Monarch butterflies and hissing cockroaches bring science fair honors to Rossman girls

The girls “stayed after school, stayed in for weekends, they stayed in for recess — everybody does an experiment, but not to that extent,” said Rossman Elementary teacher Mrs. Gilson.

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Rossman fourth graders, from left, Charley Lessman, Callie Stattelman, Amber Kallstrom and Aubrey Johnson.
Nathan Bowe / Detroit Lakes Tribune

DETROIT LAKES — When it comes to knowing all about monarch butterflies, Madagascar hissing cockroaches and other little critters, the kids at Rossman Elementary School are among the buggy best.

Just ask the judges at the University of Minnesota extension Ecology Science Fair.

In Mrs. Gilson’s fourth-grade class, Charley Lessman, Callie Stattelman, Amber Kallstrom and Aubrey Johnson — the four girls behind the project “We weren’t Wise, to our Monarch’s Demise!” — won special recognition awards for their efforts.

And two fifth grade girls — Aubrianna Piemonte and Evie Rusness — won special recognition awards for their Ecology Fair project that tested the effects of peppermint and lavender on the energy behavior of Madagascar hissing cockroaches.

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Rossman Elementary fifth graders, from left, Evie Rusness and Aubrianna Piemonte.
Nathan Bowe / Detroit Lakes Tribune

Hundreds of kids from across the state participated in the Ecology Science Fair at the University of Minnesota, but only the best earned the special recognition awards.


Part of the competition is to undergo review by an interviewer.

The four girls in the monarch project impressed their interviewer, Sarah Anderson, who said in her nomination: “Incredible display! Well-organized and included a skit to communicate findings with tons of props. The students clearly put in many, many hours!”

Mrs. Gilson’s class had earlier done a monarch butterfly-hatching project, and the girls wondered why 25% of the cocoons never made it to the butterfly phase.

For their Ecology Science Fair project, they set out to discover why.

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Mrs. Gilson with Evie Rusness and a Madagascar hissing cockroach.
Nathan Bowe / Detroit Lakes Tribune

They explored a number of possibilities, including too much sunshine and a lack of oxygen. But their research revealed that many of the monarchs failed to emerge from their cocoons because they had fallen victim to parasites. One of the lethal parasites is the tachinid fly, which feeds on and kills monarchs. Another is a protozoan parasite called Ophryocystis elektroscirrha, which infects monarch butterflies, and whose life cycle is involved with monarchs, something like the monarch’s life cycle is involved with the milkweed plant.

The monarch project put together by the four girls was “very well researched” and had” great visuals and props,” Anderson said.

The girls also impressed their interviewer in discussion with “amazing identification and pronunciation of hard science words,” and their presentation was rated as “outstanding,” with “impressive poster board that went above and beyond,” and a skit they developed themselves to communicate their findings.

The four girls also aced the interview part of the competition. Andersons said their answers were “incredible. They answered all the questions perfectly! Confident young girls, very prepared!”


All in all, she said their project was “amazing work! So impressed by the details and presentation of these findings!”

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A closer look at a hissing cockroach, which was, indeed, hissing away, crabby because it was woken up during its sleepy time.
Nathan Bowe / Detroit Lakes Tribune

For their part, the two fifth grade girls received top scores in all six of the science fair categories — topic, methods, results, discussion, presentation quality and interview.

They set out to see if those hissing cockroaches would react the same to scents as people often do. Peppermint wakes people up and gets them more active, while lavender relaxes them and calms them down.

They found out that people and hissing cockroaches aren’t so different after all: the bugs, for the most part, reacted the same to the smell of peppermint and lavender as people often do.

“Great job!” wrote their interviewer, Maicy Vossen. “Your data was easy to understand with your figures.” Their discussion included a “nice connection to your original question,” and “the skit was awesome!” With great background information, the poster “was a fun way to present your science,” Vossen wrote.

The two girls also aced the interview process, with Vossen saying “Your answers to questions were clear and knowledgeable.”

Gilson said it’s no small feat to do so well in an Ecology Science Fair.

The girls “stayed after school, stayed in for weekends, they stayed in for recess — everybody does an experiment, but not to that extent.”

Bowe covers the Becker County Board and the court system for the Tribune, and handles the opinion pages for the Tribune and Focus. As news editor of both papers, he is the go-to contact person for readers and the general public: breaking or hard news tips, story ideas, questions and general feedback should be directed to him.
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