Skip to main content.

California Camping Menu

California Camping Sites

Water Life Discovery for Kids and Teenagers

Bookmark and Share

The water telescope—How to manage an aquarium—Our insect friends and enemies—The observation beehive

The eggs of so many insects, toads, frogs and other interesting creatures are laid and hatched in water that a close study of pools, brooks and small bodies of water will disclose to the nature student some wonderful stories of animal life. To obtain water specimens for our collection, we shall need a net somewhat similar to the butterfly net described in the previous chapter but with a much stronger frame.

One that I have used for several years was made by the village blacksmith. The ring or hoop is of quarter-inch round iron, securely fastened to a stout handle and bent to a shape as shown in the drawing. To this ring is fastened a regular landing net such as fishermen use, with an extra bag of cheesecloth to fit inside to capture insects too small to be held by the meshes of the outside net. For frogs, turtles, and minnows, the single net is all that is necessary.

This device is almost strong enough to use as a shovel. It will scoop up a netful of mud without bending. This is important as muddy ditches and sluggish ponds will yield us more specimens than swiftly running brooks. In addition to the net, the collector will require a small pail to hold his trophies. A fisherman's minnow bucket is excellent for this purpose and the water can easily be freshened and the contents of the pail reached by simply lifting out the inside pail from the water, which will drain out.

A heavy net is useful to capture aquarium specimens A heavy net is useful to capture aquarium specimens

To study the animal life under the surface of a clear and shallow lake, a water telescope is a great aid. It is simply a wooden box a foot or so long and open at both ends. The inside should be painted black to prevent cross reflection of light. A square of clear glass should be fitted into one end and puttied tight to keep out the water. To use the water telescope, we simply shove the glass end under water and look into the box. A cloth hood or eye piece to keep out the outside light will make it more effective. The best way to use a water telescope is to lie in the bottom of a boat which is drifting about, and to look through the telescope over the side. As you study the marvellous animal and plant life that passes along under you like a panorama, see to it that in your excitement you do not fall overboard as a boy friend of mine once did.

The care of an aquarium is a never ending source of interest to the nature student. If a boy is handy with tools he can build one himself. It is by no means an easy task however to make a satisfactory water-tight box with glass sides, and my advice is not to attempt it. Glass aquaria may be bought so cheaply that it is doubtful if you can save any money by making one at home. If you care to try it, this is the way it is usually done:

Use a piece of seasoned white wood 1 1/4 inches thick for the bottom. If you wish your aquarium to be, say, 16 inches wide and 30 inches long, this bottom board should be 20 x 34 to give a margin at the edge. The size of a home-made aquarium can be anything that you desire. It is customary to allow a gallon of water to each three-inch gold fish that will inhabit it. By multiplying the three dimensions, length, width and height of your box and by dividing your result, which will be in cubic inches, by 231 (the number of cubic inches in a gallon) you can tell how many gallons of water it will hold. Of course the rule for gold fish is not absolute. The nature student will probably have no gold fish at all. They are not nearly so interesting as our native kinds. Besides nearly all varieties of fresh water fish will either kill gold fish or if they are too large to kill will at least make life so miserable for them that to keep them together is cruelty to animals. If we keep in our aquarium the specimens that we collect in our neighbourhood, beetles, newts, crawfish, snails, and tiny sunfish the number may be greatly increased. Overcrowding however is very bad. The ideal we should strive for is not "how many specimens" but "how many kinds" we can have in our collection.

The white wood board should have three or four hardwood cleats screwed to the bottom to prevent warping. The corner pieces of our glass box may either be made of sheet copper or heavy tin, or of wood, if we cannot work in metals. The wooden strips and the bottom board should have grooves ploughed in them to hold the glass. All the woodwork should be given several coats of asphalt varnish and to further waterproof it and as a final coat use some kind of marine copper paint that is used to coat the bottoms of vessels. Never use the common white lead and linseed oil paint for an aquarium.

You can sometimes buy aquarium cement or prepared putty at a "gold fish" store. This you will need to putty in the glass. If you cannot buy it, make it yourself from the asphalt varnish and whiting. Be sure that the paint and putty of an aquarium is thoroughly dry before you fill it with water.

Perhaps the most satisfactory way to study fish and insect life in water is to use all glass boxes and globes. So many kinds of fish and insects are natural enemies, even though they inhabit the same streams, that they must be kept separate anyway. To put them in the same aquarium would be like caging up two game roosters. If we were studying the development of mosquitoes, for instance, from the larvae or eggs to the fully developed insect, we should not get very far in our nature study if we put them in an aquarium with fish. A fish will soon make short work of a hundred mosquito wigglers just as a large frog will eat the fish, a snake will eat the frog and so on.

Rectangular glass boxes such as are commonly used for aquaria cost less than a dollar per gallon capacity. Goldfish globes cost about the same. White glass round aquaria are much cheaper and those made of greenish domestic glass are the cheapest of all, a glass tank holding eight gallons costing but two dollars.

A self-sustaining or balanced aquarium

A self-sustaining or balanced aquarium

Any transparent vessel capable of holding water, even a Mason jar will make an aquarium from which a great deal of pleasure may be derived. The old way of maintaining aquaria in good condition required a great deal of care and attention. The water had to be changed at least once a day if running water was not available, and altogether they were so much trouble that as a rule owners soon tired of them.

