summer.

Above is our Interest Table. On the wall is a poster of Mosquitoes of the Midwest. We have the magiscope with the slides that we prepared as well as a magnifying glass to observe our adult mosquito specimens as well as the larvae in the jar. A clip board with paper and fine-tip Sharpies are always available for recording observations.

Mosquitoes have compound eyes, so we looked through this prism to get a feel for what the world looks like to a mosquito. One other thing we did to "be" a mosquito was to play mosquito tag. Silas LOVED this and asked to play it again every day after I introduced it. Each player gets a sheet of stickers (the little red dots used to mark garage sale items are perfect) and the goal is to get all your stickers on the other person before they get all of theirs on you. It's really less of a game of tag and more a game of chase. The really wonderful thing about it, though, is that you can tailor how long the game lasts by how many stickers you have. We found that three stickers was the perfect amount for burning off some mid-afternoon energy.

You'll also see here the life cycle cards and models as well as one of Silas' first watercolor observational paintings, illustrating how the larvae move in the water. We also read Why Mosquitoes Buzz in People's Ears, a West African folk tale, and really enjoyed it. We watched several YouTube videos, including a magnified view of a mosquito head, a larva turning into a pupa, and an adult emerging after metamorphosis is complete.

I should note that this Interest Table is not something that I put together myself and then presented to Silas. Rather, we start with an empty table and then fill it up with our resources as we find and gather them together.

Looking back on this exploration, it really was a fantastic one! Not only did we learn a ton about mosquitoes, we gained a better understanding of these little critters that are a near-constant presence in our summer outdoor play.

1 comment:

  1. Absolutely fascinating, Courtney! I want to be your kid!