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Distance Learning Young Naturalists Club

Happy National Moth Week!

Last week we learned about pollinators such as insects and bats. This week is National Moth Week, so I thought we could celebrate by learning about these special insects!

The beautiful Rosy Maple Moth seen above. This moth’s attractive colors could be warning predators that it would not be tasty to eat! Photo: craigbiegler on iNat

Moths, like butterflies and other pollinators, enjoy eating nectar as a main food source. Most moths are nocturnal (they only are active at night). But a few moth species do come out during the day.

Because of nocturnal moths, some flowers have evolved to open up their blooms at night. They can be pollinated even when it gets dark.

Let’s take a look at two Ohio moth species below!

Pandorus Sphinx Moth

The Pandorus Sphinx Moth, seen above, has olive colored tones. Photo © Madison Donohue

Some butterflies and moths have specific host plant. They use only that plant for food or shelter at certain stages of life. Monarch caterpillars are famous for depending on milkweed like this.

The Pandorus Sphinx Moth relies on grape vines and Virginia creeper. You have probably seen Virginia creeper in woods and yards in Ohio:

Virginia Creeper, seen above, is a host plant of the Sphinx moth. © nicolealbers on iNat

These vines are a good place to look for sphinx moths!

Life Cycle
  • An adult Pandorus Sphinx Moth lays green eggs on its host plant.
  • The caterpillar emerges from the egg and begins to eat the host plant.
  • The caterpillar eats for about 25 days!
  • Once the caterpillar has eaten and grown enough, it buries itself underground to become a pupae.
  • When metamorphosis is complete, the adult emerges to reproduce. The life cycle begins again.

Pupae – The life stage when the caterpillar is in a cocoon or protective shield, before becoming an adult moth.

Metamorphosis – The transformation from a younger life stage (in the moth’s example, a caterpillar and pupae) to an adult life stage (a moth).

This moth can have up to 3 generations of offspring in a year!

If an egg is laid in fall, the caterpillar will become a pupae and bury underground over winter to survive the colder environment. It will wait to emerge until spring.

Seen above, the larval stage of a Pandorus Sphinx Moth. Photo: craigbiegler on iNat

Cecropia Moth

The Cecropia Moth, seen above, has interesting wing patterns. Photo: Madison Donohue

This caterpillar will eat and eat. But when it becomes an adult, it doesn’t eat at all. It doesn’t even have a mouth that works! Its sole goal is to reproduce as quickly as possible and lay eggs.

A Cecropia Moth larvae, seen from above. Look at those spikes! Photo: craigbiegler on iNat

These moths are extremely attracted to light sources, and you may be able to see them fluttering around street lamps in summer. No one knows for certain why moths are so attracted to light sources, but scientists have one promising theory:

This theory explains that moths use the light from the moon and stars as a way to navigate and orient themselves, and have done so for millions of years. But why exactly would moths be attracted to artificial light?

Watch the video below, provided by National Geographic, to learn more about this theory.

Why are moths obsessed with lamps? Watch this video to see one theory.

Activity: Moth Observations

Want to discover moths for yourself? Since moths are attracted to light, it is easy to observe them at night using a few tricks!

Materials needed:

  • light source (flashlight or porch light)
  • light colored sheet (a white one is perfect!)
  • camera or paper and colored pencils to record your observations 
Step 1. 

Set up your white sheet near your outdoor light source. If you are using a porch light, hang the sheet vertically close to the light. This will let the moths have a place to rest as they are mesmerized.

If you are using a flashlight, you can hang your sheet anywhere outside.

Step 2. 

When it gets dark, turn on your light source. Now wait for the moths to come closer! You might see them fluttering around the light, or even landing on your sheet.

Step 3.

Record the moths you observe by using a camera or by drawing what you see. Hopefully you get a wide variety of moths to look at!

Step 4.

Find any moths that really interest you? Check out this field guide from the Ohio Division of Natural Resources to identify the moths and discover more about them.

Another great resource for insect identification is here.

