Monthly Archives: July 2013

Testing the pH of Stream Water

testing pH cabbage juiceThis week we tested the stream water for pH using cabbage juice. Before the program I prepared the cabbage juice indicator and made up the standards for the pH testing using various acidic and basic solutions. I used this basic definition for pH: a scale that measures how acidic or basic a solution is; measuring hydrogen ions in a water based solution.

On a more practical level, we tested the water so the kids know that if you leave a salamander or tadpole in water that is not changed frequently or properly filtered it becomes poison for the animal.
stream water pH

This these were are standards:

bright pink: acidic
light pink: acidic (less)
purple: neutral
blue green: basic
clear: basic (more)

These were the solutions we tested: lemon juice, ammonia (dilute), stream water, tap water, vinegar
The kids were scientists as they took some water samples and tested various solutions including the steam water to visually compare the color to the standards. Surprisingly we found the stream water to be a bit acidic.

Then they had fun using the pipettes and exploring mixing colors.

ph testing 2ph testing 3ph testing 4ph testing 1


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Frog Hunting

frogs we caughtDuring our Science in the Park’s Program we were out collecting in the stream (also known as a brook) for an entire day and didn’t manage to catch any frogs. We caught all kinds of cool animals like salamanders, leaches, dragon an damselfly naiads, but no frogs. Finally a couple of older kids showed up and taught us how. By the end of the day we could say we were some fine frog hunters.

We haven’t yet identified the frogs, we will be doing that later in the program. But it was fun and all the frogs were released at the end of the day.

frog huntingstalking the frogsfrog huntersfrogs in net

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Posted by on July 25, 2013 in Berkshire BioBlitz, Camps, Children's Art & Science Classes, insects, Nature Curios, Science, Uncategorized


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Science in the Parks: Conte

bug hunting girl

Science in the parks stared with a perfect day.

Mostly because the first awesome little girl I encountered said she would very much like to help catch frogs.

“What else can we catch?”

“Oh maybe some aquatic bugs.”

“I LOVE bugs!”

Be still my heart. She then ran home to get her brother and some friends. Over twenty kids politely took their turns at scooping the stream for aquatics and gently ladling their catch into a bowl.

aquatic bug bowls

When the muck settled, we discovered all kinds of interesting organisms paddling, squirming and zipping around in the water. At the end of the program we recorded what we had in our bowls and then released the animals.

A few kids even took their shot at using the aerial net and caught some gorgeous long-horned grasshoppers.

I think the most exciting and scary catch was the GIANT fishing spider. No pictures because that guy was fast! And we were all running and screaming.

aquatic netting

Our catch for the day:

2 kinds of leeches
2 kinds of dragonfly naiads (Gomphidae and Aeshnidae)long-horned grasshoppers (Tettigoniidae)
stonefly larva
lots and lots of caddisfly larva
a giant fishing spider
plant bugs
bugs (Miridae)
backswimmers (Notonectidae)
waterboatmen (Corixidae)
whirligig beetles (Gyrinidae)
water beetles (Haliplidae)
collecting in the brook boywater scavenging beetle (Hydrophilidae)
aquatic snails
land snails (Succinidae)
watercress (Nasturtium officinale)
cattails (Typhaceae)
wood frog (Rana sylvatica)
common toad (Bufo americanus)
water striders (Gerridae)
black-nosed dace (Rhinichthys atratulus)
2 mismatched shoes
dragonfly naiad long horned grasshopper salamander snuggling leeches wet shoe

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Posted by on July 11, 2013 in Berkshire BioBlitz, Camps, Children's Art & Science Classes, insects, Science


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Science in the Parks: Eastern Box Turtle

eastern box turtleThe Eastern Box Turtle, Terrapene carolina, is the only terrestrial turtle in Western Mass, and it isn’t found in the Berkshires anymore, you have to go up towards the Amherst area to find these beauties. Eastern Box turtles live near water but do not live in water nor can they swim. If they fall in the water they will float until they reach the shore. They are called box turtles because they can shut their bodies up in their shells like a box  when threatened. These turtles can do this because their shell is hinged in the front and back. Note that snapping turtles cannot do this so for protection, they hiss and snap.

box turtle bellyThe top of a turtle’s shell is called a carapace. The Eastern Box Turtle’s carapace is dome shaped and brown to black with yellow markings. The bottom shell, called the plastron, is flat in females and concave in males.

