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Three Springs science teacher studies on ticks, honeybees take flights

UPDATED: Tue., May 31, 2022

Kindra Branch, left to right, Keegan Thoreson, Rachael Kuhn, Jesse Hannum and Tanner Blimka pose during a recent tick study.  (Courtesy)
Kindra Branch, left to right, Keegan Thoreson, Rachael Kuhn, Jesse Hannum and Tanner Blimka pose during a recent tick study. (Courtesy)
By Nina Culver The Spokesman-Review

Three Springs High School science teacher Drake Haren has been busy for the past few years, obtaining grants to first study ticks and then study honeybees, all with the help of his students.

Haren attended Eastern Washington University, where he took several classes from Dr. Krisztian Magori.

“His particular research topics are tick-related,” Haren said. “He was the one who actually told me about this grant opportunity for science teachers.”

The J.J. Murdock Charitable Trust Partners in Science grant is designed to partner high school science teachers with university professors on a research project.

“I thought, ‘What a cool idea,’ ” Haren said. “We applied and we got it.”

The two wanted to see if they could look at vegetation, terrain and other factors to predict where ticks would gather. Haren said he was looking specifically at hill gradients and where the sun is in relation to the terrain, which are called slope and aspect.

Three Springs High School is located on Needham Hill near Cheney and it offered the perfect research opportunity. Students helped Haren trap ticks in the spring, mark them with small amounts of nail polish, and then go back in a week to trap more ticks and see how many were the same as the ticks captured the week before.

“We actually only recaptured three of them, so there’s a lot of ticks on our hill,” he said. “We found that ticks prefer east/west facing slopes and low gradients. The safest place to walk would be a south facing steep slope.”

Vegetation and other factors also play a role in where ticks like to gather, including food sources.

“How many mammals are around is a huge factor,” he said.

While the idea of studying ticks may not be appealing at first glance, Haren said his students enjoyed the experience.

“It’s one thing people don’t like to study,” he said. “It’s gross and scary. Once you learn how things live and work, they’re not so scary anymore. One of the great parts of this is that I was able to get kids outside.”

After the initial two-year grant expired, Haren was eligible to apply for a grant extension to help purchase equipment. Since studying ticks doesn’t require much in the way of equipment, Haren decided to use the money to launch a new project and purchased bee hives.

The hives have recently been installed and fenced off.

“The idea is that we mark the bees with a marker and send them out to do their thing,” he said.

Students will visit various areas and survey the bees present to see how many of them are marked. The goal is to see if they can predict where the bees will go.

“When I have that up and running, students will be in bee suits with me,” he said.

Haren said that since neither he nor his students have beekeeping experience, he’s been working with the West Plains Beekeeping Association to provide some training.

“They have been so great,” he said. “They assigned me a master beekeeper. They’ve been a really great asset.”

Getting the grants has been a huge benefit, Haren said. He has particularly enjoyed traveling to the foundation’s national conference to present information gathered during his research.

“You get to meet all these amazing science teachers doing real science,” he said. “It’s just a wonderful way to connect with other science teachers. The grant has been a wonderful opportunity.”

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