2013 Entomology Field Camp introduces youth to “The Big Bug Theory”
They came to the UF Entomology Field Camp for different reasons, these 21 campers.
Brian hoped to catch the odd-looking Florida grizzled mantis. (He did.)
Emilie has been fascinated by insects since age 3, and plans to be an entomologist.
Tessa has attended the camp every year, and enjoys the camaraderie.
Evan likes to learn about insects and ecosystems.
All of these young men and women, fifth- through ninth-graders, converged on the UF entomology department June 24-28 to learn about entomology basics, insect collecting, insect behavior, ecology and much more. It was the fourth year for the field camp, which is sponsored by the UF Department of Entomology and Nematology.
This year’s theme, The Big Bug Theory, introduced campers to the process of science — forming a hypothesis, testing it, observing and recording the results, then drawing conclusions.
To bring those ideas to life, director Rebecca Baldwin and her staff designed simple experiments for the campers to conduct during the five-day camp.
The field work — catching insects with nets, baits and traps — was conducted partly in the Natural Area Teaching Laboratory, a 60-acre tract of wildland adjacent to the entomology department home base, Steinmetz Hall. The NATL, as it’s commonly known, comprises much of the southwest corner of the UF main campus in Gainesville.
On the morning that BugWeek@UF came to visit, campers had fanned out across a pine forest in NATL. Divided into several teams, they were supervised by undergraduate and graduate entomology students, who gain experience in nature interpretation and communication by volunteering at the camp.
As the sun blazed down, the youngsters checked insect traps they’d set previously, placed some new traps, and caught various insect species with butterfly nets or bare hands.
Butterflies such as the coppery-colored Gulf fritillary and the chocolate-and-yellow zebra longwing fluttered about in the shadows of tall pines. But they wouldn’t be easy catches — in this part of NATL the ground was thick with thorny blackberry plants that had grown fat and green from all the recent rain. The butterflies flitted above them, unconcerned, but campers had to use a good deal of caution when they approached.
Fortunately, it appeared that butterfly nets were the primary victims of the thorns, not campers’ legs.
During the trek back out of NATL, one camper pulled a piece of bark from a pine tree trunk and discovered a pale, segmented item about an inch long.
On closer inspection, the mystery item was found to have claws.
Was it a scorpion?
Almost — the shed skin of a scorpion.
It was something that no one in the group had seen before, even Baldwin, who’s been leading outreach activities for the department for years.
She explained the significance of the shed skin — it’s an exoskeleton, left behind when the scorpion molted.
After a few photos were taken of the shed skin, the group continued its trek back to Steinmetz Hall.
“We try to strike a balance between having fun and learning good science,” Baldwin said. “It’s great when the fun things give you unexpected learning opportunities.”
Plans haven’t been solidified for the 2014 Entomology Field Camp, but it will take place the week of June 22 to 26, Baldwin says.
For more information about UF Entomology Field Camp, visit this website.
Photo Caption – Gainesville resident Max Asseng, right, and volunteer April Geiger, a University of Florida student, carefully handle a captured wasp during an insect-collecting session at the UF Entomology Field Camp on June 27. The week-long camp, held in June each summer, gives science-minded youth a chance to learn about entomology in a fun environment with plenty of hands-on activities. UF/IFAS photo by Tyler L. Jones