Kansas Eco-Meet 2008

This past school year, I became aware of a competition that fosters student appreciation and knowledge of Kansas wildlife (not entirely statewide but growing).  Now, I will be trying to organize a group of my environmental club students to participate. 

Kansas Eco-Meet

For those, like me, that have been clueless or busy over the past decade or more that this competition has been growing, the Kansas Eco-Meet is a competition for Kansas students that tests knowledge of our local flora and fauna.  The competition offers a means to demonstrate what students know and they can potentially win scholarships.  Participants are tested in four areas:

  1. Habitat Test – this test assesses one’s knowledge of specific Kansas habitats.  The topic for 2008 and 2009 is Tallgrass Prairie.
  2. Focus Test – this test assesses one’s knowledge of a particular group of animals.  The topic for 2008 is Kansas Invertebrates.
  3. Scavenger Hunt – in this activity, participants demonstrate their ability to locate and identify natural objects in the outdoors.  This activity focuses heavily on the identification of native plants.
  4. Interpretation Presentation – in this activity, teams demonstrate their ability to communicate ideas to an audience through creative means.

The website is well organized with numerous links to essential pdf files.  So, start rallying the troops, get to learning about your native plants and invertebrates, attend your regional competition (running from Sept 30- October 30), and if we’re lucky maybe we’ll see each other in at Quivira National Wildlife Refuge for the State Competition.

Lost Ladybugs Project – Cornell Entomology

While surfing around for ways to modify and expand my freshman classification project (i.e. insect collection), I happened upon the Lost Ladybug Project.  The introductory paragraph at the site sums up their inspiration for the project:

Over the past twenty years several native ladybug species that were once very common have become extremely rare (see details on the nine spotted ladybug pictured left and the two spotted too). During this same time several species of ladybugs from other places have greatly increased both their numbers and range. Besides being incredibly cool and charismatic ladybugs are also essential predators in both farms and forests that keep us from being overrun with pests (like aphids and mealybugs). In many areas the native ladybugs are being replaced by exotic ones. This has happened very quickly and we don’t know how this shift happened, what impact it will have (e.g. will the exotic species be able to control pests as well as our familiar native ones always have) and how we can prevent more native species from becoming so rare.

Continue reading

Leaf Color Inquiry Reminder

Last year I posted a number of resources that could help you and your students explore that age-old question–“Why do leaves turn color?”  While on a “nature walk” with my 6 month old granddaughter, last week I was reminded again as we observed a number of early turning leaves.



Almost all of the bright red leaves we observed on this walk were associated with some form of tissue damage.  Note the leaf tissue damage in image above.  When hole leafs were affected there generally was some evidence of stem or pedicel damage.

Sumac Gall

Sumac Gall

Notice on the image above a large sumac gall may be impinging on the vascular connections to the leaf.  I have a hypothesis that I think you and your students can investigate.  It may be too late this year–don’t know.   Could it be that partial stem damage to phloem tissues accelerates leaf color change?  It would seem to be a very easy question to begin investigating.  Take a plant like smooth sumac that generally have leaves that turn bright red.  Systematically try out various degrees of stem, phloem damage and record the results…

Let me know if you give this a try.

p.s.  Sumac galls themselves are interesting and a potential question for investigation.  They are caused by aphids cut one open and take a look.


Kansas Wildflowers and Grasses

Kansas Wildflowers and Grasses Web Page

Kansas Wildflowers and Grasses Web Page

As a Kansas biology teacher, I’m sure you are asked all the time:  “What flower is this?”  “What’s the name of that grass?”  Over the years I’ve watched Mike Haddock’s web site grow into a fine resource.  You can find flowers listed by color by season or by both as well as by more traditional listing.  He has accumulated a fine collection of images.  Especially when I’m not at home and even when I am, this web site is often the first place I go to when trying to do a quick i.d. on a flowering plant in KS.  I think you’ll find it useful as well.  You may have purchased his book Kansas Wildflowers and Grasses that grew from his web-site.  Here’s an interview about Mike:  link.

Try out the resource I think you’ll find it very helpful in class, this fall


Here’s something that folks that teach Natural History classes may be interested in:  iNaturalist This is an intriguing application that merges Flickr,  Google Maps and a database to record observations of organisms from around the world.  Bora at A Blog Around the Clock has a good description of the project.  The project is just starting with only 1000 observations.  It would seem to me that students in DeSoto (and other schools) or students in virtual schools could be putting a ton of Kansas data in a hurry with the right kind of incentive.


Extra Floral Nectaries

Several years ago Chip Taylor asked me to go along with him as he was exploring Baker Wetlands brainstorming potential ideas/questions that his introduction to research class could investigate. It was there that I first became aware that many of our local plants had extrafloral nectaries. Before, I thought EFN’s were primarily a tropical phenomenon. EFN’s are a great starting point for original student research. There’s a cost to the plant to produce nectar so what is the benefit? It’s probably not to attract pollinators since the nectar is not produced in the flower. Of course this is where evolutionary theory helps to structure your questions. Chip considered developing a fall research project focused on the partridge pea’s extrafloral nectaries and the ants they attract. However, he decided to pursue other questions but I’ve never been able to drop the idea that partridge pea could be a great plant to generate student research questions that can be answered by motivated high school students.

Now, this is not a project to be taken lightly, but it is one that could be pursued over a couple of years or one that you, as a biology teacher could set up on campus in a garden. Here’s the link to a recent paper on the plant/ant mutualism relationship that may give you some ideas of methods you could use if you too find this plant fascinating: Rutter and Rausher (2004) So take a new biology challenge and see if you can’t find some way to incorporate the findings and methods described in this paper into your class.


You’ve got to see this

From Science Daily–a new wiki–3-D encyclopedia of molecular structures based on J-Mol:  http://www.proteopedia.org/ You’ll find a very rich resource, here.  Consider contributing yourself–that’s what wiki’s are all about.  The wiki features educational applications from teaching resources to student projects.  David Goodsel is now using the site to complement and extend his “Molecule of the Month” series–that’s a good enough reference for me….

This month’s molecule:

Screen shot of this month's molecule

Screen shot of this month

Let me know what you think