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VIDEO + GALLERY: Students' prairie tour includes flowers, a confused bee and a chance to eat a bug

One student eagerly volunteered to eat the wasp larva.

Okabena-Ocheda Watershed District Administrator Dan Livdahl, left, shows students a cut-open gall with two wasp larvae inside. The larvae, he said, are edible, and a student ate one moments after this picture was taken on Wednesday, Sept. 21, 2022, reporting that it didn't taste like much at all.
Okabena-Ocheda Watershed District Administrator Dan Livdahl, left, shows students a cut-open gall with two wasp larvae inside. The larvae, he said, are edible, and a student ate one moments after this picture was taken on Wednesday, Sept. 21, 2022, reporting that it didn't taste like much at all.
Kari Lucin / The Globe
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WORTHINGTON — Students from Adrian, Ellsworth, and three Worthington schools came together to unravel the mysteries of the prairie — and, for a lucky few, get a grown-up-sanctioned opportunity to eat a bug — this week at the Prairie Wetland Learning Area.

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The field trip has become a tradition for the local schools, and typically, the Nobles County Soil and Water District, Okabena-Ocheda Watershed District and Prairie Ecology Bus Center team up to offer students the chance to see beyond the surface level of a restored prairie.

This year, Stepheney Marfechuk, a naturalist with the Prairie Ecology Bus Center, led one of the tours Wednesday morning, a chilly day with a momentary drizzle of rain or two. Marfechuk had two rules: She was to be at the front of the group for the duration of the walk, and also, students were not to pick any plants to take home unless they were specifically asked to do so.

“And one of the best things, if you want the best chance of seeing anything cool, is to keep our voices down, OK?” Marfechuk added. “Definitely feel free to talk, but let’s try and keep it like a whisper.”

Stepheney Marfechuk, a naturalist with the Prairie Ecology Bus Center, leads students on a tour of the Prairie Wetland Learning Area Wednesday, Sept. 21, 2022.
Stepheney Marfechuk, a naturalist with the Prairie Ecology Bus Center, leads students on a tour of the Prairie Wetland Learning Area Wednesday, Sept. 21, 2022.
Kari Lucin / The Globe

While larger animals seemed to be scarce during their walk, students did have the opportunity to see some insect life. Many grasshoppers clung to the foliage, and the group even paused to use a stick to pick up an addled bumblebee, crawling slowly along the path due to the cold weather, and place it out of harm’s way nearby.

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Marfechuk also told the students about a species of wasps that lays an egg inside a plant that irritates it into creating a gall — a plant growth a little like a tumor, inside of which the tiny wasp larva grows. She cut one of the galls apart so the students could see the worm-like creature inside.

Dan Livdahl, administrator of the Okabena-Ocheda Watershed District, cuts open a gall to see if a wasp larva is inside, as students watch on Wednesday, Sept. 21, 2022.
Dan Livdahl, administrator of the Okabena-Ocheda Watershed District, cuts open a gall to see if a wasp larva is inside, as students watch on Wednesday, Sept. 21, 2022.
Kari Lucin / The Globe

“Now guess what, guys? These little larvae are edible,” Marfechuk explained. “And they’re really, really good fishing bait.”

One of her students eagerly volunteered to eat the wasp larva, and bravely put it on his tongue, before deciding that was too much for him, and discarded it without chewing.

A student examines a seed attached to a bit of fluff from a milkweed plant, as part of a tour of the Prairie Wetland Learning Area Wednesday, Sept. 21, 2022.
A student examines a seed attached to a bit of fluff from a milkweed plant, as part of a tour of the Prairie Wetland Learning Area Wednesday, Sept. 21, 2022.
Kari Lucin / The Globe

Another group of students led by Dan Livdahl, administrator of the Okabena-Ocheda Watershed District, was given the same information about the wasps, and this time, the volunteer wasp-eater downed the tiny larva without much hesitation, revealing to Livdahl and his classmates afterward that it didn’t really taste like much of anything.

Stepheney Marfechuk, a naturalist with the Prairie Ecology Bus Center, holds up a sample of a prairie plant during a tour of the Prairie Wetland Learning Area Wednesday, Sept. 21, 2022.
Stepheney Marfechuk, a naturalist with the Prairie Ecology Bus Center, holds up a sample of a prairie plant during a tour of the Prairie Wetland Learning Area Wednesday, Sept. 21, 2022.
Kari Lucin / The Globe

The other prairie life the students learned about was definitely less squirmy, like the wild sage some Native American peoples use for ceremonial purposes, or milkweed beloved by monarch butterflies that makes them toxic to predators — so toxic that other butterflies mimic the monarch warning coloring to avoid being eaten too.

There were also Queen Anne’s lace flowers, which Marfechuk told students were related to carrots as well as hemlock and poison hemlock, and echinacea, which is full of vitamin C. Livdahl pointed out prairie wild roses, which have rose hips that are also full of vitamin C.

Livdahl also warned the students about prairie cordgrass, and how its leaves are very smooth in one direction, but running one’s finger along the leaf in the other direction can actually cut the finger.

A student examines a sample given him by a guide at the Prairie Wetland Learning Area Wednesday, Sept. 21, 2022.
A student examines a sample given him by a guide at the Prairie Wetland Learning Area Wednesday, Sept. 21, 2022.
Kari Lucin / The Globe

Along with the tour of the prairie the students also got to spend time on the Prairie Ecology Bus, a classroom on wheels based in rural Lakefield that incorporated as a 501c3 nonprofit in 1990.

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For more information on the Prairie Ecology Bus Center, visit ecologybus.org. For more information on the Okabena-Ocheda Watershed District, visit okabenaochedawd.org.

Students examine samples given them by a guide at the Prairie Wetland Learning Area Wednesday, Sept. 21, 2022.
Students examine samples given them by a guide at the Prairie Wetland Learning Area Wednesday, Sept. 21, 2022.
Kari Lucin / The Globe
Students board the Prairie Ecology Bus to learn more about the prairie ecosystem Wednesday, Sept. 21, 2022.
Students board the Prairie Ecology Bus to learn more about the prairie ecosystem Wednesday, Sept. 21, 2022.
Kari Lucin / The Globe
Dan Livdahl shows students a leaf from a prairie plant during a tour of the Prairie Wetland Learning Area in Worthington on Wednesday, Sept. 21, 2022.
Students from District 518, Worthington Christian School, St. Mary's School, Adrian Public School and Ellsworth Public School toured the Prairie Wetland Learning Area and Adrian Environmental Learning Area Monday through Wednesday this week. They also got to spend time on the Prairie Ecology Bus.
Kari Lucin / The Globe

A 1999 graduate of Jackson County Central and a 2003 graduate of Augsburg College, Kari Lucin started writing for newspapers in Minnesota and North Dakota in 2006. During her time as a reporter, she covered beats including education, watershed, county and agriculture, and frequently wrote about health and science. She has also served as an online content coordinator and an engagement specialist at various Forum Communications properties. She was a marketing assistant at Iowa Lakes Community College in Estherville for two years, where she did design work in addition to writing and social media management.

Lucin is currently a community editor with the Globe of Worthington.

Email: klucin@dglobe.com
Phone: (507) 376-7319
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