Special 4-H Supplement

Background Information

Children of all ages have a natural curiosity about the world around them, insects included. The project outlined in this special supplement to Vol. 2, No. 6 of Midwest Biological Control News, developed by Dr. Susan Mahr of the University of Wisconsin, is designed to teach children about the natural interactions that occur among living organisms, especially those interactions that have some benefit to 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 potential pests. 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.

Although there are many types of beneficial insects, this exercise focuses on those important in crop protection through natural and biological control. We want to emphasize that this project can be done equally well in either rural or urban settings. In the latter, beneficial insects can be observed and collected in home or community gardens, playgrounds, parks, and even vacant lots. The following general information will be helpful with this project and other 4-H entomology (insect) projects. The material in the project section provides the background information for the 4-H leader or others involved in youth education to implement the project. There is also a worksheet available that can be ordered 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.

Some equipment is necessary for this project. These items can be purchased or made by the members as an additional part of the project. Detailed plans for making an insect collecting net, killing jar, pinning boards, and display cases are provided in the University of Wisconsin-Extension Publication 4-H 338, Discovering the World of Insects. This publication also contains general background information on insects, as well as many other activites in entomology that can be completed in one or more meetings. Similar publications may be available through Cooperative Extension in other states.

A list of reference books that will be useful for identification of the insects collected during this project is provided. Many other books not mentioned are available at many bookstores, nature stores, or libraries. Some may be more suitable for younger members. Of particular use for identification are the various inexpensive field guides that are available.

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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