With a heavy focus now on biology in the National Curriculum (with a particular emphasis on animal adaptation, classification and habitats) the Education team welcomed a range of new inhabitants into the Learning Lab. This allowed the Paultons team to create a new workshop and offer a memorable experience for visitors.
Interesting new invertebrates arrived in the Learning Lab in February and have been used for workshops, animal experience days and Summer Clubs ever since. Children are surprised to see that the invertebrates are really living and love meeting them up close!
Below is a brief look at some of the invertebrates we have in the Lab and why we think they are great learning aid for children!
MacLeay’s Spectre Stick Insects
These insects tend to get a mixed reception from our school visitors. Some children marvel at how large they are and how much they look like brambles and leaves, whilst others are put off by the menacing looking thorns on their bodies and their curling tail which looks similar to a stinger of a scorpion.
Because of their ability to adapt so well to their surroundings mainly due to their excellent camouflage, these creatures are great to show to the school children. Once you explain to the children that they are very docile and can’t harm you, they soon warm to these invertebrates and find them intriguing and interesting.
Madagascan Hissing Cockroaches
When you think of cockroaches, you’ve got to admit you think filth and uncleanliness. But these traditional beliefs that cockroaches are dirty, disease-spreading bugs aren’t entirely accurate. There are nearly 4000 species of cockroaches in the world, but only 25 to 30% actually have a pest status. Most people don’t know this and consequently, when we get these out in front of the school children many back away with cries of ‘yuck’ and ‘eww’ spread across the room. It doesn’t help that the cockroaches also hiss when you pick them up! However, a lot of children find the hissing really intriguing and ask us why they do this.
These insects are great to use when explaining adaptation. Again, like the Maclaeys, they have excellent camouflage in their natural habitats and their hard exoskeleton shows how tough it is for prey to consume them. When picked up they soon become docile and are easy to handle as well.
You only have to look at these carnivorous insects to know that they aren’t particularly friendly. The two species we have at Paultons Park are Giant Spiky and White-Spotted assassin bugs and both have deadly way of catching their prey. The children on education visits love to hear about this and our Summer Club attendees even get to see the catch in action!
As the name suggests, the assassin bug waits for its prey in an ambush and pounces on it unaware. Once the prey is caught the chances of escape are minimal. The assassin bugs mouth pierces the body of its prey (we feed it crickets) and sucks the juices from the victim’s body. They have a beak composed of three segments and a single tube through which assassin bug transfers its poisonous saliva. They then perform external digestion. This means injecting digestive juices into the preys body and waiting for the internal organs to turn into liquid. Once the internal digestion is complete the assassin bug will eat the insides of its prey by sucking out them out through a tube. Children love the goriness of this story and it’s definitely something that they remember.
As the name suggests, these millipedes have striking red feet which move in a wave-like manner. Children are fascinated by their many legs and even sometimes find them cute!
During a classification based workshop at Paultons Park we like to use the millipedes to explain that not all invertebrates have six legs. The children enjoy trying to count how many legs the millipedes have although this is impossible as they are constantly moving!
Just like the other invertebrates we have in the Lab, these creatures are also great for explaining adaptation. They live among decaying logs and wood on the forest floor and have excellent camouflage to do so. When threatened they curl up in a tight ball using their exoskeleton to protect them. We compare their defence mechanisms compared to those of the stick insects and cockroaches we have in the Lab.
So there’s a brief look into some of the invertebrates we use in the Learning Lab during our animal-based workshops. For more details on Paultons Education, please visit our website www.paultonspark.co.uk/education