Posted on Leave a comment

Outdoor Hour Challenge: Black Widow Nature Study

We are continuing our summer of “creepy things” nature study by studying the black widow spider. Use this lesson to learn in detail about the black widow spider. I’ve included information for both younger and more advanced students to capture your whole family’s attention with this nature study lesson.

An alternative nature study idea this week is to study spider webs.

Black Widow Spider nature study

Use these links to learn a little about the black widow:

  • I found this printable fact sheet for the Black Widow Spider to download. This link is perfect for younger students: Black Widow Spider. Here’s an additional link to information about the black widow: National Geographic.
  • This spider is venomous and will be painful if you handle it and get a bite! Watch this video to see a black widow up close and listen to the warnings and the advice given: Will It Bite?

See the Creepy Things ebook for more black widow nature study ideas and printables!

Print the Creepy Things ebook sample here: Creepy Things Ebook Sample

Please note that I will not be posting the complete challenge here on the blog, but you will find the detailed challenge in the Creepy Things ebook. It’s available both in the Ultimate Naturalist and Journey level memberships. Sign into your account and download the ebook for the details, more links, and notebook pages.

Creepy Thing Ebook Cover image

If you don’t have a membership yet, click the graphic above and join today for immediate access to the 26 ebooks and so much more! Remember that all levels, even the Discovery level membership, include access to all of the archived newsletters!

Topics in this ebook include:

  • Banana slug
  • Tarantula
  • Black widow
  • Scorpion
  • Leech
  • Muskrat
  • Sphinx moth
  • Cicada
  • Millipede
  • Poison oak


Join Us Ultimate Naturalist June 2020




Posted on Leave a comment

Outdoor Hour Challenge: Tarantula Nature Study

This week’s brand new challenge is to learn more about the tarantula! It’s one mighty big spider that you may never encounter in person, but it is worth knowing a little about its features and habitat. There are plenty of complementary nature study ideas presented in the ebook challenge, so take a look at ways to include a few in your weekly nature study time.

Alternative nature study ideas include: spider webs, nighttime flashlight walk, field trip to a nature center, or researching the tarantula hawk.

Outdoor Hour Challenge Tarantula nature study

Use these links to learn a little about the tarantula:

  • If you have an insect field guide, look up the tarantula to learn some facts for identifying this hairy spider. Use this link to learn more about the desert tarantula: Animal Diversity Web.
  • I love this YouTube video from Brave Wilderness that features the desert tarantula. He has such an appreciation for the beauty of this huge spider that I was able to watch the whole thing even though I have a little bit of arachnophobia.  Giant Tarantula Shows Its Fangs.

See the Creepy things ebook for more tarantula nature study ideas and printables!

Please note that I will not be posting the complete challenge here on the blog, but you will find the detailed challenge in the Creepy Things ebook that’s available both in the Ultimate Naturalist and Journey level memberships. Sign into your account and download the ebook for the details, more links, more videos, and notebook pages.

Would you like to see a sample challenge from the Creepy Things ebook? Here is a link to the complete banana slug nature study challenge for you to download: Creepy Things ebook sample-Banana Slugs.

Creepy Thing Ebook Cover image

If you don’t have a membership yet, you can click the graphic above and join today for immediate access to the 26 ebooks and so much more! Remember that all levels, even the Discovery level membership, include access to all of the archived newsletters!

Topics in this ebook include:

  • Banana slug
  • Tarantula
  • Black widow
  • Scorpion
  • Leech
  • Muskrat
  • Sphinx moth
  • Cicada
  • Millipede
  • Poison oak


Join Us Ultimate Naturalist June 2020

Posted on 3 Comments

Found My Orb Web!

We were busy pulling all of the dead and brown things out of the garden when I spotted it! The most perfect spider web I have seen in a long time was right next to the hose reel. I actually touched it before I saw it and it startled me.

Spiderweb 10 15 11 (3)
The sun was shining just right to see most of it in a photo so I ran inside and snapped a few images to share here on the blog. I called Mr. A and my husband over to take a look and we admired the preciseness of the web and we talked a bit about how it was constructed with a frame and then the web spun around and around.

