Hackley's Hints: Insect Zoo
Adapted from an article
in "The Arizona Science Teacher Newsletter," by Sharon Hackley.
Fall is an excellent time to begin the study of insects. The children have come back to school fresh and receptive and ready for something new. Insects and their eggs and larvae are plentiful in the fall, and many cocoons can be found to hatch later in the year. Insects are collectable, colorful and easy to care for, and an interest center in the classroom will rapidly become a good insect zoo and museum.
It is wise to have your physical zoo facilities ready before you allow any live insects in the classroom. Therefore, it is usually easiest to begin your study of insects with group discussion and preparation of mounted specimens for your museum.
The class will enjoy being assigned special jobs such as curator of the museum, librarian, zoo keeper, feeder, entomologist, lepidoptera expert, etc. The first job for your museum staff should be to make display cases for their insect specimens. Cut out the top of the lid to any flat box and cover it with saran wrap. Place a thin layer of cotton inside the box and always have a moth ball in each container to keep away tiny insect scavengers.
To make an insect killing jar, choose a wide mouth quart jar with a tight lid. Use a moth ball or even a piece of cotton soaked in fingernail polish remover as your killing agent. If your insect dies and stiffens, place it in a relaxing jar filled 1/3 full of damp sand and place a piece of blotting paper on top of the sand. Insects may be positioned and pinned for display when they are softened.
While the class is setting up their museum, work can begin on the insect zoo. Unlike your museum, it will require daily care. Your insects will have a much better chance of survival if their new habitats are prepared several days in advance. It is best to prepare a "pasture" for the food insects first--insects to be used to feed your carnivores. Place 2 inches of potting soil in several small aquariums or plastic containers. Seed heavily with rye grass, water well, and place in a sunny window. Within a few days you can put crickets and small grasshoppers in your pastures. Crickets also like small bits of paper, egg cartons or pieces of cloth to chew on. Always keep a second pasture growing so that as food becomes scarce you can transfer your insects immediately.
While your pastures are growing, prepare a number of various sized live cages for your insect pets. One of the easiest and most utilitarian cages I have found was designed by Jim Kerrigan, a Scottsdale Portal Leader. Cut the bottoms from two gallon bleach bottles, about 2 inches from the base. Poke a small hole in the center of each. Insert a large rubber band through one of the center holes leaving a small section protruding through the bottom. To this section, fasten a paper clip to prevent the band from slipping through and pull it tight against the bottom. Cut a piece of screen 20 inches wide by 12 inches high. Roll it to fit snugly into the plastic bottoms and staple it together. Set the screen in the piece with the rubber band attacher. Place the other plastic part on as a top, pulling the rubber band through the hole and fastening it as with the other section.
To make a more permanent and colorful cage, fill an aluminum pie tin 1/2 full of colored plaster of paris. Insert a twig in the center for a tree. Quickly place the roll of screen into the plaster. Use another pie tin as a lid.
Almost every piece of insect collecting equipment can be made for very little expense. See what you can discover. Let your imagination run wild. Mount insects into dioramas for your museum in dozens of imaginative scenes. Teach a praying mantis to eat from your fingers. Let your class discover a whole new, tiny, fascinating world.