Want to celebrate National Moth Week even more?

Join the Mothing Ohio Facebook group!

You can also check out our Bioblitz project of insect observations on iNaturalist.

As always, happy exploring!

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Distance Learning Uncategorized Young Naturalists Club

Pollinators Part 2

Last week Madison taught us about pollination. Besides insects, one important mammal can also assist in plant pollination: BATS! Today we will learn about bat pollination and what plants you can grow around your home to attract pollinators.

BATS AS POLLINATORS

Nectarivorous bat flying to a flower to drink nectar © Preston Sheaks.

In tropical and desert biomes, bats play an important role in pollinating flowers on fruit trees and cacti.

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Distance Learning Young Naturalists Club

Shelter Insulation

On Monday, Nate talked about basic wilderness preparation and what to take care of first in a survival situation. After air, what’s the most urgent priority? Shelter!

Today, we’ll talk about the science of staying warm and dry, and learn from animals. Then, we have an experiment: can you build a shelter that stays warm?

What makes a good outdoor shelter? 

Top of a basic wilderness shelter.

You might think about how comfortable the shelter is, or how protected it is. But one of the most important elements of a good shelter is how insulated it is.

Insulation is material that slows the loss of heat.

It is much harder to survive outdoors in the elements when your body is not at the ideal temperature.

Too much heat loss can even lead to hypothermia, a potentially deadly condition in which your body is way, way too cold.

The ideal body temperature for humans is between 97.7 and 99.8 degrees Fahrenheit. To stay at this temperature, our bodies constantly adjust themselves. We might sweat or shiver to cool off or warm up. Other warm-blooded animals, like deer or birds, do this too.

In contrast, cold-blooded animals like lizards and turtles can’t control their body temperatures internally themselves. They have to use the outside environment instead. If you see a turtle basking in the sun, it is using the sun to regulate its body temperature!

We want to keep as much heat as we can in our shelter! To do this, we have to slow down conduction.

Conduction happens when two objects of different temperatures touch each other. Heat moves from the warmer object to the colder one. In a shelter, this could be heat traveling from your warm body to the cold ground.

Insulation slows conduction. Fluffy materials that trap air inside are good insulators: think of piles of leaves, bubble wrap, down feathers inside a coat, or bubbly styrofoam. The trapped air is a barrier for heat transfer between two objects.

In winter, this is why we humans wear extra layers of clothing! Clothing itself does not provide heat. But air gets trapped in a few places: Air gets trapped in the fibers of your shirt, or the fluffy stuffing of your coat. And air also gets trapped in between your layers of clothing, such as between a coat and a long-sleeve shirt. These air pockets stop heat from leaving your body and escaping into the colder air.

If you get cold easily like me, I also like to wear a thick hat, scarf, gloves and multiple layers of shirts over my coat when I am outside in winter. The more layers I wear, the warmer I feel because all those layers add extra insulation – which means less heat escaping from my body into the colder winter air!

When you are building your shelter, keep conduction and insulation in mind. Where are warmer objects (like people) touching colder objects (like the ground or air)? Add insulation in those places to prevent heat loss!

Animals Build Insulating Shelters Too

Wild animals might not understand the exact science of heat loss like we do. But they do understand that heat loss is dangerous.

Just like humans, animals also insulate their shelters to prevent heat from escaping their warm, cozy homes!

What Do wild animals use to insulate their nests or shelters?

Birds use a wide variety of materials to insulate their nests. Check out your local bird nests to see what materials different species use!

Some examples of nest insulation include:

  • moss
  • dried grass
  • animal fur
  • plant fibers.
What materials did this bird use as insulation for its nest?

Squirrels use leaves to insulate their nests. Their nests, or dreys, look like big messy leaf piles in tree branches. Our shelter experts, Joe and Nate, recommend humans use 6 inches of leaves on the ground of your shelter and 6 inches on the roof to stay warm!

Some mammals have thick fur that insulates them. Deer have hollow fur. Each hollow hair has air space inside. This prevents heat loss–similar to humans wearing multiple clothing layers!

