Introduction: (Initial Observation)
Insects are the dominant life-form on earth. About one million species have been described, and there may be as many as ten times that many yet to be identified.
Insects come in many variations of shapes and colors. This makes the study of insects an educational hobby and an interesting activity for both adults and children.
While studying insects you may try to learn about their life cycle, their anatomy (body structure), their foods, their reproduction rate and their favorite light or temperature conditions. In this project however, you will study the benefits or hazards of one specific insect. Select an insect that you can find in your environment. Study to determine the benefits or hazards of your insect and report the results.
For the purpose of this project guide I am using a leaf beetle as the insect of my study. You must do the same study for the insect that you choose.
Adult supervision and support is required for this project.
Find out about the insect of your study. Read books, magazines or ask professionals who might know in order to learn about the benefits or hazards of your insect. Keep track of where you got your information from.
Very few insects can byte or sting; however, it is best to be careful in making observation, collecting and handling all insects.
Visit the Insect Biology and ecology information page for some general but detailed information about insects.
Also see the list of farm insects to see if the insect of your choice is listed there. If it is, click on the link for additional information.
A spider, for example, is easily found either in a dark corner of your house, basement, or an outside shed. Think about some positive function that a spider does. You can start by gathering information and observing what a spider does. We all know that a spider makes spider webs. Although these webs may be very unpleasant to walk through, they do have a real purpose in a spider’s life. The spiders’ web is its source of food. Finding a spider web, you are likely to see several flies entangled in this web. You can sit and observe and after a while, the spider will come out and eat the fly. After observing the insect, a spider in this case, think about what good it does. A spider gets rid of those annoying and pesky flies that fly around and bother us.
Try to pick an insect that you are interested in and gather information about its functions through research and your observations. Keep notes in a notebook that will help you support or refute your hypothesis.
For leaf beetles I searched the Internet and found the following:
A large group of beetles known as leaf beetles feed on leaves both as adults and as larvae. This is damage of the elm leaf beetle. During severe outbreaks, entire trees may be covered with brown, skeletonized leaves.
Some leaf beetles are known to some people as household pests because hordes of them sometimes enter houses in search of winter shelter.
In order to find documents on possible damages caused by Leaf Beetles, I searched the Internet with keywords Leaf beetle, damage.
I found multiple documents about the damages caused by different leaf beetles.
Bean leaf beetles will feed on soybean leaves throughout the season, but leaf feeding seldom causes yield loss. Most damage (economic yield loss) occurs when beetles feed on the developing pods. This yield loss can occur in several ways.
The elm leaf beetle is a serious pest of elm trees in Colorado and also a nuisance in houses. They feed on elm tree leaves, causing them to dry up and die and giving the affected trees a general brown color. Trees weakened by repeated damage may be prone to limb dieback and wind injury.
In order to find documents on possible benefits of Leaf Beetles, I searched the Internet with keywords Leaf beetle, benefits; however, I did not find any documents claiming any benefits for leaf beetles.
In order to find documents about the life cycle of Leaf Beetles, I searched the Internet with keywords Leaf beetle, life cycle. This is what I found:
What do you want to find out? Write a statement that describes what you want to do. Use your observations and questions to write the statement.
The purpose of this project is to study Leaf Beetles and find out if they are good insects or bad insects. For the purpose of this project we define an insect as a good insect if it is beneficial to humans; a bad insect is an insect that harms humans or causes destruction.
Substitute Leaf beetles with the insect that you choose to study.
When you think you know what variables may be involved, think about ways to change one at a time. If you change more than one at a time, you will not know what variable is causing your observation. Sometimes variables are linked and work together to cause something. At first, try to choose variables that you think act independently of each other.
For this project you don’t have to define variables. Identifying variables is required for more specific studies like when you study the effect of temperature on growth or reproduction of a certain insect species.
Do you need measurable results, a data table, and a graph?
Click here to see an alternative project guide for the population of insects.
Based on your gathered information, make an educated guess about what types of things affect the system you are working with. Identifying variables is necessary before you can make a hypothesis. This is a sample hypothesis:
My hypothesis is that Leaf beetles are bad insects. My hypothesis is based on my initial gathered information indicating that leaf beetles feed on leaves.
Design an experiment to test each hypothesis. Make a step-by-step list of what you will do to answer each question. This list is called an experimental procedure. For an experiment to give answers you can trust, it must have a “control.” A control is an additional experimental trial or run. It is a separate experiment, done exactly like the others. The only difference is that no experimental variables are changed. A control is a neutral “reference point” for comparison that allows you to see what changing a variable does by comparing it to not changing anything. Dependable controls are sometimes very hard to develop. They can be the hardest part of a project. Without a control you cannot be sure that changing the variable causes your observations. A series of experiments that includes a control is called a “controlled experiment.”