Modern aquaria are totally different. By a proper combination of fish and growing plants we can almost duplicate the conditions of nature and strike a balance so that the water need never be changed except when it becomes foul or to clean the glass.

These are called "self-sustaining" aquaria and they are the only kind to have unless we can furnish running water from a public water supply. Self-sustaining aquaria are very simple and any boy or girl living near a brook can stock one at no expense whatever.

The method is as follows: First cover the bottom of the aquarium with a layer of sand and pebbles to a depth of about two inches. Then plant in the bottom some aquatic or water plants that you have collected from a near-by lake. Any kind of water plants will do—the kind of plants boys always call seaweed, even a thousand miles from the sea. In collecting the plants, choose small specimens and obtain roots and all.

If you can find it, the best plant is fanwort. Other good kinds are hornwort, water starwort, tape grass, water poppy, milfoil, willow moss, and floating plants like duckweed. Even if you do not know these by name they are probably common in your neighbourhood. Fill the tank with clean water. That taken from a spring or well is better than cistern water. After two or three days, when the plants seem to be well rooted, put in your fish. You may keep your aquarium in a light place, but always keep it out of the sun in summer and away from the heat of a stove or radiator in winter.

The nature student will not attempt to stock up his aquarium immediately. He should always leave room for one more fish or bug. One year I started with a lone newt and before the summer was over I had thirteen sunfish, pickerel, bass, minnows, catfish, carp, trout, more newts, pollywogs or tadpoles, five kinds of frogs, an eel and all sorts of bugs, waterbeetles and insects. I soon found that one kind of insect would kill another and that sometimes my specimens would grow wings over night and fly away. But to learn these things, even at our own disappointment is "nature study." If we knew it all in advance, we would not have much use for our experimental aquarium.

Always keep a few snails and tadpoles, for they are the scavengers and will eat the refuse stuff and keep the glass free from greenish scum. Boys and girls are almost sure to overfeed fish. This is a great mistake. The best standard feed is dried ants' eggs that can be bought for a few cents a box at any bird and fish store. Do not feed pieces of bread and meat. Study what their natural food is and if possible get that for them.

If your fish seem sickly, give them a five-minute bath in salt water every day for a week. The kind of an aquarium above described is intended to fill an entirely different purpose from the usual gold fish globe. In your excursions you will find all sorts of queer looking eggs and specimens. Some of the eggs are so tiny that they look almost like black or white dust on the water. Another kind will be a mass like a jellyfish with brown dots in it, still others will be fastened in masses to the under side of a leaf in the water or perhaps on the bottom. What are they? That is just the question and that is why you will carefully collect them and take them home to await developments.

Always keep an accurate note-book with dates and facts. Also keep a close watch on your specimens. Sometimes they will hatch and be eaten by the other bugs before you could read this chapter.

A nature student will need some part of the house that he may call his very own. Here he can keep his specimens, his aquarium, his herbarium and what not. Around the wall he can hang the twigs with their cocoons, oak galls, last year's wasp and bird nests and other treasures. He should also have a work table that a little glue or ink will not injure and a carpet that has no further use in the household. Usually one corner of the attic or cellar is just the place.

See to it that you do not make other people uncomfortable in the pursuit of your hobby. You will find that almost every one is afraid of bugs and toads and that most people live in a world full of wonderful things and only see a little beyond the end of their noses.

There is a very practical side to nature study and the principal way that we can make it really pay, is to know our friends from our enemies in the animal and insect world. There are insects that chew, suck and bore to ruin our orchards and grain crops. They are our enemies. If we know their life story, where they hide and how they breed, we can fight them better. For every dollar's worth of crops that a farmer grows, it is estimated that his insect enemies eat another dollar's worth. A little bug called the "San José" scale has nearly ruined the orchards of some of the Eastern states. To fight him, we must know how he lives. That is nature study. By study we learn that the hop-toad is our best garden friend. He will spend the whole night watching for the cutworms that are after our tomato plants. When we see a woodpecker industriously pecking at the bark of our apple trees, we know that he is after the larvae of the terrible codling moth and we call him our friend.

After we learn that a ladybug lives almost entirely on plant lice and scale insects, we never kill one again except perhaps to place a specimen In our collection. Naturalists say that without ladybugs, our orchards would soon be entirely killed off.

The dragon fly or mosquito hawk as well as "water tigers," water striders and many kinds of beetles are the natural enemies of mosquitoes and as they never harm our crops we should never harm them. Nearly every living creature has some enemies.

You have perhaps heard the famous verse of Dean Swift:

"So naturalists observe, a flea
Has smaller that upon them prey
And these have smaller still to bite 'em
And so proceed ad infinitum."

Among our insect friends the leading place belongs either to the honey bee or the silkworm. As silkworms are not especially successful in this country and as their principal food, mulberry trees, are not common, the nature student who cares to study our beneficial insects had better devote his attention to honey bees. An observation beehive is simply a glass box or hive instead of a wooden one. When we are not engaged in studying our bee city, the hive must be covered with a blanket as bees prefer to work in the dark. A boy or girl living in the country can also keep bees profitably and thus combine business with pleasure. A single hive will in a few years produce enough swarms to give us a good start as "bee farmers."

An observation beehive An observation beehive


Camping Resources

Free Services

Free Text Messages
Free Picture Messages
Free Fax
Free Calls Anywhere

Follow Us