Special 4-H Supplement

Raising Beneficial Parasitic Insects -- A Project for Young Naturalists

Children of all ages have a natural curiosity about the world around them, insects included. The project outlined in this special supplement to Vol. 3, No. 6 of Midwest Biological Control News, developed by Dr. Susan Mahr of the Department of Entomology at the University of Wisconsin, is designed to teach children about one of the natural interactions that occur among living organisms insect parasitism, a type of interaction that has tremendous benefit for people.

Of all the different types of insects in the world, very few are pests of humans, our crops, or our possessions. The majority of insects really have very little direct impact, either positive or negative, on people. But a substantial percentage are actually beneficial. Insects produce useful products such as honey, silk, dyes, and pharmaceuticals. Others provide important services, such as the various bees that pollinate our crops. And still others provide benefits that are less obvious, but still important, such as recycling nutrients and serving as food for fish, song birds, and other wildlife. But probably the single most important service provided by insects is that many feed on other insects and, in so doing, reduce the numbers of pests that attack our crops, forests and gardens. Indeed, the study of insects feeding on other insects is a wonderful example of the balances that occur in nature. Such study also provides insight into how important other organisms are for our own well-being. The science of biological control is the study of such beneficial insects and their use in controlling pests.

In nature, most types of animals can fall prey to other types of animals. A predator is an organism that obtains its food by killing two or more prey during its lifetime. Predators are often referred to as natural enemies of other types of animals they normally attack. Insects have natural enemies, too. One highly specialized form of insect predation is parasitism. This exercise focuses on insect parasitoids those that develop in or on another insect during their immature stages but are free living as adults.

The following general information on this page will be helpful with this project and other 4-H entomology (insect) projects. The material on the project itself provides the background information for the 4-H leader or others involved in youth education to implement the project. There is a worksheet that can be obtained and used as a handout for the members. Three levels of the project are included, to provide additional work for advanced members. In addition to this particular project, many of the other demonstration projects in this issue of MBCN can also be used as part of an entomology project.

A list of reference books that may be useful for background information for this project is provided. Many other books not mentioned are available at bookstores, nature stores, or libraries. Some may be more suitable for younger members. The University of Wisconsin-Extension Publication 4-H 338, Discovering the World of Insects, contains general background information on insects, as well as many other activities in entomology that can be completed in one or more meetings. Similar publications are available through Cooperative Extension in other states.

The staff of MBCN would appreciate your feedback on this project. We would enjoy hearing from you or your members on the outcome.

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