A chance to get `down and dirty' Manchester second-graders catch insects to scrutinize at Pine Valley pond

October 01, 2006|By Gina Davis | Gina Davis,SUN REPORTER

Clinging to the pond's squishy edge, the chatty group of second-graders from Manchester Elementary scooped fishnets under the water's surface. They were looking for insects, but anything in the Pine Valley pond was fair game.

"This is your chance to get down and dirty," said Sherry Fisher, a naturalist at the Charlotte's Quest Nature Center in Manchester. "But you're not here to invade and destroy. You're here to explore."

With that pronouncement, a flurry of cheers erupted from the crowd of nearly two dozen pupils from Shelley Ruhlman's' class.

The visit to the nature center was an inaugural activity in the pupils' study of insects, Ruhlman said. For the next month, the children will learn about the life stages of insects, the three body parts of an insect and the metamorphosis process.

"You're looking for aquatic insects, which means anything that lives in the water," Fisher told the children. "You'll also find other animals that like to eat insects. It's all part of that food chain.

"But don't worry, there's nothing in here that eats children," she said. "They've had their breakfast."

After a few practice swoops in the air with their fishnets, the children were off to the pond's edge. Following Fisher's instruction, they tapped the pond's grassy edge with the tips of their shoes to make sure they wouldn't slip in. The edges, Fisher said, tend to get soft and give way as more visitors traipse along the area.

Wearing nametags that declared each of them to be an entomologist, the children quickly mastered the scooping maneuver using poles that had nets at the end to gather insects, rocks and whatever else might have found its way into the pond.

"This is awesome," said Nigeria Silver, 8, who dropped a tiny crawfish she had found into one of several "life buckets" that sat nearby. The life buckets, filled with water, were used to keep the specimens alive. After examining their catches, they would release them back into the pond.

With her fingers caked in gooey mud, Daysha Smith, 8, sifted through the brown glob in search of her catch.

"I saw it moving," she said, certain that she had a living specimen of some sort in her grasp.

Indeed, she had caught a dragonfly nymph - a baby dragonfly that was just beginning to develop its wings.

"I like it here. My parents don't have a pond," Daysha said. "And my mother said I can't play in the mud at home."

Nearby, Issac Steakin, 7, spread out his net on a big rock by the pond's edge to see what he had caught. Among a slew of tiny rocks that he had dredged up from the pond's bottom, he, too, had caught a dragonfly nymph.

Cindy Beck and Josie Fouts, both 7, giggled as they watched a minnow dart around the life bucket they were filling with their catches.

After about half an hour, Fisher called the group back together in a circle around her.

"This is what we call assessing our data," she said as the children hovered over two buckets.

Minnows, snails, tadpoles, clamshells and dragonfly nymphs - as well as the occasional spider - filled the life buckets.

The children, who noted that snails outnumbered their other catches, marveled over all the life that existed in the pond.

With the hands-on activity of catching insects and then releasing them back into the pond, "it's not hard to motivate the children," Ruhlman said. "This gets them excited. It's a lot better than reading about it in a book."

gina.davis@baltsun.com

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