Archive for the ‘Insects’ Category

Frightfully Delightful Citizen Science for Halloween!

By October 30th, 2015 at 5:30 pm | Comment

It’s time for ghouls and goblins, candy and costumes, AND citizen science!

Here are six creep crawly projects to spice up your Halloween festivities.


Photo: NASA
Send Us Your Skeletons
This project needs skeletons, but don’t worry- they don’t want human ones! The Department of Fisheries in Western Australia needs fishers from that region to send them their fish skeletons. This will help the department evaluate the local fish populations.

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Dragonfly Watch – Find Those Fast and Furious Insects!

By June 12th, 2015 at 12:12 am | Comment

A tandem pair of Common Green Darners (Anax junius) laying eggs. © Dennis Paulson.

A tandem pair of Common Green Darners (Anax junius) laying eggs. © Dennis Paulson.

“I’m an aquatic entomologist, and dragonflies and damselflies are the most colorful and noticeable insects in the habitats in which I work,” says Dr. Celeste A. Searles Mazzacano, a staff scientist and Aquatic Conservation Director at the Xerces Society. In her role as the project coordinator for the Migratory Dragonfly Partnership, she continues to add acclaim to these fast and furious little critters, “The nymphs are amazing predators with extremely cool adaptations for feeding—hinge-toothed lower lips that shoot out faster than the eye can see—and respiration rectal gills that double as a jet-propulsion chamber!”

The Migratory Dragonfly Partnership (MDP) is a collaborative partnership that was set up between experts, nongovernmental programs, academic institutions, and federal agencies from the United States, Mexico, and Canada, in which citizen scientists play an integral role. There are many questions currently surrounding dragonfly migration that MDP is trying to answer. For example, says Dr. Mazzacano, “What is the southern extent of migration, what is the relationship between resident and migratory members of the same species at the same site, and do all individuals that migrate south from a single place, go to the same destination in the south, or do individuals drop out and overwinter at different latitudes?” The primary goal of the project is to answer some of these questions and to provide information needed to create cross-border conservation programs to protect and sustain this amazing migratory phenomenon.

The Project has enjoyed an extremely positive response from the citizen science community. “Because the adults are so lovely, I consider dragonflies to be the poster children of aquatic invertebrates. They are much easier to see and care about than the equally important but less obvious mussels, stoneflies, and mayflies,” adds Mazzacano. Many people are fascinated by dragonflies but don’t really know anything about them, and consequently want to learn more, and find good places to observe them. “Interestingly, many birders are also getting into dragonflying.”

There are five dragonfly species that are the most regular annual migrants in North America. The Migratory Dragonfly Partnership collects data on them in two ways, via two different but connected citizen science projects. For the Migration Monitoring project, citizen scientists report dragonflies heading south in the late summer and fall (these may be in the tens of thousands, thousands, or a steady trickle of individuals—it varies); and the Pond Watch project, where the local life history and the relationship between resident and migrant dragonflies of the same species in the same habitat is investigated. Here citizen scientists are asked to report on the presence or absence, abundance, and behaviors of migratory species at their Pond Watch site on a regular basis throughout the year.

Green Darner on the finger of a course participant. Courtesy Xerces Society.

Green Darner on the finger of a course participant. Courtesy Xerces Society.

The project has only been running for three years, which means that MDP is just now beginning to accumulate enough data to publish findings. “One of the first products was a comprehensive review paper by steering committee member and [retired Rutgers University] odonate expert Dr. Mike May ,” says Mazzacano. “And we have a paper in the works about the results of the stable hydrogen isotope studies done on wings of migrating dragonflies to determine how far they traveled from the site where they developed and emerged as adults.” That paper should be out later this year.

With current emphasis on the unique ability of citizen science projects to meet Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) by providing opportunities for inquiry, MDP is now partnering with Dr. Karen Oberhauser at the University of Minnesota, who is working on dragonfly-based curriculum for school children. “And more immediately, we are beginning to work now with local organizations that focus on environmental opportunities for Hispanic youth in the Portland Oregon area to offer dragonfly-based environmental education in Spanish,” notes Mazzacano.

As with many hobbies, after all the inquiry has been satisfied, it comes down to enjoyment and recreation. The most exciting thing about the project for Mazzacano is that it gets more people outdoors interacting with insects in a positive way, and  connects those people to their local ponds and wetlands. “Freshwater is the most threatened resource we have, and when people learn about and start to love the creatures in local waters that they might not even have known existed prior to this, they will become more engaged in trying to protect those resources,” says Mazzacano with enthusiasm. And of course it has also been exciting for her, thanks to the data collected by citizen scientists, to be able to answer some of the many questions that exist about dragonfly migration. “I think this connection to freshwater is a benefit that will go on long after individual citizen scientists learn about, and help with MDP projects.”

Would you like to become a citizen scientist in this project? Connect to the Migratory Dragonfly Partnership here, register your local pond, pack a picnic hamper and head out to monitor the timing, duration, and direction of travel of migrating dragonflies. Note any additional behaviors, such as observed migratory flight, feeding or mating, and you are encouraged to take photos or record video coverage.

When gathered across a wide geographic range and throughout a span of years, these data will provide answers to questions about which species are regular migrants; the frequency and timing of migration in different species; sources, routes, and destinations of migrants; and the health of their environment.

