Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Where There are Flowers There are Insects

Where There are Flowers There are Insects

     There is a lack of insects in our Nature Notebooks. Yet, here is a bee on Sophia’s page.

     It is the flowers that get the most attention. But where there are flowers there are insects.

     Weeding the winter cress out of the front garden I saw that our crocuses were populated with bees when their petals were open to the afternoon sun. I decided it would be wise to weed when the garden was shaded and the petals less populated. 

     Entomology is a subject in which I have a bias - a bias born of cowardice. I prefer the “nice” insects. It is the nice ones that appear in our Nature Notebooks: the bumblebees, honeybees, ants, butterflies and ladybugs. Perhaps we can call them the storybook insects, along with crickets and fireflies. Of these, as well as the less tolerable bugs, my children became familiar. I managed somehow to keep my bias to myself.

     While inspecting our newly blossoming daffodils, the tree stump brought back a memory. In my girlhood I remember sitting on the edge of a rotting tree stump in my neighbor’s front yard waiting for her to come out to play. As I waited I gazed into the rotted hole in the middle of the tree stump. It was filled with rainwater. I had excellent eyesight as a child and was startled to see what was taking place in the hole. Little hairy, wiggly worm-like creatures jerked and flitted about in the water. “These must be wigglers,” I thought. In grammar school we drew the life cycle of the mosquito in class. I had never seen a “wiggler” - larva stage - before, but I did now. Bitten enough times by the adult fly I was curious. But I was also creeped-out. I never sat upon that tree stump again.

     My children and I began our study of insects, along with a selection of other living creatures, with Christian Liberty Nature Reader Book 3 and Book 4 (3rd and 4th grade). These reprinted Readers were originally meant for children to read themselves, but I recognized the writing style to be the kind that lends itself to enjoyable, attentive listening and thus a narration, too. Therefore I read them aloud. The science facts are presented in a “child-friendly” way. It takes some talent to do this. Not every writer has this natural ability that seems to come to those who have a sensitive regard for children.


     The pen drawings in these age-old Readers are accurate but inadequate at standing on their own. Photographs and modern books can stand in.

     The title 1001Bugs to Spot, sounds ambitious but its colorful array of creepy crawlies are divided into an array of habitats, including that of the garden shed. (Do you know what’s in there?) Children will enjoy searching for, and pointing out, the living things on the pages – one day – one habitat - at a time.

     You might like the gentle introduction to insects in the wispy watercolor drawings of Charlotte Voake in, Insect Detective by Steve Voake. Reading this book aloud would help a home teacher like me keep her bias under cover.  

     And yet book-knowledge has only one part to play. The living things on the pages of the Nature Readers, for instance, are what an American child would be likely to bump into; some only in a rural environment, but many could be found in the back yard. Therefore, observing them “in person” (like my mosquito larva) is the ideal.

     When our family lived in town, surrounded by a little grass with only a few bushes up against the house, I snipped a twig from one of these bushes, placed it in a screened jar, and kept it on the kitchen windowsill. On the twig was a toasted marshmallow-looking ball. I knew it to be a praying mantis egg case.

     It was the middle of May and wonderfully warm. We went out. When we returned the jar was filled with tiny praying mantises – what looked to be – from a child’s figuring – a
hundred babies. (My entomologist-minded son reminds me that they are nymphs.) We examined the hatchlings . . . I mean nymphs, closely. 

     Then I took the jar outside to set them free in the shrubbery. One remained conveniently on the bush at the front door all summer. It is the way of these creatures to adopt a territory. 

     Over the course of a year, here in the farmland of Pennsylvania, we photographed our praying mantises. Our first photographs are of the tiny hatchlings in our boxwood. 

     They grew larger and larger, lived among the flowers, and became easier and easier to spot whenever we had the opportunity for a little leisure on the patio. 

     We watched them eat. The photographer had to steady himself on his elbows to take this shot of an evening meal of woolly bear.


