LA WARD – They caught mud daubers first.

The 3/4- to 1-inch wasps, varying in color from black with bright yellow markings to iridescent blue-black, proved easy prey for incoming Calhoun High School freshmen.

“Watch this,” said Debra Sonsel.

Sonsel switched off a majority of the lights in the classroom, and the students’ eyes followed the mud daubers, which drifted from the ceiling toward a lit hallway, practically landing in their extended nets.

It wasn’t so easy when the students ventured into the cattails outside.

“Dragonflies can see almost 360 degrees around them,” Sonsel said as her students frantically swatted the air with their nets whenever they saw something blue or green zip past them.

“So can my mom,” cracked 14-year-old Kaylee Thompson, to much laughter.

Sonsel is the on-site educator at the Formosa Tejano Wetlands, which was established in the 2008-2009 school year.

This week, she hosted incoming pre-AP biology students at the wetlands to help them with an assignment to collect 35 insects from 10 insect orders.

They trapped stinging insects in recycled pill bottles and carefully placed the dragonflies, butterflies and crickets in plastic baggies.

Later, they worked with Ryan Smiga, a science teacher at Travis Middle School, to identify and label them.

The assignment was supposed to show the students the insects’ importance as pollinators; as producers of commercial products, such as honey and silk; and as scavengers and as decomposers.

As the day wore on, the students’ fear of the insects turned to excitement as they got better at identifying them.

Magdalena Montenegro, for example, had only caught a handful of insects on her own before visiting the wetlands Monday. One was a butterfly crushed by the grill of her parents’ car, while another was a beetle she found crawling on a patio.

At the wetlands, Magdalena, also 14, mistook a carpenter bee she caught for a moth.

Sonsel identified it for her and explained that one way to tell the difference between a carpenter bee and a bumblebee is to look at its abdomen.

Bumblebees have hairy, striped abdomens, while carpenter bees’ abdomens are shiny and all black. Carpenter bees also live up to their name because they nest in wood, she said.

Later, Magdalena caught another one flying through a prairie.

“What did you get?” Sonsel asked.

“A carpenter bee!” Magdalena exclaimed.

Sonsel said she prefers this method of teaching over what she called “Charlie Brown-type teaching” – talking with students rather than talking at them.

Their first day of school is Aug. 15.

Jessica Priest reports on the environment and Calhoun County for the Victoria Advocate. She may be reached at or 361-580-6521.

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Former Environment/Investigations Reporter

Jessica Priest worked for the Victoria Advocate from August 2012-September 2019, first as the courts reporter and then as the environment/investigations reporter. Read her work now at

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