Ian Vorster has a MS in Environmental Communications and most recently served as director of communications at the Woods Hole Research Center in Massachusetts. Prior to that he worked in the health communications field. Ian has served as a designer, writer, photographer, editor and project leader in the field of science, and now works freelance in a blend of these roles. You can see more of Ian’s work at


Like Bugs? Here Are Six Citizen Science Projects for You!

By May 7th, 2015 at 6:20 am | Comment 1

butterfly top

Photo: USFWS

Many of us are fascinated by insects. They creep, they crawl, they fly, and they’re everywhere!  Good thing, because we need them.

Here are six insect projects you can do in your backyard, your neighborhood, at school (or in Costa Rica!).

Check out the SciStarter blog for updates on your favorite projects and find new projects in our Project Finder!


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Citizen Science in the Rocky Mountains – Celebrate Halloween with the Colorado Spider Survey

By October 29th, 2014 at 12:25 pm | Comment

Love Creepy Crawlies? Check out our Halloween Picks!

What are you looking at? Family: Araneidae Genus: Neoscona - An orb weaving spider from Colorado

What are you looking at? Family: Araneidae Genus: Neoscona – An orb weaving spider from Colorado

Editors Note: This post was written by Aditi Joshi, a freelance science writer and a new contributor at SciStarter

As a kid, I avoided houses that had spider decorations during Halloween. Even today, I find spiders scary. Spiders add an extra ounce of spookiness to Halloween.  Spiders might be scary for some, but they’ve always fascinated Dr. Paula Cushing, an arachnologist (spider biologist) at the Denver Museum of Nature and Science in Colorado.

Cushing hoped to get a better sense of what kinds of spiders existed around her and what role they play in the ecosystems of the Rocky Mountains. To do that, she needed a map of where the spiders were and what kinds of spiders exist in the area. But an area spanning 104,000 square miles has a daunting array of spider species estimated to be over 650 in number. It wasn’t something that she or a small staff or professional scientists were going to be able to do on their own. They needed help.

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Citizen Science in The Classroom: Monarch Migration

By September 8th, 2014 at 10:19 pm | Comment

Editor’s Note: This post has been republished and shared in celebration of SciStarter’s Back To School campaign where you will find 10 citizen science projects aligned with Next Generation Science Standards.


Using Journey North’s Monarch Project to Meet Common Core and Next Generation Teaching Standards

Journey North 3

Journey North supports a variety of citizen science projects, including monarch migration. (Photo: Journey North)

Citizen Science and Monarch Migration as a Teaching Tool




Journey North (JN) is a citizen science project for the observation and tracking of seasonal weather changes and phenology or life cycle changes in animals and plants. This website is an amazing resource and interactive platform for teachers. There’s so much information that they provide that it’s almost jaw dropping. On their site you’ll find how your class can participate in tracking everything from seasonal changes in daylight to migrations of humming birds, whales, and even flower blooming. One of the most popular citizen science projects on their site is the monarch butterfly project. In this project students and teachers can learn about the life cycles of monarchs, their natural history, and migration. Students may look for monarchs in their local area and report observations of eggs, larvae, pupa, and adults. This project encompasses much more than just observations. The content provided on their site includes geography, historical and real-time data, ecological conservation, life cycles, reading comprehension and more.

Journey north 4

Journey North support real-time data and mapping of monarch sightings, which are useful geography tools for the classroom. (Photo: Journey North)

Materials You’ll Need:

  • A computer with internet access.
  • A printer that can print in color (preferably).
  • Optional: milkweed plants and flowers that may be conducive for monarch food, water, or shelter.

Why This Citizen Science Project is a Strong Candidate for the Classroom:

  • This project can be done either in or out of the classroom and in or out of urban areas.
  • It requires very little equipment or tools.
  • Usable data, graphs, maps, reading materials, and lesson plans, and identification tools are provided on the site.
  • You can meet almost every standard of Common Core and Next. Gen standards with this project and all the resources provided on the site.
  • Teachers can use the lessons provided even if they don’t participate in the project.
  • Students learn geography and science together.
  • Students obtain a “sense of place” by making local observations and contributing to a global observation effort that can be seen in “real-time” on the site’s maps.
  • Zero data can be useful, which teaches children about the importance of collecting all types of data.
  • Uploading data is safe and children remain anonymous, it’s put in as a class.
  • They have a free app that you can use in the field with a smart phone so you’re not tied to the classroom for uploading data. Students can put in their observations in real time.

Teaching Materials:

Supplied on Journey North’s Website you’ll find a while host of videos, reading materials, maps, slide shows, downloadable data, and more. There is also a teacher’s guide that can help you find introductory lessons and more information for your lessons. They also offer the ability to be monarch “ambassadors” and exchange cards with schools in South America through their “symbolic migration” butterfly card program.

Online Safety for Children

Teachers create one account for uploading data for their entire class so no specific student data is needed. They do ask that you put in your address and provide an e-mail. They also ask you what grade you teach and approximately how many students are in that grade.  After one initial registration you don’t need to do anything more except log in and begin recording observations. A log-in is not required to access all the free lesson support materials on the site.

mobile jn

Journey North has a free mobile app for uploading your observations. (Photo: Journey North)

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