Adapted from "SuperScience
Blue," May 1995.
by Laura Allen
Meet the mealworm.
It's the larva (early stage) of a type of beetle. You're more likely to
see this insect in an old box of cereal than in the movies. But mealworms
can still do some amazing things. First, get to know your mealworm and
its natural behaviors. Then hold "auditions" to see if it can
star in a play!
ACTIVITY 1: INTRODUCTION
What You Need:
- small clear container
(If it has a top, poke holes in it so your mealworm can get air.)
- flat toothpick
- uncooked oatmeal
- slice of potato
(It should be about the size of a potato chip. You can also use an apple.)
- lab sheet
Think: What are a
mealworm's basic needs?
- Your teacher will
give you a mealworm in a container.
- Observe your mealworm.
You can look at it in or out of the container. To lift it out, gently
nudge the flat end of a toothpick under its legs. Your mealworm should
grab hold. Lift the toothpick and mealworm carefully.
- Record these observations
on your lab sheet: What does your mealworm look like? What does it do?
How many legs does it have? Does it move quickly or slowly?
- Next, you'll make
your mealworm's habitat. If your mealworm is in the container, gently
"pour" it onto a sheet of paper.
- Fill the container
about half full of oats.
- Place a potato
slice on top of the oats.
- Place your mealworm
on top of the oats. What does it do? Can your mealworm crawl up the
sides of the container?
- Write down any
more observations on your lab sheet.
Wrap-up: What basic
things does your mealworm need to live? Where is your mealworm's source
of water? Based on your observations, do mealworms prefer light areas
or dark areas? Did your mealworm have an easier time moving when it was
on a smooth surface or in the oats?
Bonus: Keep your
mealworm in its habitat and record what it does every day. How does it
change over time?
ACTIVITY 2: ACTIONS
What You Need:
Think: A stimulus (STIM-yoo-luss)
is something that can cause an animal to react. What's one stimulus your
mealworm has encountered?
- your mealworm
- tray or sheet of
- flat toothpicks
- watch with a second
- cotton swab
- peppermint extract
(Or use another strong-smelling liquid, like vanilla or vinegar.)
- paper towel
- lab sheet
- Take your mealworm
out of its container with the flat end of a toothpick.
- Place it on an
empty tray or a piece of paper.
- Put your mealworm
through stimulus tests A-G at right. Record your mealworm's reactions
on your lab sheet. If you are unsure of its reaction, try the test again.
Wrap-up: How did
your mealworm react to each test? If you tried the same test more than
once, did your mealworm react the same way each time? Did each mealworm
in the class react the same way?
How do these tests
mimic things that could happen to a mealworm in the wild?
Bonus: Can you think
of another stimulus that your mealworm might react to? When you have an
idea, check it with your teacher. Then test your mealworm. Record your
results on your lab sheet.
(Think: Will my mealworm
act the same when it grows up and becomes a beetle?)
- Touch Test: Use
a toothpick to gently touch your mealworm's antennae (the two tiny stubs
on its head).
- Drop Test: Carefully
pick up your mealworm using a toothpick. (See step 2 on page 11.) Lift
the mealworm about 10 cm (4 in.) off the desk. Hold it in the air for
30 seconds, then let it drop.
- Light Test: Shine
a flashlight so that only the front half of your mealworm is in the
- Edge Test: Place
a book on your desk. Place your mealworm next to the book's spine.
- Wind Test: Aim
a straw at your mealworm's head. Blow gently.
- Water Test: Wet
a small piece of paper towel. Place a dry piece next to it. Put your
mealworm in between the two pieces.
- Smell Test: Dip
a cotton swab in peppermint extract and hold it in front of your mealworm.
ACTIVITY 3: AUDITIONS
What You Need:
Think: How can you use
a mealworm's natural behavior to get it to "act" in a play?
- your mealworm
- audition materials
(You might need oats, pieces of potato, pencils, peppermint, little
ramps, water, a flashlight, a straw, or a shadow.)
- stage set
- Read the character
descriptions, at far right. For each role, brainstorm an "audition"
-- a way to find out which mealworm is best for the role.
- Audition your group's
mealworms for each role.
- Got a winner for
each audition? Cast them for our play, at right. Choose one group member
to be narrator, four to be the voices of the mealworms, and the rest
to coach the mealworms.
- Look at the stage
directions in the script. (They're printed in parentheses.) How can
the coaches get the mealworms to follow the directions?
- Set up your "stage"
and perform the play!
Wrap-up: Did all
mealworms act the same in your auditions? Why or why not? How did you
use their natural behaviors to help them act?
Bonus: Write a sequel
to our play. Then coach your mealworms through it.
PLAY: NIGHTMARE ON
Buglinda: Must be
able to crawl fast in a straight line.
Edworm: Must jump
Crawlette: Must be
able to crawl up and down hills.
Larvin: Must be very
slow and not move much.
(The scene: It
is dusk on a deserted street. A graveyard lines one side of the street.
Buglinda, Edworm, and Larvin crawl down the street.)
As the team crawls home after a rough beetleball game, they don't know
they're in for a night to remember.
Let's cut through the graveyard.
No way! I've heard it's haunted by the ghost of that old spider, Cob Webb.
He got caught in his own web . .
Yeah, and when he died he put a curse on all who enter the graveyard!
back in fear.)
There's no ghost, you pests. I'm going through.
straight for the graveyard.)
Don't leave us behind! Coming, Larvin?
Nah, I need to rest. You go ahead.
by a gravestone. Crawlette is hiding on top.)
Suddenly, Buglinda feels an eerie tap.
Hey! Who's tapping me?
Hey, bug-brains. What's up?
backward): Look behind you! That's what's up!!!
to move backward to hide.)
It's . . . it's the ghost of Cob Webb!
Are our flightless friends doomed? Find out next time in "Return
to Bug Street."