These turtles can be found in forests, woods or meadows as long as their is some type of moisture. Nesting takes place in the summer only after the turtle has reached maturity (7 to 10 years) laying three to eight eggs every other year or two. The nest is made in the sand.

Box Turtles are omnivorous, this means they eat plants, especially berries and small animals and invertebrates like snails and slugs. They have been known to eat carrion (dead animals).

Eastern Box Turtles hibernate on land during the winter, making a small depression in the ground under dead leaves or inside old stumps or fallen logs.

The Eastern Box turtle is considered a species of “Special Concern” in Massachusetts because its populations are in danger because of pesticide use, people taking them out of the wild for pets (which is against the law) and because they are slow moving and tend to be hit by cars.

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Posted by on July 7, 2013 in Berkshire BioBlitz, insects, Science, Uncategorized


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Art in the Park

Check out these beautiful nature drawings a young girl was sketching in the park this weekend while we were talking about turtles and frogs and looking for butterflies, she was drawing away. Amazing talent Karla!

butterfly drawing by Karlasun drawing by Karla

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Posted by on July 7, 2013 in Art, Children's Art & Science Classes, insects, Science, Uncategorized


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Science in the Parks

wood frog

The frog pictured here is the wood frog (Rana sylvatica). See below for details.

Science in the Parks officially starts Wednesday July 10th at Conte Community School. We will meet after the free lunch. Wear old shoes or rain boots, you will want to get wet.

The schedule for this month is:

July 10, 11 and 12 at Conte Community School

July 13 informal gathering at Clapp Park

July 29th at Pitt Park Gathering

July 24, 25, and 26 at Conte Community School

Unofficially a group of us will be meeting at Clapp Park at 10am this Saturday July 6th to scout out the area and talk about water and nature topics. I will be bringing some frogs, a tadpole and friends.Hope to see you there!!

wood frog eggsThe wood frog, Rana sylvatica, is found in many places in the Berkshires, they like deciduous or coniferous as well as mixed forests, marshes, meadows, and swamps. This frog here was collected at the pond at the Pittsfield State forest.

Wood frogs spends most of their time out of the water except for during mating season, then they gather in shallow pools, vernal ponds and marsh waters.

These frogs are the first to start calling in the spring, even before the spring peepers. The male wood frogs make a quacking call and then go out in search of a the females.

Female lays an eggs in huge masses of as many as 1,000 eggs attaching them to a stick or stump in the water. It takes about a week, but the egg mass starts to float. When it reaches the top of the water you can see it like jelly mass. Here it heats up and attracts algae that turns it green, camouflaging the eggs to look like pond scum protecting baby tadpoles inside from predators and too much sunlight. There is lots of pond scum in the pond at the state forest so it is hard to spot these eggs. Once the tadpoles emerge they spend about two months in the water eating algae and plant matter then emerge as tiny frogs about 3 cm long. They spend the next two years on the forest floor growing larger, eating insects, centipedes, millipedes, slugs and small invertebrates in the leaf litter. Once they reach full size of about 6 cm at about two years old, they can return to the pond and start mating.

two wood frogsOne amazing things wood frogs do that baffles scientists is they freeze over the winter. Their hearts stop and 65% of the water in their bodies freeze. Then they thaw out in the spring. Cool. I know some insects that can do that too. Do you?

One thing that is important to remember when catching frogs is they are amphibians, that means they live part of their life in the water and part on land and go through some type of metamorphosis (change) in their bodies. The second thing to remember is amphibians use their skin as a secondary respiratory surface–that means they breathe through their skin. If you touch a frog, newt, or salamander skin with your hands, you keep them from breathing. If you have bug spray or sun screen on your hands this will get on them and cause poisoning, and it will get into their respiratory system and keep them from breathing. So as a rule you should avoid touching them with your hands. I use a soft net to catch them and transfer them into a bucket or critter keeper.

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Posted by on July 5, 2013 in Uncategorized


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Happy 4th of July!

4th of july 005

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Posted by on July 4, 2013 in Pinatas, Uncategorized