Bug Hunt

Grasshopper shows off
his jumping legs.

It doesn't take fancy equipment to begin entomology, or the study of bugs!  A take-out container with a tight lid has the perfect large mouth for collecting insects, then observing them through the clear plastic.  I catch land insects like grasshoppers by quickly but carefully placing the upside-down container over a specimen, then sliding the lid under until I can seal it.  For flying insects, I try to get above them while they're on a plant and with the lid almost in place, nudge it off until I can seal the container.  These are meant for 10-15 minute observations before letting the insect go.  Release insects away from people's faces.  Be careful not to catch wings and legs inside the lid!  (To keep insects longer, they will need food, water, and a place to feel safe.  Check out my other pages on raising swallowtail caterpillars or keeping pill bugs and bess beetles.)
Pill bugs often ride on other animals, as they did
on their mother as babies.  I've seen them ride
bess beetles and snails.  Here, they piggy-back
each other.  Video coming soon to my Youtube channel!.
Who is this tiny guy?  Some type of  beetle.

Insects are everywhere! If you look under rocks and logs, you will often find detrivores, or creatures that eat dead and decaying things. This includes many beetles, as well as non-insects such  as     pill 
bugs, sow bugs, worms, and  nematodes. They are great recyclers, turning decomposing material back into soil through frass (beetle droppings), vermicompost (worm waste), and others.  A great scavenger list can be found on page 15-17 here.   

Among flowers, you will find nectivores and pollinators, including bees, wasps, flies, ants, and again, beetles!  Unless you're allergic, don't fear the bees.  Most species are fairly docile.  After capture, they often calm quickly and their sipping tongues, six legs, and perhaps even pollen sacs on those legs, can be observed. 

Check again: Several flies look like bees!  The bee fly is tiny and drinks nectar.  It's eyes give it away. A very large insect that resembles a carpenter bee may actually be a robber fly!  Related to horse flies, they capture and eat bees!  

Does this bee think this glue is nectar?
Another pollinator species you may find are ants.  I often find ants on my strawberry flowers, helping pollinate them to get more strawberries!  Later, these ants may herd aphids up my stalky sunflowers to get honeydew from them.  More on ant behaviors here.

Big leaves attract hungry crowds!  Under squash leaves, cabbages, even sunflower leaves, you'll find aphids, beetles, true bugs (they suck leaf juice), caterpillars, grasshoppers, and their predators: mantids, lady bugs, assassin bugs, oh my!  

Make a science pack!  Fill a canvas lunch bag with a small sketch pad, colored pencils, and a magnifying lens or magnifying sheet.  Most dollar stores will have these.  You can also print out and laminate the scavenger lists I've included links to (above) and keep them on a key chain ring.  Dry erase marker will wash off these if you want to circle what you find on them and reuse them another day.  A camera comes in handy too!  I take many with my phone when I don't have my fancy camera on me.  

Sketching will help you examine what you find better.  Look at the overall shape, the symmetry, the colors and patterns, the details in legs, antenna, and mouth parts.  Your drawings would make a great field guide to track your discoveries, or can be glued to folded card stock to make an attractive and unique card.  You could even write a poem or story inside!

A fun guide to use: Gross and Awesome Bug Book

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