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Analyze an insect's role in its ecosystem

March 6, 2002
Web posted at: 2:34 PM EST (1934 GMT)
Analyze an insect's role in its ecosystem

Overview: CNN Student News correspondent Michael McManus interviews Dr. Ted Schultz about insect ecology. Identify how environments are organized into populations, communities and ecosystems. Have students conduct further research on a specific insect and analyze the insect's role in its ecosystem.

Curriculum connections: Biology, Life Science

Students will be able to:

  • Identify how environments are organized into populations, communities and ecosystems.
  • Analyze an insect's role in its ecosystem.
  • Standards
    National Science Education Standards
    Life science, Content C, grades nine -12
    Students should know that living organisms have the capacity to produce populations of infinite size, but environments and resources are finite. This fundamental tension has profound effects on the interactions between organisms.

    National Science Education Standards
    Life science, Content C, grades nine -12
    Organisms both cooperate and compete in ecosystems. The interrelationships and interdependencies of these organisms may generate ecosystems that are stable for hundreds or thousands of years

    Mid-continent Research for Education and Learning
    Life sciences, Standard 6, grades nine-12
    Students should know how the interrelationships and interdependencies among organisms generate stable ecosystems that fluctuate around a state of rough equilibrium for hundreds or thousands of years (e.g., growth of a population is held in check by environmental factors such as depletion of food or nesting sites, increased loss due to larger numbers of predators or parasites).

    CNN Student News story, "Insect ecology"
    Internet access

    Suggested time
    Article and questions only: 30 minutes
    Full lesson plan: Two to three classroom periods


    1. Have students read the CNN Student News story "Insect ecology," and ask the following:

  • Who is Ted Schultz? What does he study? Why does Schultz compare ants with humans? What is insect ecology?
  • Why does Schultz say that fungus ants are a "perfect mix between species and surroundings"? Why is agriculture so vital to the survival of the ants? Why are some ants known as "farmers"? What nutrients comprise the ants' gardens?
  • What is the role of the "soldier" ants? What are some of their traits? How are the soldiers aware of intruders? What is their response? What are aphids? What is the relationship between ants and aphids?
  • 2. Share with students the following quotation from Dr. Schultz. "There is very little humans have invented that ants or some other insect hasn't already thought of millions of years before humans were around." Ask: What do you think Schultz means by this statement? Based on what you have observed, do you agree with this statement? Why or why not?

    3. Inform students that an insect is an air-breathing animal with an exoskeleton. Its body is divided into three regions: the head, with one pair of antennae, the thorax, which carries three pairs of legs and usually two pairs of wings, and the abdomen, which contains the internal organs and reproductive organs. Divide students into three groups. Assign each group one of the three body regions of insects: head, abdomen and thorax. Direct groups to research their assigned sections, identifying components of each region and the variations that exist. Have groups share their findings.

    4. Divide students into groups and have each group conduct further research on a specific insect, such as an Acteon Beetle, Lithophane antennata, Lymantria dispar, Curculio caryae, Delia platura, Cicindela hudsoni, Pyrophorus noctilucus or Myzus persicae. Students may want to create graphic organizers to illustrate their findings. Pose the following questions to guide students' research:

  • What are the physical characteristics of the insect?
  • What are the life stages of the insect?
  • What are the insect's feeding habits and what nutrients does it need to survive?
  • What are the unique traits of the insect, such as its speed, size or bioluminescent ability?
  • What, if any, are the insect's enemies?
  • What does the insect need to be able to survive?
  • How does the insect interact with other species in its environment?

  • Have students share their findings. Then, ask: What is the role of an insect in its ecosystem? Discuss.


    Point out to students that ecology is the study of interactions between organisms and their environment. Have students write essays answering the following question: How is cooperation with components in its environment vital to insects' survival? Invite students to share their essays.

    • Welcome to!
    • Department of Entomology, National Museum of Natural History, Smithsonian Institution
    • Tutorial
    • The Insects Home Page
    • Insects, Entomology, Bugs @ Bugwood

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