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Friday, July 27, 2012

Summer is for Science! Part 3: Biology

Posted by Alana T.

Caterpillars of Eastern North America by David L. Wagner  Catching butterflies is fun (although lepidopterists suggest not handling butterflies in any way), but the little critters are awfully elusive.  It is usually much easier to find caterpillars.  The problem with these guys has always been identification.  This book is a fantastic resource to ID just about any moth or butterfly caterpillar you are likely to find.  Another benefit is that host plants are listed, so the adventurous can raise a caterpillar to adulthood (please keep your insects outside so they can experience normal temperature regimes).  For those of you who've planted a butterfly garden, you may have someone munching away on a host plant and this is the perfect opportunity to find out who she is.  Late summer and early fall is prime time for caterpillars, so head out to the backyard, or even better Watershed Nature Center, and practice those ID skills.  Please be careful handling any insects; some have irritating bristles or exudates. 

Tracks and Trailcraft by Ellsworth Jaeger  Living in an urban neighborhood does not mean you won't see wildlife in your yard.  There are lots of birds and mammals during the day, but after the sun goes down, a whole other populace appears.  One can certainly buy a critter-cam, but just as good (and more fun!) is a home sandpad.  Biologists have been using these for years, and in many areas, they are still the standard for tracking who and what goes where and when.  The Australian Department of Environment and Education has a great PDF you can download for easy how-tos.  (I suggest a bait of peanut butter and oats - no sardines - you'll get plenty of interested animals). The key for success is using the finest sand you can find and keeping it clean. With this book as a companion, you can find out who else lives in the neighborhood with you.  You will likely get skunks and racoons, but you may be surprised at some of the other guests.  Out at Watershed we had tracks from deer, beaver, various small rodents, mink, turtles, large beetles and more!  Building and maintaining a sandpad is a great way to get youngsters engaged in science and nature. 

Have fun!

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