Playing with bubbles has got to be one of the greatest kicks of childhood and even adults can’t resist blowing bubbles when they can. The second week of March is National Bubble Week and it’s the perfect opportunity to celebrate the round form by taking your kids outdoors to find bubbles in nature. Here are a few pointers as to where you can find the bubbly stuff – and most importantly, the cool science and animal behavior behind them bubbles.
Bubbles in Water
Water is perhaps the easiest place to look for bubbles in nature, bubbles usually made of various gases such as air. At home, you can use a straw to blow air bubbles into a glass of water but for the real deal, a picnic or day out is in order. You can find bubbles in turbulent water environments, such as:
- a waterfall
- a spring
- a mountain stream
- waves breaking on the ocean or on the beach
Depending on where you go, the result can be quite spectacular. In water, pockets of air forced into the water rise to form surface bubbles. will float around for a while and break, leaving tiny white spots (if there are dissolved organic compounds) or just disappearing. At the beach, you’ve probably already seen foam. Foam is essentially many bubbles sticking together thanks to organic matter (algae, phytoplankton).
Try these related activities.
- At the beach, if it’s a sunny or slightly overcast day, watch the color of the bubbles right before they pop. You will notice iridescence, a reflection of the sun in some colors of the spectrum.
- In water streams, count how many seconds it takes for the bubbles to burst. The shorter the time, the purer the water.
Bubbles in Animals
Animals love bubbles too!
- Several breeds of fish, including the male Siamese fighter fish, create bubble nests to house their eggs until they hatch into tiny baby fish.
- Snapping shrimps use bubbles to catch their prey.
- Crabs blow bubbles to keep their gills moist. If you pick up a crab, put it back quickly as if you see if blowing bubbles, it often means it is drying out.
- For snails, blowing bubbles is a way to protect themselves. Foam prevents small enemies from entering the shell or threatening substances to enter into contact with the snail.
- Some ocean-dwelling snails, members of the family Janthinidae, secrete mucus and trap air inside to make bubble rafts and use them as floatation devices. Thanks to their bubble rafts, these snails can bob upside-down right below the surface in oceans across the globe, waiting for floating prey, such as stinging jellyfish, to sail by. Clever, eh?
- Frogs fill their vocal sacks with air to create massive bubbles (up to three times the size of their heads) to call females for mating and defend their territory from other male frogs.
- Beluga whales blow bubbles underwater and express their moods with the different shapes of their bubbles. Beluga bubbles can show them as being playful, startled or aggressive. Who knew bubbles were so emotional?
- Spittlebugs, a familiar name to gardeners, make bubbles out of a liquid they secrete from their back ends on plants. Once the spittlebug has formed up a nice group of bubbles, they will use their hind legs to cover themselves with the foamy substance. The spittle protects them from predators, temperature extremes and helps keep them from dehydrating.
Bubbles in Trees
Trees are another great source of bubbles in nature. If you live next to a conifer forest, you’re in luck.
- Resin. Inside every conifer is a viscous, sticky, clear resin that smells impossibly like Christmas and winter. It’s called resin and is distinct from sap. All of our native and common conifers produce such resins, though how and where in the tree they are produced varies by groups of species. Resin in pines, spruces, and larches, for example, exists in resin canals – elongated, tubular spaces – within wood tissues. Fir resin, like that in hemlock and cedars, is found in the bark and only rarely – in response to traumatic injury – within the wood. Sometimes, resin “pops” out of the bark to create bubbles or bark blisters.
- Leaves. As spring rolls in, you may notice some funny bumps on young leaves of maples, oaks, ashes or hickories. These bumps look like bubbles and can be red, green yellow or black. Called galls, they are generally not harmful to the tree. As the new leaves are coming out of the buds in the spring, tiny mites or insects will feed on the leaves, causing a hypersensitive response by the plant. The plant’s cells rapidly divide, forming a wart-like gall. The mite or insect may then lay its eggs in the gall tissue, where the young develop and complete their life cycle. Another type of bubble, the oak leaf blister, is cause for concern as it created by a fungus and a sign of disease.
Bubbles in Volcanoes
If you’ve been to Hawai’i, you know about its fascinating active volcanoes. Everyday, tourists marvel at the liquid magma falling from the crater into the sea, a never-ending stream of red and bright orange lava ending in steam as it hits the ocean. It’s a spectacle like none other and another opportunity to see bubbles in nature. Indeed, when magma gets closer to the surface, volcanic gases get trapped into the lava and form gas bubbles, also known as lava bubbles. Obviously, getting close to lava bubbles is extremely dangerous and not something I would recommend, but you can safely see lava bubbles when they are trapped in cold lava tubes and look like hollowed rocks with a round surface.
Wikipedia recommends the following places to see lava tubes:
Surtshellir – For a long time, this was the longest known lava tube in the world.
Víðgelmir – Another long lava tube of Iceland.
Gruta das Torres – Lava tube system of the Azores.
Cueva de los Verdes – Lava tube system. Lanzarote, Canary Islands
Cueva del Viento – 17-km (11 mi) lava tube. Tenerife, Canary Islands
- United States
Lava River Cave in Arizona’s Coconino National Forest
Lava Beds National Monument, California – The site of the largest concentration of lava tubes in the United States.
Kazumura Cave, Hawaii – Not only the world’s most extensive lava tube, but has the greatest linear extent of any cave known 65.5km/40.7 miles.
Lava River Cave in Oregon’s Newberry National Volcanic Monument – Newberry National Volcanic Monument
Ape Cave, Washington – May be the third longest lava tube in the continental United States.
- South Korea
Manjang Cave – more than 8 km/5 miles long, located in Jeju Island, is a popular tourism spot.
Bubbles in Raspberries and Strawberries
Last but not least, I had to address the famous “blowing raspberries/strawberries” idiom. Can raspberries really blow bubbles, though you’ve never caught them in the act in your fridge? Sadly, no, but you already knew that. In the United States, some common slang seems to derive its origin from Cockney rhyming slang where “raspberry” is shortened from “raspberry tart” which which rhymes with fart. Hence the farting sound of blowing raspberries. So there, no real nature bubbles here.
Conclusion on Bubbles in Nature
Finding bubbles in nature is extremely cool because you get to learn fun science facts about why these bubbles exist. There’s so much to tell from a bubble, whether it’s a defensive system for animals and trees, a healthy sign of organic matter at sea or an explosive gas affair in volcanoes. Who would have thought bubbles in nature could be so full of mysteries? Plus, you get to go outside and enjoy your daily dose of Vitamin D. Now, who can say no to that? Have fun finding bubbles and let me know if you find more!
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Laure is an author, environmental advocate, blogger, open water swimmer and now mother. She's passionate about inspiring families to enjoy the outdoors with their children, learning to unplug and living a healthy lifestyle, giving kids life skills and exploring the world around us sharing Family Friendly, Fun Ideas for the whole family on Frog Mom.