Spiderweb 10 15 11 (2)
I took the opportunity to see if the inside threads were sticky like we read about in the Handbook of Nature Study.

Isn’t that grand? I love learning new things alongside my boys….

“The radii or spokes, the guy-lines, the framework, and the center of the web are all made of inelastic silk, which does not adhere to an object that touches it. The spiral line, on the contrary, is very elastic, and adheres to any object brought in contact with it. An insect which touches one of these spirals and tries to escape become entangled in the neighboring lines and is thus held fast until the spider can reach it. If one of these elastic lines be examined with a microscope, it is a most beautiful object. There are strung upon it, like pearls, little drops of sticky fluid which render it not only elastic but adhesive.” Handbook of Nature Study, page 440.

Thanks Anna Botsford Comstock for bringing such an amazing detail to our attention. We have a heightened sense of awe over something we have overlooked our entire lives. Now I can rest our web study for the season, unless a new web presents itself.

Posted on 2 Comments

So Many Webs – So Many Questions

Fall Pots - Red Gerbera Daisy
No webs in this image, just a pretty flower.

Looking for spider webs can become a little obsessive. We have been hypersensitive to webs over the past few weeks in anticipation of the Fall Web Challenge, spotting them just about everywhere. Are there always this many webs and is it only because we are focusing on them right now that they seem to pop up in so many places? I guess that is a question we will answer over the next few months. We are in the middle of a huge rainstorm so I am glad that I have been snapping photos as we went along…it is very wet out there today.

Fall Web 3

We seem to see the most of this kind of web….very filmy and not at all like a web you would draw or think of when the word is mentioned. They seem disorganized and messy, that is until you get up close and really look at the structure.

Fall Web 5

There they are…the outline lines of the web. We wonder how they get from here to there and back again since the distances are quite far. We could never actually see a spider spinning a web which is now on our list of things to be on the lookout for in the months to come. We could not determine if this was truly a “filmy dome” as described in Lesson 113 of the Handbook of Nature Study.

Fall Web 4

These photos were all taken in our backyard and were mostly in the crepe myrtle bushes.

Fall Web 2

See how the web seems to almost encase the leaves and branch? We observed many of these webs in our backyard and although they were a great source of interest, we were disappointed that we didn’t see a pretty orb web. We all decided that this will be a study we save for when the opportunity presents itself, to study a web up-close and maybe, just maybe to see the spider spinning the web.

We are looking forward to this Friday’s challenge….the current rainstorm has started the leaves falling and I even spotted a few colored ones! We did have snow up the road from our house this morning but it has melted already in the rain. This is going to be an interesting autumn.

Posted on 5 Comments

Ideas for Garden Critter Nature Study – June Newsletter Suggestions

Roses in the Garden

As part of the June Newsletter, I suggested that you try to find a garden critter to observe and study using the Handbook of Nature Study. There are already quite a few challenges that feature critters that you may come across in your own garden. Using the Outdoor Hour Challenge does not need to take a lot of time. In fact, I originally started the challenges and expected participants to only spend 10-15 minutes outdoors with their children. You do not need to make your nature study into a unit study or complicated. In fact, the simpler the better since it usually means the children are following their interests. If you already own the Getting Started ebook, you can use the first five challenges along with the suggestions in the June Newsletter.

Here are a few links to challenges that you may wish to think about using as part of the Garden Critter suggestion in the June Newsletter.

Beans and Sunflowers Sprouts

Have fun exploring your garden or yard for something interesting to learn more about in your nature study. You might try to go outside early in the morning or later in the evening when the temperatures are cooler and there may be more critters moving around.

Make sure to follow up your study with the chance for a nature journal entry. Look up the answers to any questions your children may have either in the Handbook of Nature Study or at your local library. After you make your blog entry about your garden critter, submit it to the Outdoor Hour Challenge Blog Carnival. Remember every entry to the carnival is an entry in my June Newsletter Giveaway for a Squirrel Buster Birdfeeder.

