DECATUR — Adults might cringe at the idea of closely examining a tick, but the boys at Rock Springs Center's Earth Adventures Camp captured one and put it in a container with a magnifier lid so they could see it better.
Earth Adventures is one of several camps offered by Rock Springs, with a different theme every week. During the week devoted to insects, the youngsters, ages 6 to 12, learned about pollinators, beginning with a general study of insects found on the grounds. Using cloth nets, the kids captured insects in the tall prairie grass and examined and identified them with the help of counselors before releasing them. They also met a beekeeper and some of his bees.
The camps are educational, but also fun, beginning with the pun-ny names for each theme.
“We have nine weeks of Earth Adventures,” said Richie Wolf, manager of Rock Springs Center. “One is on geology, so we call it 'Don't Take the Earth for Granite.' One was on amphibians, and we called it, 'This week is ribbet-ing.'”
The pollinators week was called “You're pollen my leg.”
“Everything we eat is connected to bees, mostly,” Wolf said. “Bees and butterflies and moths are the focus.”
On Thursdays, the kids go swimming at Blue Mound's community pool. On Fridays, they take a field trip to a site that fits the week's theme. So the Friday of pollinator week, they visited the Pollinatarium at the University of Illinois, a discovery/science center dedicated to raising pollinator awareness.
More than 75 percent of all flowering plant species depend on animal pollinators to reproduce, making pollinators critical in sustaining food sources. About one-third of the diet consumed by humans is dependent upon pollination. In the United States alone, pollinators contribute close to $20 billion to the economy.
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“We have a book called Kaufman Field Guide to Insects,” said Brock Rowland, director of Rock Springs' summer camps. “We'll just see if they can catch anything and we'll try to identify it for them.”
Rowland and the counselors discouraged the use of the term “bugs” for the creatures the kids caught, preferring the more scientifically accurate “insects.”
“All bugs are insects, but not all insects are bugs,” he said.
They avoided bees and butterflies when catching the insects for study partly to prevent stings, but also to avoid hurting the more fragile insects, like butterflies, he added.
“We're scooping and trying to get these insects and after we get them, we put them in these bins and then we can look at them,” said 10-year-old Braden Maxey. “They have this magnifier in the top. After a little bit, we'll let them go. (Camp) is fun and we do a lot of stuff. We go on hikes.”
Ellie Riley found some dead dragonflies and had collected some wings in her magnifier.
“We (also) have a white woolly worm in there,” said the 9-year-old. “You have to have fast reflexes (to catch insects) because they're really fast.”
Supporting pollinators has become a major focus in area schools in recent months. The Lutheran School Association has a pollinator garden plot on a piece of land at Mound and Greenswitch where they've grown pollinator-friendly plants as part of their study. Maroa-Forsyth Grade School, with assistance from Pheasants Forever, planted a pollinator garden in May 2018, and the Decatur School District's Living Science Farm on the grounds at Enterprise School includes plots with pollinator-friendly plants, too.