Keeping a "bug zoo'' is a fun way to learn more about different kinds of insects.
What You Need:
- Clean, see-through containers with lids*
- A hammer and nail
- Some screen or netting
- Rubber bands
- An adult to help
- An insect net to help catch the bugs you find.
- A magnifying glass to look closely at small legs, wings, and eyes. (This insect jar has built-in magnifiers that make it great for checking out insects you don't want to keep.)
*Tip: plastic jars with shaker lids, like the ones spices and parmesan cheese come in, make great homes for larger bugs because the lids already have holes in them! Plastic jars that peanut butter or mayonnaise come in and small glass or plastic bottles from drinks like juice, iced tea, or soda work well as bug containers, too. You can also use plastic tanks.
What You Do:
- First, make several different habitats. You'll need one for each kind of bug you collect. To make a habitat, cover the bottom of a container with dirt and add a few small rocks or a twig. Insects that live in trees don't need dirt or rocks, instead you can put a small branch of the tree you find the insect on into its container.
- Provide water for the bugs to drink. Get a cotton ball wet and put it in the bottom of the container. Some bugs, like butterflies and ants, prefer sweeter liquids. For those, soak a couple of raisins in water for 20 minutes before putting them into the habitat.
- To give the bugs air, ask an adult to use the hammer and nail to poke small holes in the top of each container. Or, you can cover the container with a piece of fine mesh or screen and wrap a rubber band tightly around the opening. Just make sure the bugs you put inside are too large to get through the holes.
- Now that your habitats are ready, it's time to start finding bugs! Some good places to look are in tall grass, near shrubs and bushes, in vegetable gardens, and in the branches and bark of trees. You can also turn over rocks to look for creatures like sow bugs and worms.
- When you find a bug, gently move it to one of your habitats. Make sure the habitat is similar to the place you found the bug. If it was in the grass, the habitat should have some dirt, a few blades of grass, and maybe some leaves from a nearby plant. If it was under a rock, it should have lots of dirt and several rocks as well as a few leaves or blades of grass. Think carefully about each bug and what you think it might need while it's in your bug zoo.
- Watch your zoo pets with a magnifying glass and take notes about each one in a notebook. As soon as you're done observing (after a day or two), let each bug go in the same place you found it. You can always go out and find new ones to look at later!
Find out what kinds of insects live in your yard with this project.
What You Need:
- small, clean container (a plastic yogurt cup or butter tub works well)
- small garden shovel
- "bait" such as jam, honey, or pieces of soft ripe fruit (like banana or mango)
What You Do:
- Pick an area of your yard where you would like to observe bugs. Dig a hole in the ground big enough to hold the container so its rim is level with the ground.
- Find some "bait" to attract insects. What kinds of things do you think most insects like to eat? Place a small amount of one or two of those things in the bottom and on the top rim of your container and set it in the hole. Fill any extra space around the container with dirt, but try not to get any dirt in the container.
- Leave the area for about 30 minutes, then go back and check to see if any insects have come to taste the treat you left for them. You can leave your container out all day if you like, checking on it every hour to watch bugs come and go.
- After you've observed for awhile, take the container out of the hole and set it on its side so the insects can get out.
You probably noticed a few insects in your container. What did you see? Maybe some ants and small beetles or flying insects inside and some bees buzzing nearby? The insects could smell the sweet treat you placed in the container and made their way to it. Once inside the plastic dish, most of them probably couldn't climb up the sides (since they are slippery and there isn't anything for the insects to grab onto to pull themselves up), so they were stuck there.
If you checked your container more than once, did you see any different bugs the 2nd or 3rd time? If you didn't see many insects or want to experiment more, try putting the container in different spots and using different things as bait.
Make a special book to store all of the information you know about insects! You can add to it as you continue to learn more and more about the many insects you'll find.
What You Need:
- three-ring binder
- three-hole paper punch
- plain white paper
- a pen
- crayons or colored pencils
- journal template page or a ruler
What You Do:
- Decorate the outside of your book with pictures cut from magazines, stickers, or your own drawings (draw them on paper, then cut out and glue them to the binder).
- Each page of the book will be for one insect and should include space to draw a picture, several lines to write things you know about the creature, and some lines to add things you find out later, too. You can either print out several copies of our journal template page or make your own.
- Ask an adult to help you punch holes on the left side of each page and put the pages into the binder to make a book. You can always add more pages later if you want to.
- Start the first page with your favorite bug. Draw a picture of it, write its name below, and then write anything you know about it, like where it lives (in a tree? in the grass?) and what it eats. You can also look in an identification guide if you want to find out more about a particular bug.
- Whenever you learn something new about a bug in your book, add it to the page about that bug. If you need more space, you can add another sheet of plain paper behind the first one. If you have more than one page for the same creature, it helps to write the name of the bug in the top right-hand corner of the page so that you can tell which pages go together. When you learn about a new bug that isn't in your book yet, make a new page for it.
To learn more about bugs that you find, you can use these online identification guides for common insects & spiders and caterpillars, butterflies, and moths.
Here are some insect science projects from other issues of this newsletter:
Looking for teaching tips about insects? Try these: Learn About Bugs and Insect Investigations.