Posted on 5 Comments

Exploring with Pollen: Black-Eyed Susans


Exploring with pollen @handbookofnaturestudy

We were out working in the garden this morning and the topic of pollination came up. We were talking about the different ways that plants pollinate and as if to illustrate one way, this spider obliged us with his example.

We were really examining these black-eyed susans and their pretty pollen spots and we realized that this very yellow spider was sitting right there in front of us. Isn’t he pretty?

I ran inside and gathered a few things to use in exploring the garden and its pollens. I brought out a few Q-tips and a hand lens for gathering some pollen from the flowers and looked at it up close. We also found that many of the flowers and veggies that we observed had ants crawling in around the inside of the flower. Pollination.

Pollen on a day lily

We took a few minutes more to look at various ways that plants hold their pollen and watched a few bees at work and then we came inside.

Pollen on a petunia

It was a short nature study but the best kind……stemming from curiosity about something we had close at hand.

Gardens ebook Outdoor Hour challenge

Posted on 3 Comments

Spider and a Ladybug: Tangled Webs

My son’s keen eyes spotted this drama happening right on our back deck. The spider was spinning this ladybug up as we watched. The spider is gorgeous.

“Perhaps no structure made by a creature lower than man is so exquisitely perfect as the orb web of the spider…..There should be an orb web where the pupils can observe it, preferably with the spider in attendance.” Handbook of Nature Study, page 44

Posted on 3 Comments

More on Daddy Longlegs

We had this daddy longlegs make his web** right on the outside of our window glass. We decided this was the perfect way to observe him as he moved around his web. We could get right up underneath him and look at his body parts. We had already learned that he is not an insect but we still thought he was an interesting subject for our nature study.

From page 434 of the
Handbook of Nature Study:
“In the North, all except one species die at the approach of winter; but not until after the female, which, by the way, ought to be called “granny longlegs.” has laid her eggs in the ground, or under some protecting stone, or in some safe crevice of wood or bark.”“They get their growth like insects, by shedding their skins as fast as they outgrow them. It is interesting to study one of these cast skins with a lens. There it stands with a slit down its back, and with the skin of each leg absolutely perfect to the tiny claw! Again we marvel at these legs that seem so threadlike, and which have an outer covering that can be shed. “

I found one of these exoskeletons in the web of this daddy longlegs. It looked just like the daddy longlegs and I wondered how it slipped its slender legs out of that skin. I read on another website that the daddy longlegs will shed its skin every ten days. I also read that they can grow a new leg if one gets broken….amazing and fascinating.

Page 434:
“Put a grandfather greybeard (daddy longlegs) in a breeding cage or under a large tumbler, and let the pupils observe him at leisure. If you place a few drops of sweetened water at one side of the cage, the children will surely have an opportunity to see this amusing creature clean his legs.”

The Handbook of Nature Study on page 434 also lists out eight activities you can do to observe the daddy longlegs. We are going to give a few of them a try the next time we have a daddy longlegs come to visit.

Here’s my original post on daddy longlegs:
Daddy Longlegs: Not an Insect

**I have since been told that daddy longlegs don’t construct webs. I did some additional research online to find the answer.
Here’s another source that may clear up the mystery and I will just cut and paste from Wikipedia:

“The Pholcidae are a spider family in the suborder Araneomorphae.
Some species, especially Pholcus phalangioides, are commonly called daddy long-legs spider, daddy long-legger, granddaddy long-legs spider, cellar spider, vibrating spider, or house spider. Confusion often arises because the name “daddy longlegs” is also applied to two distantly related arthropod groups: the harvestmen (which are arachnids but not spiders), and crane flies (which are insects).”

Okay, so you *have* to click on the photo to make it larger but you can really see the exoskeleton of the daddy longlegs. I went hunting for one today and I found this one in the eaves of my house….I was trying to take a photo and it blew down onto the potted plant and I thought it made a pretty background.