Beavers keep their lodges insulated in winter. They use mud to seal any cracks where cold air might come through. Then, their family’s shared body heat keeps the inside lodge temperature warm.

They have to be careful to not all leave the lodge at once to go foraging for food. Otherwise, the inside temperature would drop while they were away.

Muskrats are known to take advantage of these insulating lodges, even presenting the beavers with cattail treats to let them share the lodge in winter!

Want to create an insulating shelter that imitates a beaver, squirrel or bird?

Jello Baby Experiment Time

Materials:

  • jello
  • pot for boiling water
  • ziplock bag or cup
  • insulating shelter materials of your choice (you can use some ideas from above!)

Your challenge is to prevent a bag of jello from cooling and solidifying. Use what you learned about insulation above. If you insulate your jello well, your jello baby will stay liquid for a long time!

If you can’t get jello, you could try this with a cup of water on a freezing night.

Step 1. 

With a trusted adult, follow the directions on the jello box to boil your jello.

Step 2.

When your jello is no longer boiling hot, but still warm, pour your liquid jello into a ziplock bag and seal. This is your jello baby. Be a good jello parent and keep it safe and warm!

Step 3. 

Gather some insulating materials. Use them to build a suitable shelter for your bagged jello. Play around until you find something you like.

Shelter materials could include: leaves, bundled up clothing, hats, moss, or twigs. But you can test whatever materials you want because this is an experiment. It might be interesting to see which materials are the LEAST insulating!

Place your jello baby inside the shelter once you are finished.

Pro-Tip: Get your shelter ready before making the jello, so your jello baby spends less time exposed to outside elements.

Step 4. 

Check your jello baby every 10 minutes. Is it still in its liquid phase? Congratulations! You have insulted your shelter well enough to prevent the loss of heat and keep your jello baby warm.

Is your jello solidifying? Oh no! This means your shelter is not insulated enough. Add more materials to test which keep the heat from escaping your shelter.

See how long can you make your jello last. Eventually, all of the jello babies will solidify, since they can’t make their own heat. They are more like a cold-blooded animal than a warm-blooded human.

Step 5.

Let us know in the comments how your experiment turned out! What materials did you use? Was it successful at keeping your shelter insulated? Why or why not? We would love to hear how your jello baby survived.

Stay tuned for more basic survival later in the week!
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Distance Learning Young Naturalists Club

What you can do to help birds

Hey guys! This week we learned about bird nests and bird migration. Today, we wrap up the week by looking at ways to increase bird biodiversity, right in your neighborhood!

Have you heard of biodiversity before?

Let’s break it down:

  • The first part of the word, Bio, means life.
  • The second part, Diversity, means a variety of things.
  • So put together, it means a variety of living things.

Scientists consider more biodiverse ecosystems to be healthier.

We can attract a diversity of birds by creating diverse places for them to live, and creating diverse food sources for them. Let’s look at some examples of how to do that.

So how can we improve bird biodiversity?

We’ll go over:

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Distance Learning Young Naturalists Club

Ecosystem in a Bottle

Hello everyone! Did you go searching through a vernal pool or foraging for wild ramps this week? Wherever you did your exploring, I hope you were able to share all your cool nature finds with friends and family. Keep adding your observations to the comments!

Today, we’ll be doing an Ecosystem in a Bottle activity to illustrate where you went exploring this week.

My ecosystem in a bottle made from plants in my yard!

But first, I want to check-in! Are there any Young Naturalist Club activities that you really liked? Is there a cool nature experience you’ve had since reading the blog? Any requests?

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Distance Learning Young Naturalists Club

Week 1 Round Up

Hello everyone! Today we are going to wrap up the week by sharing what YOU found in the Signs of Spring and iNaturalist lessons.

Then we’ll challenge you to take it further, and investigate dandelions! You’ll investigate when, where, and how many dandelions have popped up–using both your observations, and others’ observations.

This Week’s Finds