Data Nuggets: Beetle Battles

Liz Schultheis and Melissa Kjelvik
Type Category
Instructional Materials
Graph , Informative Text , Lesson/Lesson Plan , Data
This resource, vetted by NSTA curators, is provided to teachers along with suggested modifications to make it more in line with the vision of the NGSS. While not considered to be “fully aligned,” the resources and expert recommendations provide teachers with concrete examples and expert guidance using the EQuIP rubric to adapted existing resources. Read more here.



“Beetle Battles” is one lesson from the Data Nuggets website. Data Nuggets are lessons that originated from a partnership of teachers and scientists to address both the needs of scientists to share their research broadly and improve their communication skills and the needs of teachers for authentic resources that help students engage in the practice of science. Data Nuggets give students practice interpreting quantitative information and making claims based on evidence. In this activity, students use and/or construct graphs to facilitate data interpretation, and are challenged to construct explanations based on evidence.

“Beetle battles” delves into the male-male competition amongst horned dung beetles that may lead to successful reproduction. Students are asked this driving question: “How does strength affect the male horned dung beetles’ chances of winning fights or being chosen as a mate?” The lesson involves graphing data, making a claim, and providing evidence and reasoning to support the claim. The lesson includes a teacher guide (available by email request:, student activity sheets at three different proficiency levels, background information, a grading rubric, and additional support and information.

Intended Audience

Educational Level
  • Middle School
Access Restrictions

Free access - The right to view and/or download material without financial, registration, or excessive advertising barriers.

Performance Expectations

MS-LS1-4 Use argument based on empirical evidence and scientific reasoning to support an explanation for how characteristic animal behaviors and specialized plant structures affect the probability of successful reproduction of animals and plants respectively.

Clarification Statement: Examples of behaviors that affect the probability of animal reproduction could include nest building to protect young from cold, herding of animals to protect young from predators, and vocalization of animals and colorful plumage to attract mates for breeding. Examples of animal behaviors that affect the probability of plant reproduction could include transferring pollen or seeds, and creating conditions for seed germination and growth. Examples of plant structures could include bright flowers attracting butterflies that transfer pollen, flower nectar and odors that attract insects that transfer pollen, and hard shells on nuts that squirrels bury.

Assessment Boundary: none

This resource appears to be designed to build towards this performance expectation, though the resource developer has not explicitly stated so.

Comments about Including the Performance Expectation
The amount of data is enough for middle schoolers to support a claim with evidence without being overwhelmed. If students need more challenge, the teacher could present additional data from the original source. This activity is a good starting point for the performance expectation, but the teacher will need to engage students in the practice and disciplinary core ideas several times before the students meet the expectation. This resource does not address other animal behaviors or specialized plant structures, so the teacher should plan to address these concepts through other lessons.

Science and Engineering Practices

This resource is explicitly designed to build towards this science and engineering practice.

Comments about Including the Science and Engineering Practice
This resource provides information and data from a scientific study on the relationships between horned dung beetles strength, mating and winning fights. The information is graphed by the students and analyzed. Students are given prompts that lead them to develop a claim, supported by evidence along with reasoning for their ideas. Some students may need some scaffolding (e.g. graphic organizers, sentence starters) if writing a Claims-Evidence-Reasoning response is new to them. As with any of the science and engineering practices, students will need multiple opportunities to engage with them in mastering the performance expectation.

Disciplinary Core Ideas

This resource appears to be designed to build towards this disciplinary core idea, though the resource developer has not explicitly stated so.

Comments about Including the Disciplinary Core Idea
The scientific (driving) question for the lesson is how strength relates to winning fights or being chosen as a mate. Students look at the correlation of two male-male competitions amongst horned dung beetles:strength in winning battles and winning a mate. This lesson does not fully address a multitude of behaviors for successful breeding so the teacher should add readings or other activities that compare other behaviors that result in mating in other animals. The resources do provide a scientific paper by the authors of this activity; however, it is above the level of most middle school students. Reproductive Behavior of Animals,, is an article that can address these other behaviors at the middle school level.

Crosscutting Concepts

This resource appears to be designed to build towards this crosscutting concept, though the resource developer has not explicitly stated so.

Comments about Including the Crosscutting Concept
Students should use the data and the graphs to develop a cause and effect relationship between male strength and winning battles, and male strength and successful mating. Although this resource provides a data set, the cause and effect relationship is not highlighted in the activity. The teacher can make suggestions to elicit student explanations when they are evaluating the graphs, and engage the students in describing the relationship that is evident. The teacher can have students research, or provide other resources to examine more completely reproductive behaviors. Students could discuss relationships between other species. Use of chart paper or whiteboards could allow students to diagram all of the cause and effect relationships that are possible in a variety of situations.

Resource Quality

  • Alignment to the Dimensions of the NGSS: This Data Nugget lesson uses the three dimensions to explain the phenomena of animal behaviors that lead to successful reproduction in horned dung beetles. It is structured to elicit direct observable evidence of students’ three-dimensional learning as they make sense of an authentic phenomenon and real data. This lesson could be strengthened by providing additional behaviors in other animals to elicit student questions and prior knowledge. Suggestions are provided in the “Tips” sections of this review.

  • Instructional Supports: This Data Nugget lesson offers teachers instructional supports. A teacher guide, printable student activity sheets (provided at three different proficiency levels) and a grading rubric are provided. The Teacher Guide includes both teacher notes, checks for understanding, and answer keys. The final questions within the Data Nugget lesson provide opportunities for extended activities. The website provides additional instructional support for differentiated instruction ( and extension ( ).

  • Monitoring Student Progress: This Data Nugget lesson elicits evidence of students’ three-dimensional learning. Printable student worksheets are provided at three different proficiency levels; these student worksheets at different levels make the lesson accessible and unbiased by providing a variety of representations of the data. Teachers have additional suggested ways to check students’ understanding within the Teacher Guide. A comprehensive scoring rubric is also provided.

  • Quality of Technological Interactivity: This is not an interactive, technology-based resource.