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Insect Foraging Preference

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Time: 2 Class periods Setting: Schoolyard Guiding Questions: Is an invasive as tasty as a native?
Overview Type of Organism: Invertebrates Habitat: Grassland

Will insects that feed on native plants also eat invasive plants that are similar in some way? This gets at the question, are invasives all bad? Does anything learn to eat them despite their recent arrivals? What if nothing eats them? What does that mean for the ecosystem?

 

Materials:
  • Muslin bags
  • String
  1. Find a native plant with insects on it. This can be a fun thing for kids to discover on their own. They can be adults or larvae. Check underneath leaves. Great species to check out are oak, goldenrod, black cherries for tent caterpillars (where gloves if you do, their hairs can be irritating), milkweed.
  2. Somehow measure the amount of damage or foraging already on leaves. You could take a picture or do a rough estimate.
  3. Put a muslin bag around one of these branches with insects on it. Close off the open end with a string. Collect the same insect(s) from another branch on the tree. Put them in a new muslin bag, and tie it to an invasive species that is similar (i.e. if your native plant is spice bush, a shrub, put it on an invasive shrub like barberry). Ideally, they will be in the same habitat.Possible pairings of vegetation include
    • Viburnums or milkweed (native) with garlic mustard or bed straw (invasive)
    • Witch Hazel (native) and Honeysuckle (invasive) – both just behind the carriage house
    • Spice bush or blackberry (native) and Japanese barberry or burning bush (invasive)
    • Oak or white ash trees (native) and black locust or tree of heaven (invasive).
  4. Come back in a day or two, reopen the bags and see if there are new signs of damage or eating!