Posted on 2 Comments

Where There is a Web: Fall Webworm

Yesterday we went looking for more insects in our backyard. We saw some more daddy longlegs…actually lots of daddy longlegs. We saw a tiny little spider on the marigolds but he would not hold still for a photo. I took this pretty photo of my marigold anyway. Look closely and you can see the pollen.

Then we found this wonderful web on the crepe myrtle bush. I looked high and low but did not see what made the web. After doing some research, I discovered this to be the web of a Fall Webworm or
Hyphantria cunea. In the larval stage, they create these great webs where they feed entirely inside the web. The adult is a moth that has white wings and has grayish-brown spotting on the forewings.


From page 295 of the Handbook of Nature Study:
“While the young pupils should not be drilled in insect anatomy as if they were embryo zoologists, yet it is necessary for the teacher who would teach intelligently to know something of the life stories, habits, and structure of the common insects.”

I am finding this to be essential to our study of insects. I need to know a little information about each thing we find and weave it into our study. It doesn’t take much time to open the Handbook of Nature Study, skim the table of contents, and turn to the page for more information. I am finding that just having read the introductory pages to the section on insects has provided more than enough information to get started.

From page 295:
“From the eggs, larvae (singular larva) issue. These larvae may be caterpillars, or the creatures commonly called worms, or perhaps maggots or grubs. The larval stage is devoted to feeding and to growth.”

Now I have a little vocabulary to use with the boys when we see caterpillars. I can point out that these are insects in their larval stage and their main objective in life is to eat. We can find this stage annoying when they are eating the leaves of our garden plants but we can understand a little more about it.

We observed a bee dancing in the pollen of a cosmos flower. He was digging into the pollen and practically rolling in it. Here is a slightly blurry photo of him…try to get a bee to sit still. You can see the pollen on his body.

My favorite photo of the day is this one. It is a close-up of my son’s dahlia flower. There had been a little insect on it that I was trying to capture but he was too quick.

Well, that is what we saw and observed yesterday. I am finding the more we look, the more we realize that we have to see.

Posted on 5 Comments

Daddy Longlegs (Harvestman):Not an Insect

I know this is a crazy photo of this daddy longlegs but he wasn’t going to cooperate with me at all. He had been sitting near his web waiting but when he saw me move closer, he went like lightning down to the bottom of the deck railing to a safe place. I zoomed in as much as possible and got this shot of him hanging out.
So here is what I learned from page 295 from the Handbook of Nature Study. “The word insect is often applied incorrectly to any minute animal; but the term should be restricted to those forms possessiong six legs and belonging to the class, Hexapoda. The name Hexapoda is from two Greek words: hex, six; and pous, foot. It refers to the fact that the members of this order differ from other arthropods in the possession of only six feet. Thus spiders, which have eight legs, are not insects.” So even though we are focusing on insects for the fall term, we still enjoyed seeing this creature that is really an arachnid.

What is a spider? Spiders are arachnids not insects, but both spiders and insects belong to the largest group of animals on Earth, the arthropods – animals with hard external skeletons and jointed limbs (greek arthro = joint, podos = footed). So there you have it the difference between insects and spiders. 🙂

Edit: Here are some more links to learn about daddy long legs.

Daddy Long legs or vibrating spiders
Daddy Long legs Myths

And I found an article that even says that daddy long legs are not even spiders. Here is an exerpt:”Although they resemble spiders, daddy long-legs, more correctly called harvestmen, are neither spiders nor insects. Taxonomically, they are arthropods, in the same class as spiders, Arachnida, but in a different order, Phalangida. Anatomically daddy long-legs differ from spiders because their three body segments — head, thorax and abdomen, are joined as one compact body segment. Spiders have two body segments — the head and thorax are joined as the cephalothorax, and the abdomen is the second body segment. Insects, which are taxonomically in the class Insecta, have three distinct body segments.” Found at Wisconsin Natural Resources magazine.

So now I can’t even say that the daddy longlegs is even a spider! It is technically an arthropod, an Arachnida, and in the order of Phalangida. Whew! This is getting hard to keep track of but I am learning a lot.