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How are wetland bugs like pizza lovers?

Kids in Kaimata have been comparing the plants and bugs in muddy swamps, to get a better idea of how to create a bug-friendly wetland in their school.

Looking at bugs

Kaimata School students have been looking at whether more or less plants lead to more or less bugs in wetlands, with help from experts at Purangi Kiwi Project and Taranaki Regional Council.

The students did their investigation in three different wetlands in and around Purangi, which are home to endangered animals such as kiwi and pekapeka (bats). In 2016, other students from Kaimata School investigated where pekapeka lived and what was affecting their numbers, and then created roosting boxes for the bats to sleep in. 

This year's project - called Bug Alert! - is not linked to the school’s earlier bat project, but it just so happens that one of the wetland areas at Purangi was beneath a bat flight path – and bats love eating bugs.

Measuring across the wetland area using a tape measure

The research idea came to light when the students started learning about wetlands because their school was considering creating a wetland in its grounds. They wondered whether newer wetlands with fewer plants and older wetlands with more plants had different amounts and types of bugs there.

In other words, 12-year-old Christian says, “Would a party with a wider range of pizza types encourage a greater diversity and higher number of people to come along? Also, would a party with a greater number of pizzas get a greater number and diversity of people to come?”

Girl checking a sample for bugs

Louise McLay, Environmental Educator at Purangi Kiwi Project, also learnt from the experience – particularly when it came to how the original hypothesis was worded using scientific language, which she says may have been a barrier at first.

“Although some students struggled initially, once they got the concept and then found bugs with their sieves, they were drawn into the science – and this drove the ‘I wonder…’ type questions.”

She also says that having fun played a big role: “They got stuck, muddy and lost gumboots, but all of this became part of the experience. It was also great to see how the parents became just as engaged as the students; they all discovered science was fun.”

The students first measured the number, size and variety of plants in different parts of the three wetlands. They then used nets, sticky traps and tracking tunnels (where dye is used to show up footprints) to look at the number and types of bugs in the same areas.

In the afternoon of the same day, the students planted native plants at one of the wetlands. They did this so that they can later look at whether the wetland will attract a bigger mix of more bugs compared to before, and whether there is a big difference in bugs between that wetland and the other two.

Planting native grasses in the wetland

After crunching the numbers, the students found that there was a slightly higher number and diversity of bugs when there was a wider variety of plants. They also found no increase in bugs when there were more of the plants but less variety in plant type.

“I really liked going out to Purangi and doing the bug surveys,” says Trinity, 12.

Christian says he enjoyed sharing his class’s findings with others and that his favourite part was “preparing for the presentation and creating the boards to display our work.”

Measuring plant area

Quinn, 8, wasn’t in Trinity and Christian’s class so didn’t get to do the fieldwork, but he says that he has been going out to Purangi all his life and is “really excited that they are doing a project out there”.

The students and Louise are continuing to keep an eye on the wetlands together, and they hope that students from other schools will join them the next time they measure and compare the wildlife there.

Close-up of a bug in a sieve

Photo credits: Tania Warner (Room 5 teacher at Kaimata School) and Karen Schumache at Purangi Kiwi Project.

Email Louise if you would like your kura/school to get involved 

Read about 2016's Project Ultra: Pekapeka in Purangi

About the project

Bug Alert! logoPurangi Kiwi Project logoKaimata School logoBug Alert! is run by Purangi Kiwi Project in partnership with Kaimata School, with support from the Taranaki Regional Council and the Taranaki Participatory Science Platform. 


Scientists and locals collaborating around a table

Participatory Science Platform

The Participatory Science Platform supports collaborative projects that bring together communities and scientists or technologists on research investigating a locally-important question or problem.

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