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This is a multi-part activity on insect morphology that trains students to observe the body structures characteristic of particular groups of insects. Students gather information they need in order to identify beetles they have collected outdoors. Student drawings of their beetles encourage visual arts, and a creative-writing assignment promotes imaginative thinking and science-related writing skills. A Hopi legend about a bald beetle instructs students that physical diversity is a welcome aspect of the natural world.

Key Concepts

Life Sciences, Insects, Beetles


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2 - 50 minute classtimes




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Physical Science

Resource Type

Extended Lesson Plan





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Many of the Hopi people live on their reservation in northeastern Arizona, where they are farmers growing corn, beans, and squash. They also raise wheat, cotton, and sheep on the mesas of the southwest desert country.

Insects are in the kingdom Animalia and in the phylum Arthropoda, that is, the animals with jointed legs and external skeletons. Class Insecta contains an unknown number of insect types, but scientists know that there are more kinds of insects than all other kinds of animals put together. All adult insects have three pair of legs and three principal body segments or parts -- head, thorax, and abdomen. As they grow and mature during their respective life cycles, insects change physical form in a process called metamorphosis. Insects are highly successful animals because, as a group, they have adaptations that allow them to live in every type of environment. They can live above ground, underground, in the water; they can fly, carve tunnels in wood and dirt, and swim. Many insects affect human societies, either through beneficial ways like bees making honey or through destructive ways like termites destroying houses or beetles eating crops.

Beetles are insects grouped into the order Coleoptera, which contains more than 300,000 described species and is the largest of the insect orders. Beetles have chewing mouth parts and are characterized by a front pair of hard, opaque, waterproof wings that cover another pair of membranous wings used for flying. Beetles usually are not good flyers, but they are good at surviving difficult conditions. They occupy nearly all types of habitat on earth and are found everywhere except in the oceans and near the poles. Most are plant eaters and some are highly destructive to crops and gardens. But some, like ladybird beetles, feed on harmful insects and thus are beneficial.


The purpose of this set of activities is to give students an introductory understanding of insect classification based on body structures. Students will collect, draw, and discuss beetles gathered from outside the classroom. They also will learn that American Indian legends talk about why animals look the way they do and then will write their own imaginative stories.


Edith Horn Wagner
Cultural Consultant - Blackfeet

I have been teaching for 12 years, two of which were in Frazer, MT. I currently teach 6th grade math and science for the Browning Public Schools. I am married and have 3 children.


  • Beetles - insects characterized by hard, horny forewings that cover lighter flight wings.
  • Kachina - a masked dancer impersonating a spirit at a Hopi religious ritual.
  • Classification -placing items into different groups.

Learner Outcomes

  • Begin to classify insects into general groupings based on body structures.
  • Collect beetles outdoors based on characteristic beetle appearances.
  • Create their own imaginative stories about beetles, after learning that native cultures have legends that teach lessons learned from insects like the beetle.

Content Standards

  • Science as Inquiry Content Standard A: Abilities to do scientific inquiry
  • Life Science Content Standard C: The characteristics of organisms
  • Life Science Content Standard C: Life cycles of organisms


  • Bug-collecting containers (e.g., magnifying boxes, plastic cups with lids, plastic zipbags)
  • Bug-collecting tools (e.g., small paint brushes, popsicle or glue sticks)
  • Drawing paper and colored pencils
  • Writing journals and pencils

Lesson Procedures

  • Read to the students the Hopi legend by Harold Courlander, "The Beetle's Hairpiece," and then ask the students about the story's characters, the setting, and the plot of the story. Was there a lesson that the students learned from the story? [Note: The Hopi people built the Oraibi pueblo about 1150 in present-day northern Arizona. Once the most important pueblo of the Hopi people, it was abandoned in 1907.]
    Many many years ago a beetle lived near the Hopi village of Oraibi and often went there to find food. One day the children of the village caught the beetle. At first, the children played with the beetle, but then they began making insulting remarks about his appearance. "Look," one of them said, "he has nothing to cover him, not even a hair!" Another child said, "Yes, he is bald, a bald-headed beetle." They made jokes about the beetle being naked.

    When the beetle finally escaped and made his way home, he was ashamed that he had no hair. "Why is it that I am smooth and shiny? Everyone has hair except me," he said. So he went into the forest and searched until he found a dead deer. He carefully removed hairs from the deer hide. He then found a tree that was dripping a sticky gum and took some of the sticky gum home. The next morning, the beetle returned to the village, but first he spread the gum on his head and stuck in the hairs from the deer hide. "Now I am no longer bald," he said.

