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                What’s to do when school is out?

On the first day that my two grandchildren (5 and 10 yrs old) arrived, we went for a nature walk. Equipped with a capture jar, we found a caterpillar egg case (forest tent caterpillars), many Woolly Bear caterpillars and several cocoons from unknown insect species. These were initially placed in the capture jar and back home they were put in individual jars that would act as terrariums. We also cut willow branches and these were placed in jars of water. They quickly root and sprout leaves within 5 days. Be sure to take many photos!

Within a few days, the caterpillars hatched. They are seen here on a wild cherry tree limb.
The willow leaves provided a ready source of food for these new born caterpillars.
In another jar, the Woolly Bear caterpillars climbed the available limbs and soon attached and hung as it prepared to pupate. (Cocoon)
We also had found some pupae from an unknown insect. These can be seen behind the Woolly Bear caterpillar.
Unintentionally we had collected insects that exhibited 3 over-wintering strategies.
One spent the winter in an egg state, one as a caterpillar, and one was in a pupal state.
My 5 yr old grandchild drew this picture showing the Woolly Bear caterpillar at the top of the stick, the pupae (she coloured it yellow), and the moth (coloured purple in her diagram). That shows an understanding of the life cycle of a moth.

Maybe our next project will see us starting an Earth Day Cleanup of the ditch that leads to the creek behind my house.

Dave Gervais

STAO Safety Chair

Fun, Low Organization Educational Activities that can be done at home.

As parents comply with the restrictions placed on families, how can they keep their young children occupied? This article describes two fun activities that require very little planning. They involve physical activity, practice with observational skills, and an awareness of nature. This is intended as an in-family activity, as the government has required that we stay isolated within our own family unit.

Treasure Hunt:   Physical Activity, Map Reading, Observation skills:

Setting up a treasure hunt requires a little pre-planning. This treasure hunt required setting out quarters along a 1.5 km pathway that we had walked the previous day. The maps were placed in our mailbox, and the clues identified places with exotic names such as “Sitting Rock”.

At Sitting Rock, a quarter was hidden along its bench top. The treasure hunt ended at the opening of a pasture. There, a two hour walk began.

Nature Walk:

Physical activity, Observational skills, Events in nature, health and safety

Bear Scat was found on the trail, filled with undigested seeds likely stolen from a bird feeder.
Coyote scat was also found, with small bits of its latest meal. This is cottontail fur.
We kept a close eye on the ticks that invariably migrate onto our clothes. Wearing socks, light coloured long pants helps. My granddaughter held still for the photo opp. Many questions were asked, including are they a spider? No, they are sufficiently different that they are in a separate order altogether. Are they dangerous? Often their bite doesn’t even trigger an allergic reaction. They can pass on diseases, and so precautions are required. About 30 % of the ticks in this area carry the bacteria that causes Lyme Disease. Ticks on clothing can be removed using masking tape. Ticks that have started to feed can be removed with a tick puller. Health authorities suggest that ticks need to be removed within the first 24 hours, to prevent Lyme Disease. Always consult a doctor if there is any concern of infection.
On nature walks, my grandkids began to notice the small often ignored beauty of the forest. This beautiful moss shows the spore stalks rising above the green, leafy parent. The stalk will release spores that will allow the moss to colonize new areas of the forest. They will later learn, in high school biology, that the roots are not true roots, and moss lack a vascular system. With no roots or vascular system, how do they get the nutrients from the ground to the top of the plant?
While a bit hard to see, this swan provided a rare find for my two grandchildren. What was most important, is that they had some time on their own, exploring without having an adult directly hovering over their shoulder. Here they found a place without boundaries, where they were free to discover. They could get wet, muddy, trip and fall and not be in trouble

While remaining isolated, the time can still be productive. Our children can continue to learn using nature as a classroom. Keep in mind that restricted travel and isolation are our two strategies to prevent spreading infection. Stay safe.

Dave Gervais

STAO Safety Committee Chair

By: Dave Gervais - 01-2-2020

Curriculum Connection:

Grade 10 Tissues, Organs and Systems of Living Things

Gr 11 Biology: Genetics (oogenesis, meiosis)

Getting the sample: Chicken farmers generally slaughter their animals in the fall. A list of provincially licensed meat plants can be found on the Ministry of Ontario Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs website. Most will provide teachers with sample organs from a wide variety of organ systems. STAO’s resource Safe ON Science states that as fresh animals are raised for human consumption, it is safe to study their organs. Precautions include using the organs as soon as possible, using gloves and wiping all surfaces that the organs came in contact with, with a disinfectant. Our safety resource Safe ON Science is available from the STAO store.

 Preparing the sample: In chickens, the ovaries are attached along the backbone, and located about 6cm from the anus. They appear as a mass of developing eggs ranging in size from microscopic to eggs that are several millimeters in diameter. A small sample of the tissue can easily be removed with sharp scissors, and then a temporary slide can be made by applying pressure to a plastic coverslip. The tissue can be smeared across with the coverslip, making parts of the tissue translucent.

Recording the observation: A cell phone camera was used, by simply holding the cell phone to the eye piece. With practice, several pictures were taken. These were reviewed and the best images were kept.


This was taken using the low power objective. The pointer shows a large ovum. 

Please note that due to the corona virus outbreak the 2020 STAO conference has been CANCELLED

Dave Gervais

Chair STAO Safety Committee

By: Dave Gervais - 30-12-2019

SBI 3U/3C Grade 10: Tissues, Organs and Living Systems
SBI 3U Grade 11: Animals: Structure and Function
SVN 3M Grade 12: Forestry and Agriculture

Choosing an insect: While insect tracheal ducts are generally very small, those located where the muscle activity is intense are considerably larger. Choose an appropriate flying insect, one that is easy to obtain and is abundant. Choose an insect that has important environmental issues connected to it, and it will make for a deeper experience.

Bees: It is very easy to obtain bees that have recently died, from a local bee keeper. (Thanks Mark). A friend of mine (thanks Geoff) collected 50 specimens in 2 minutes, from the snow banks around the hive. Bees have an interesting life style, are important pollinators, and have had many negative environmental factors affecting their populations. These include tracheal mites (biotic factor) and neonicotinoid use (abiotic factor).

Preparation: The thorax is the site of attachment for the wings and legs. As the cells in the tissues in the thorax will have the greatest requirement for oxygen, the trachea in this region will be the largest. Remove the head, abdomen, legs and wings from 10 bees, leaving only the 10 thoraxes. Place these in 5 ml of 1 molar potassium hydroxide over night. This will dissolve the tissues that surround the trachea.

Using two exacto knives, pull one bee thorax apart. Prepare a wet mount slide and really squish the been thorax onto the slide. Examine under low power initially to find a potential site and then move to medium power to look for the tell-tale rings on the trachea.

Record: As a record of the successful finding of a tracheal duct, use a standard cell phone camera and snap a few pictures. Download these. Crop the pictures, and try a variety of filters to get the best image.

Figure 1: Unfiltered, image of a bee tracheal duct.
Figure 2: Filtered, magnified and cropped picture of a bee tracheal duct. The pointer indicates the clearly visible rings. Tracheal mites (spider-like) can actually fit inside these ducts. None were observed in any of these bees.
Figure 3: Typical textbook illustration of insect trachea.

For more of these science activities be sure to attend the STAO Conference 2020. Dave Gervais will be presenting activities for biology as a conference speaker and as a co-presenter in the conference playground.

Dave Gervais

STAO Safety Committee Chair

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