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Wednesday, 30 October 2019

Ladybird week

This is a piece which will find its way into a book that is just about ready to offer to publishers, under the working title Looking at Small Things.

The book has its roots in a time, 68 years ago, when my profoundly unscientific parents bought me a toy microscope, made of Bakelite, with plastic lenses. I was entranced, but I could find very little to look at, though I did find a ferocious-looking beast on a Dahlia.

Somehow, I managed to learn that this was the larva of a ladybird, but as I could learn no more, and found no more exciting animals in the garden, so I moved onto other things, but a couple of weeks back, they were in my garden again, and I showed them to my twin granddaughters, but it took me a few days to recall what they were.

Over the years, a number of my books have been about finding interesting things to look at, how to catch them, how to keep them safely (for both the keeper and the keepee). I do this, because I had zero support or encouragement, and that simply wasn't right. To give my father some credit, he once showed me an adult cicada emerging from the pupa case, but there was precious little engagement of showing how involved.

My books, like Exploring the Environment and Australian Backyard Naturalist (both out of print, but try libraries) are designed to give adult guides and independent readers the ways and means to do that.

Now, close to ten times my age then, I had an approach from a start-up at Flinders University who had deduced  that I was interested in stuff like that. The upshot was that I told them I would write a guide for them as a pro bono, keeping the rights to any ensuing book. They make a very neat little gadget that clips onto phones and tablets. It is better used on really tiny things, but the second shot above was taken with it.

You can download a free version of a draft of my new book for free, using this link, but it is slanted towards teachers, and is targeted at helping them make sense of the kludgey and totally inadequate "National Science Curriculum".  When the greatly revised  Looking at Small Things comes out, it will be far more child-friendly.

Anyhow, back to my story: the ladybird larvae were everywhere. But then, I notice something: they were starting to pupate on the walls of our courtyard.

At first, I was a bit slow to catch on, but they kept coming in waves, so I got the whole life cycle thing. Here, you can see a number of steps along the way.

In the end, they emerged as adults. Knowing what to look for, maybe you can find these (or similar) beasties for yourself. To get a handle on the scale, the larvae were about 8 mm long, and the beetles below were about 4 mm from side to side.

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