Studying Insects

butterfly_on_handsInsects are best studied in the warmer months, unless you live in a temperate climate. Tools of the trade are:

(1) an insect net (easily made from an old minnow net, simply replace the fish netting on the loop with muslin for catching insects or bridal-type netting for catching butterflies and moths)
(2) a kill jar (a plastic or Mason jar with a lid and about half an inch of plaster of Paris or sheetrock “mud” poured in the bottom).
(3) a magnifying glass
(4) a field guide

If you intend to start an insect collection you will also need a pinning board and pins. The pinning board may be home-made from balsa wood and hat pins will do, but it is better to buy insect pins.

If you are just starting out studying insects, begin with a simple collection device, such as the The Bug Book and Bug Bottle, and a resource that takes you step-by-step such as The Insect Almanac (out of print, but available used or at the library).

If you can only afford a few books on insects, buy the big National Audubon Society Field Guide to North American Insects and Spiders, the The National Audubon Society Field Guide to North American Butterfliesthe National Audubon Society’s First Field Guide to Insects and Peterson First Guide to Caterpillars. Also, you may want an Insect Collecting & Mounting Kit or some sort of collecting and mounting equipment. These four books and kit will give you a foundational knowledge of insects as well as tips on collecting, mounting, and classifying them. Children love to collect and with a little help are able to create really nice collections that can be displayed.

The Boy Scout merit badge book on insects and 4-H project manuals on insects are also excellent resources. In fact, the 4-H project manuals have the best information we’ve ever seen on insect collection and classification.

Insects can be caught in many different ways:

“Sweeping.” Walk through a grassy field, brushing the net across the grass in a back and forth sweeping motion. Empty out the net into your kill jar or examining jar.

“Beating the bushes.” Place an old white sheet under trees or bushes. Shake the bushes and pick up insects that drop to the sheet below.

Turn over rocks and logs to find beetles, ants, termites, grubs, etc. Do this with a stick…not with your bare hands.

“Netting.” Butterflies and other flying insects can be netted. If you make the net part of your insect net long enough, you can net a butterfly and then flick the end of the net over to keep the insect inside. However, many species of butterflies and moths are endangered, so please, do not collect butterflies and moths. Appreciate them, wonder over them, but let them live. Collect photos, not the real thing.

Syrup. Moths can be attracted to porch lights at night and then netted. Another way to attract moths is to paint a sweet syrup mixture on trees in your yard.

Once you have captured an insect, you can either examine it alive or place it in a kill jar for a few minutes and then examine it dead. Activate the kill jar by soaking a little bug killer or fingernail polish remover (containing ethyl acetate) into the plaster of Paris.

Resources for Studying Insects and Spiders

Bausch & Lomb Hastings Triplet Magnifier, 14x[easyazon-image align=”left” asin=”B0007LRNG6″ locale=”us” height=”100″ src=”” width=”110″]. Bausch & Lomb is one of the finest names in optics and this hand-held magnified is made of three lenses bonded together to provide sharp distinct magnified images. A swing-away nickel plated case protects the lens and serves as a handle. Protective storage pouch included.

[easyazon-image align=”right” asin=”067972981X” locale=”us” height=”76″ src=”” width=”110″]Audubon Society Pocket Guides to Insects and Spiders and Audubon Society Pocket Guide to Familiar Butterflies Of North America. Smaller versions of the big Audubon field guides with color photographs of the most common insects and spiders or butterflies.

[easyazon-image align=”left” asin=”0394519140″ locale=”us” height=”160″ src=”” width=”83″]National Audubon Society Field Guide to North American Insects and Spiders and The National Audubon Society Field Guide to North American Butterfliesare the BIG, comprehensive field guides.

[easyazon-image align=”right” asin=”059005483X” locale=”us” height=”110″ src=”” width=”81″]National Audubon Society’s First Field Guide to Insects is a combination study guide/field guide that teaches about insects as it introduces the most common American insects, plus some arachnids. Ages 10 and up.

[easyazon-image align=”left” asin=”0395911842″ locale=”us” height=”110″ src=”” width=”56″]Peterson First Guide to Caterpillars of North America. We waited a long time for someone to come out with a guide to caterpillars, because the butterfly and moth field guides usually do not cover them in depth and our boys were constantly finding caterpillars we can’t identify. The guide describes 120 common caterpillars, their adult forms, and their host plants in colorful pictures.

[easyazon-image align=”right” asin=”0618307230″ locale=”us” height=”160″ src=”” width=”123″]Butterflies Field Guide Color-In Book is good for focusing on individual butterflies. An even better use is to let children trace or cut out pictures to make an insect journal and their own insect field guides.

[easyazon-image align=”left” asin=”B00000ISC5″ locale=”us” height=”157″ src=”” width=”160″]Insect Lore Live Butterfly Garden. Watch live caterpillars transform into butterflies. The kit includes an easy to assemble butterfly flight cage, a feeding kit, information about butterflies, a coupon to redeem for live Painted Lady caterpillars, and instructions for caring for them. Our son Blake tried this kit and all of his caterpillars grew and grew, formed chrysalli, and then turned into butterflies that we fed for a few days and then released into the wild.

[easyazon-image align=”left” asin=”B004NW9YNA” locale=”us” height=”160″ src=”” width=”146″]Student Insect Collecting & Mounting Kit. This kit contains everything needed to begin an insect collection: an insect net, spreading board, kill jar, mounting pins, and a information booklet on collecting, preserving, mounting, and displaying insects.

[easyazon-image align=”right” asin=”0761148892″ locale=”us” height=”144″ src=”” width=”160″]The Bug Book and Bug Bottle. A truly great hands on resource consisting of a very informative book about common insects and a plastic container to catch and keep them in. For ages 6 to 10.

Great Science Adventures: The World of Insects and Arachnids is another wonderful Dinah Zike science study for grades K – 8. Twenty four lessons thoroughly cover all that age group needs to learn about insects. In each lesson, students make a small booklet using masters provided in the book, they perform lab activities and present the results in colorful posters or table-top presentations, and they choose extra activities to broaden their knowledge. Teacher pages include vocabulary words, concept maps, assessments, assignments for all grade levels, and enrichment activities. This is a super resource that kids will love using, especially boys, because it’s so hands-on. Unfortunately, it’s out of print, but you can still get new copies through Amazon.

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