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COLLECTING FAUX WORMS

Now we have construction paper in ecru (some people call it "beige"), yellow-green, green, and tan (that's a bit darker than ecru and beige). In addition, we have some paper
scissors and several muscles. This project requires 500 ecru "worms" (made with muscles and the scissors by cutting strips 2" long by 1/4" wide), 175 tan worms, 175 yellow-green worms, and 150 green worms. That should be a total of 1,000 worms. On 250 of the ecru worms, 80 green worms, 85 tan worms, and 85 yellow-green worms, we will use more muscle and fine-hand coordination to draw a black felt-pen line across those worms. We leave the other 500 worms as they are. When the ink is dry, mix all the worms together. A team of two of you can then scatter them as thinly and evenly as possible, through the area of the school yard we have chosen for this project.

The rest of us, your glorious leader included, because it is too much fun to pass up, will go out and pretend to be birds hunting for worms. (Why do you suppose it is that birds that hunt for rodents and other birds are called "birds of prey," while birds that hunt for worms are not?) Our "prey" will be the worms. If there is one student who would like to be the official time-keeper/scorer, he or she may bring the stop-watch.

When the timekeeper says "Go," we pick up as many worms (I'm glad these worms aren't the yucky kind) as we can in ten minutes. We have to pick them up just like a bird would, one at a time, between thumb and fore-finger. [These digits are actually named "pulgar" (thumb) and "index" (forefinger).] The worm, having been picked up, is then placed into an envelope before the "bird" picks up another worm. After all, real birds can only catch one worm at a time, and if they are feeding a family, they will frequently gulp them, one at a time, down into their crop, before catching another.

When the timekeeper says "Stop," we stop hunting, and take our envelopes full of trophies back to the classroom, where we'll make a histogram. Each bird will sort the worms in
his/her crop, then count those of each category: ecru, plain and striped; yellow-green, plain and striped; green, plain and striped; and tan, plain and striped. We could write the categories in a list on our crops, and note the number of each beside the category. With this finished, we hand our envelopes to the timekeeper, who will compute the master list, by placing the number of worms from each category on each envelope onto the master list, then add each column of numbers. A regular graph might be better than a histogram, using 1 small square on the graph paper for each 10 worms.

We will probably find that all the worms were not caught. By subtraction, we should find out the colors of the worms we did not get. Those left in the yard will biodegrade, which means they will sort of dissolve, and will not harm the soil or the vegetation.

What is the point of all this? Before explaining, let's have some guesses.

Actually, this is all about camouflage. Which of the worms were easiest for the birds to see? We can tell that by looking at the category under which the highest peak of our graph is shown. Obviously, the worms that we left there were the best hidden, and the only difference is in the coloration.

If the worms we left in the yard were really worms, what would happen with them? Probably they would breed. If they bred, what colors would they be? Would they have stripes?

It has been observed that the first priority of all living creatures is to survive. For humans, that means to avoid drugs, alcohol, cigarettes, and hamburgers with fries (yum); to get proper sleep and exercise, so that we can be healthy; finish our educations so that we can be both wise and well fed; and behave properly so as to avoid being murdered and stay out of jail. For other creatures, survival necessitates finding food and water, and avoiding the unhappy fate of being a meal for another creature. There are several ways to avoid being caught:

1. A creature can be so huge and horrible that all other creatures are afraid to try to kill it;
2. A creature can have a really great hiding place, like a cave or a burrow, into which most other creatures either cannot or will not venture; or
3. Be "invisible." Being invisible really means being of such color and markings as to blend in with the land and vegetation of the habitat. This, of course, is nature's camouflage.

Let's extend this a bit farther. All things that live eventually die. If an animal does not die at the teeth or claws of another animal, it dies of old age or disease. Our planet needs to have some of all of us. Earth itself would probably die if its creatures and vegetation no longer existed. Every living thing, both plant and animal, has a way of reproduction of its own kind. [The first basic division of "living things" is plant and animal. When referred to in this way, "animal" means everything alive that is not a plant, including insect, elephants, fish, koalas, people, lizards, whales, and all other living things not rooted in the ground.]

Those species which have the "right stuff" to stay alive are the species that reproduce the most. They also reproduce the best of their kind, which means that the offspring would have the best qualities required for fulfilling their first priority, which is survival.

Since the vegetation (grasses and weeds) on the school yard is predominantly green, we probably missed more green "worms" than those of the other colors. Since all living things reproduce their own kind, most of the worms reproduced by those that were camouflaged the most effectively, would be of like coloration. ("Coloration" refers to both color/s and markings.) Breeding for survival traits (such as camouflage) is called "natural selection."

There are several species that have changed their coloration, through natural selection, to blend in with different kinds of habitat. For example, there is a lizard capable of living in different kinds of conditions. The same animal can live a desert environment and a temperate, heavily-vegetated environment as well. However, the desert lizard's coloration is a mottled assortment of browns and golds, while the temperate lizard's coloration is mainly greens. If these lizards were made to trade places, they would know how to find food, water, and a companion, but they would soon be picked off by predators because they would no longer be "invisible." It is unfortunate that I do not know the name of this lizard. There are few animals that can live in such different environments.

We all know about chameleons, who change color as they move from one back-ground color to another. If we know a person who changes his/her personality to suit a situation, we call that person a "chameleon!"

An insect, the English Oak Moth, changes coloration through natural selection to suit its environment. Most species of animal life, when left to their own devices rather than being purposely bred by man to suit mans' needs, evolve through time and natural selection to suit their environment. These traits include not only coloration, but different ways of finding food, climbing, burrowing, etc., with the necessary physical characteristics for these adaptations.

 
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