Locate the insect of your study and make daily observations. You may need to catch and hold the insect in a glass jar or an empty glass aquarium. Prepare an environment similar to the real life environment of your insect. During your observation find out and record:
What does the insect feed on? Is the insect’s choice of food harmful or beneficial to human? (For example an insect that feeds on cotton fabric is harmful because such insect can eat off our shirts)
How does the insect make a nest? Does the insect’s method of nest making result any harm or benefit to human? (an insect that eats wood is destructive to the wooden structure of houses and to wooden furniture)
Does the insect carry and distribute harmful bacteria? (Flies sit on animal feces and then sit on foods and fruits. In this way they transfer harmful bacteria to human food)
Does the insect bite or sting?
Does the insect seriously disturb human life and comfort?
Materials and Equipment:
Following is a sample list of materials:
- Glass jar
- A butterfly net
Results of Experiment (Observation):
Experiments are often done in series. A series of experiments can be done by changing one variable a different amount each time. A series of experiments is made up of separate experimental “runs.” During each run you make a measurement of how much the variable affected the system under study. For each run, a different amount of change in the variable is used. This produces a different amount of response in the system. You measure this response, or record data, in a table for this purpose. This is considered “raw data” since it has not been processed or interpreted yet. When raw data gets processed mathematically, for example, it becomes results.
Once you are done with your observations, you can write the results and a conclusion that you came up with. Is the hypothesis you came up with at the beginning correct? Incorrect?
Make a display board for the insects that you chose. Include a large drawing of the insect of your choice with it’s specific features. In your display write the reasons why your insect is helpful or harmful.
No calculation is required for this project.
Summary of Results:
Summarize what happened. This can be in the form of a table of processed numerical data, or graphs. It could also be a written statement of what occurred during experiments.
It is from calculations using recorded data that tables and graphs are made. Studying tables and graphs, we can see trends that tell us how different variables cause our observations. Based on these trends, we can draw conclusions about the system under study. These conclusions help us confirm or deny our original hypothesis. Often, mathematical equations can be made from graphs. These equations allow us to predict how a change will affect the system without the need to do additional experiments. Advanced levels of experimental science rely heavily on graphical and mathematical analysis of data. At this level, science becomes even more interesting and powerful.
Using the trends in your experimental data and your experimental observations, try to answer your original questions. Is your hypothesis correct? Now is the time to pull together what happened, and assess the experiments you did.
This is my sample conclusion for leaf beetles:
Leaf beetles are “Bad guys” or harmful insects. Leaf beetles feed on both leaves and fruits. The damages caused by leaf beetles are so serious that they can’t be ignored. Farmers and gardeners spend lots of money on pesticides that can kill leaf beetles.
Related Questions & Answers:
What you have learned may allow you to answer other questions. Many questions are related. Several new questions may have occurred to you while doing experiments. You may now be able to understand or verify things that you discovered when gathering information for the project. Questions lead to more questions, which lead to additional hypothesis that need to be tested.
If you did not observe anything different than what happened with your control, the variable you changed may not affect the system you are investigating. If you did not observe a consistent, reproducible trend in your series of experimental runs there may be experimental errors affecting your results. The first thing to check is how you are making your measurements. Is the measurement method questionable or unreliable? Maybe you are reading a scale incorrectly, or maybe the measuring instrument is working erratically.
If you determine that experimental errors are influencing your results, carefully rethink the design of your experiments. Review each step of the procedure to find sources of potential errors. If possible, have a scientist review the procedure with you. Sometimes the designer of an experiment can miss the obvious.
Beneficial insects are the tireless workers in the garden, while insect pests eat the plants before you can. Here are books about encouraging the beneficial insects while managing the destructive ones.
American Horticultural Society Pests and Diseases: The Complete Guide to Preventing, Identifying and Treating Plant Problems
Pippa Greenwood,Andrew Halstead,Chase A. R.,Daniel Gilrein,A. R. Chase The unrivaled practical handbook for the identification, treatment and prevention of plant problems. Guidance from the experts in the Identification, treatment, and…
Attracting Butterflies & Hummingbirds to Your Backyard : Watch Your Garden Come Alive With Beauty on the Wing
Sally Roth Roll out the welcome mat for butterfles and hummingbirds. Attracting Butterfles and Hummingbirds to Your Backyard reveals the secrets for creating irresistible…
Audubon Backyard Birdwatcher, The: Birdfeeders and Bird Gardens
Robert Burton,Stephen W. Kress,National Audubon Society,Roger Tory Peterson Illustrated with plentiful, detailed color photographs, this handbook provides guidance on attracting birds to birdfeeders, including species profiles, a behavior guide, and…
Birds in Your Backyard: A Bird Lover’s Guide to Creating a Garden Sanctuary
Robert J. Dolezal,Robert Dolezal
Insects on the web: http://www.insects.org
Entomology for beginners: http://www.bijlmakers.com/entomology/begin.htm
Other Suggested References:
1001 Questions Answered About Insects. Alexander and Elie Klots. Dover Publications. New York. 1961.
Adventures with Insects. Richard Headstrom. Dover Publ. New York. 1982.
Creepy Crawlies and the Scientific Method. Sally Stenhouse Kneidel. Fulcrum Publishing. Golden, CO. 1993