   The instant I was told by a bird enthusiast that a large praying mantis could capture a hummingbird I drew in my breath. I’ve spotted these beautiful birds hovering in our zinnia garden where the mantises lie in wait.  

“I hope I never see the day when our praying mantises are fed and fattened on hummingbirds,” I told the enthusiast. “No wonder these birds are so skittish.”

Together we shuddered at the thought.

     Several toasted marshmallow-looking egg cases have been attached to the branches at the edge of the woods all winter. Mid-May will be another birthday. 


a yellow doily from a blog friend,     Sophia's crocus

Happy Nature Study,
Karen Andreola

Thank you Dean and Nigel, for your photography. 


  1. My bias is against turtles. For some unknown reason they creep me out! It required great determination to not pass this on to my children. Turtles make me shudder, and I had to be careful to not hold my children's hands when we were around them. Happily, they are not afraid of turtles. They are now aware of how much I dislike them... they think it's funny, the rats! They are also amused when they think about all the times we would run across a turtle and I would mysteriously fade into the background.

    I'm wondering if my great-nieces would enjoy perusing the insect books you mentioned.

    I never knew that a praying mantis can catch a hummingbird! We had a double birdicide on our front porch yesterday. A hawk chased two doves into our front window. An opportunistic crow made a meal of one of them. The hawk managed to keep half of his prey. Today, I will be cleaning the window...


  2. Another wonderful post.... blessings

  3. I love your own taxonomy..."storybook insects"! (And I must say that they are my favorites too.)

    I am noting the titles of insect books that are new to me. I need all the help I can get!

    Your praying mantis tales remind me of a few of my own. Years ago, our family was purchasing a Christmas tree at a tree farm near us. The owner removed an egg sac from our tree before he bagged it. My husband, knowing what the sac contained, asked for it. The owner seemed surprised and said that most people don't want them on their Christmas trees! But my husband had plans to place it somewhere in our yard and hoped for a "crop" of babies in the spring. :)

    And then there was the Christmas tree my daughter's family set up in their house, egg sac hidden in the branches. Their "crop" of babies did not wait for spring...

  4. Lovely flowers already in bloom! Always love to see samples of your home education years. Clearly, Sophia is an artist! I too, prefer storybook insects! My boys prefer any! :)

  5. My sweet husband put up an inexpensive hummingbird feeder on our balcony yesterday. I am very much looking forward to watching the birds come visit this summer. He promises to purchase and put up a regular bird feeder as well. As walking is difficult, these feeders & Sibley's Bird Guide are what I plan on using this summer for a nature study with my teens.

  6. I have a bias toward the Storybook insects too!

    Stink bugs are not in that category!

    We enjoy Nature Study - I'll have to get the kids back to journaling this next year!


  7. Love that you said you were "creeped out." :) Oh, how that put a smile on my face! I remember allowing daddy long leggers to crawl on my hands and arms until I was about 12ish -- then, suddenly, I was creeped out, too. :) Karen, thank you for all the nature study inspiration! We, too, enjoyed the Christian Liberty Nature Readers, my youngest daughter in particular liked it when I read them aloud.

    Hope all is well with your family, ~Lisa

  8. What a lovely post (AGAIN!)! You've really inspired me to get out our notebooks more...I find it much harder in the winter months in WI!!! To be honest, I get a bit lax with it in the winter...I shouldn't!! We recently found coyote and deer tracks crisscrossing across our driveway in snow/mud! :)

    Thanks for your encouragement to keep on, keeping on...:)

    You seriously are a blessing to me!

  9. Karen, I agree that I like the more "gentle" insects. Unfortunately since we live in the desert we encounter icky insects. In fact this morning I had to be big and brave and kill a scorpion in my daughter's room. Shudder! I am afraid we did not take the time to study it.; 0) We love the CLP Nature Readers too. We witnessed a leaf cutter bee on our rose bush not too long after reading about it in the first reader. I am going to go read your article over at Rainbow Resource.
    Love, Heather