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Baltimore County students make scientific discoveries during BioBlitz, identifying 3 species not previously identified in area

Fifth-grade students of Baltimore County Public Schools have helped discover some rare organisms, and recently had their discoveries verified as the first of their kind in the county.

In September 2018, students from Fifth District Elementary School in Upperco identified a mushroom known as viscid violet cort, and Timonium Elementary schoolers found another type of mushroom known as the elegant stinkhorn. Dundalk Elementary students discovered a cattail toothpick grasshopper, or slender locust, in November of 2018.

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All three organisms were recently verified by the Maryland Biodiversity Project, a nonprofit focused on cataloging all the living organisms in Maryland, and identified as the first of their kind found in Baltimore County.

“Our kids are really contributing to science,” said Eric Cromwell, coordinator of elementary science for the school system.

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The elementary school students were participating in BioBlitz, an event that asks teachers, students and other members of the community to documenting living species within a specified area, in order to get a snapshot of its biodiversity, according to National Geographic.

For the past 15 years, fifth-grade students across the Baltimore County school district have participated in a one-day field experience. In 2017, the program was updated to the Next Generation Science Standards, exposing students to BioBlitz. In the first year, students collected more than 10,000 points of data.

“We work with the Maryland Biodiversity Project and submit that data to them when we find something we don’t recognize,” Cromwell said. “It goes in their database as a new entry that our schools get credit for.”

Fifth District and Timonium students located their species at Oregon Ridge Park and Dundalk youths made their discovery at Marshy Point Park. Students worked with GPS-enabled tablets to identify and archive species at school in preparation for the field trips.

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“It’s an app that we developed to collect the data,” Cromwell said. ”The goal is to find examples of producers, consumers, and decomposers that are within those parks.”

The first discovery, a purple mushroom often called “spotted cort” or “viscid violent cort,” was discovered by Fifth District. The mushroom was first described scientifically in 1853. Groups of students in Mark DiPaula’s and Kimberly Poffenbarger’s classes identified the mushroom 165 years later on Sept. 13, 2018.

Shortly after Fifth District’s BioBlitz, outdoor science resource teachers submitted the students’ discovery.

“We were very excited for the kids to know that all of their work in the classroom paid off in real life,” DiPaula said. “They are now a part of history.”

A second mushroom, the elegant stinkhorn, was discovered on Sept. 21, 2018, by Timonium Elementary students. It features a long and pinkish-orange body with a greenish brown top.

Dundalk’s discovery, the Cattail Toothpick Grasshopper or “slender locust,” was found on Nov. 27, 2018. It has a very pointed head and flattened antennae.

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