    Again the children found the beetle on the edge of Oraibi. "Here is our beetle," one of them said, "but he looks different today." Another child said, "See, he has hair on his head." Another said, "He smells of tree gum." And another child saw that the beetle had tree gum on his head under the hair. Because the children were fond of chewing tree gum, they pulled out the hair, scraped off the tree gum, and began to chew it. They let the beetle go, saying, "Oh, he is just as bald as ever!"

    The beetle was embarrassed. He returned to his house and wondered, "Why is it that even young children have hair, while I who am old have none?" Once again he gathered a supply of deer hairs. Then he searched until he found a cactus, broke off a thorn from the cactus, and used it to make a hole in the cactus. The beetle collected the white sap that ran out of the cactus. The next morning he rubbed the cactus sap on his head and attached the deer hairs to the sap. Because he was more experienced now, he arranged the hairs on his head very well. He looked at himself in a nearby pool, thinking how handsome he was!

    Afterwards, he returned to the village to look for food. But the sun was very warm and the cactus sap began to dry out and crack open. When the children came, one of them said, "Here is our beetle again, and he has grown more hair." They looked more closely and saw the cactus sap cracking and falling off in pieces. Then they laughed, "No, he has no hair after all. It is falling off. He is just as bald as before." Once more the beetle returned home and thought, "Why is it that of all the people of Oraibi, I alone have no hair?"

    The beetle had heard that there would be a kachina dance in the village the next day. Everyone would be there and he wanted to be there too. But the beetle was ashamed to appear with a bald head. So he traveled a long way to a pine tree grove and collected some of the pine tar stuck to the tree bark. He found the carcass of a coyote and took some of the hairs. Because the dancing was to start early the next morning, the beetle decided to put on his hair before going to sleep that night. He rubbed the pine tar on his head and attached the coyote hairs. Then he went to sleep.

    When the beetle woke the next morning, he was ready to go to Oraibi at once. But his head felt very heavy. He could not even lift it, no matter how hard he tried. In the cool of the night, the pine tar had stuck to the ground under his head and turned hard. He struggled, but the beetle could not budge from where he was lying. He heard the voices of the kachina dancers in the distance and the sound of their tortoise-shell rattles.

    All day long he heard the singing, but the beetle had to lie where he was. He would hear a certain song and say, "Now they are doing the Corn Dance," or "Now they are doing the Bean Dance." He would hear another song and say, "Now they are doing the Mountain Sheep dance." But still he could not get up; he was helpless.

    At last, late in the afternoon, the sunlight shone on the beetle. Its warmth softened the pine tar and he was able to free himself. He scraped his head clean, went to the top of his house, and yelled out, "Hear me! From this day on, all beetles shall be bald!" And ever since then, that is the way it has been.

  • Students will collect beetles outdoors and study the characteristic morphology of these insects:
    • Discuss with students the general appearance of beetles, what they have in common with other insects (e.g., three body parts and six legs) and how they are special (e.g., chewing mouth parts and hard outer wings folded protectively on top of their bodies).
    • Gve each student an insect-gathering container (e.g., magnifying boxes, plastic cups with lids, plastic zipbags), plus a tool such as a small paint brush or wooden stick with which to scoop up insects.
    • Go outdoors and instruct students to collect crawling insects that they think are beetles (avoiding spiders and flying insects that might bite).
    • Using books and the Internet for help in classification, students sort their insects into beetles and non-beetles. Time permitting, beetles may be further classified into separate groups of beetles.
    • Have students draw their beetles.
    • Ask students to carefully release their beetles outdoors.
    [If live beetles are unavailable, use plastic bugs for student classification exercise and instruct students to find pictures of beetles in books or on the Internet.]
  • Ask each student to write an imaginative story about a beetle, like the Hopi legend, and to illustrate the story with drawings.


  • Most beetles are not good flyers, but beetles in general have hard-shelled bodies that protect them from harm.


  • Participation in class collection exercise/observations/discussions
  • Individual drawings of collected beetles
  • Individual stories written about and illustrated with beetles


  • Have students research how some beetles are beneficial and others are destructive, especially to agriculture.
  • Ask students to observe whether there are beetles living in their own homes or yards.


  • Beetles -
  • Insect Anatomy -
  • Hopi -
  • Online dictionary -