Forget your fly swatter! Head to the woods, a local park or your own backyard for a major bug-collecting expedition. Use our directions to make a "critter keeper jar" or simply use a jar and punch several holes in its metal lid. Arm yourself with curiosity and you've got all the tools you need for an interesting and educational adventure that literally leaves no stone unturned.
Serious bug hunters may want to record their findings in a notebook. Others may prefer to draw bug pictures to create a book, like one panel family's kid, Nathan Price, did. But even the most amateur entomologists will be amazed by what lies under the rocks, especially when they realize they can play in the dirt to find out!
Set out for a critter hunt in the morning, afternoon or evening. Following are tips on how to have a safe, successful and exciting hunt (including directions and a photo for making your own critter keeper).
HOW/WHERE TO SEARCH:
Vote on Spotting vs. Keeping
Let the kids decide if you want to "catch" what you see or just spot what you see. If you want to catch, see below for our "critter keeper" directions. The Murphy family just observed critters and chose not to touch them so they could learn more about "what the critters do and how they live."
Choose your Search Area
Try your garden or backyard, a local park, flowerbeds, hedges, cornfields
and under rocks or logs. The Prices "lifted up rocks, patio furniture
and even toys and found little bug worlds underneath".
Many critters hide among their favorite plants. Katydids are green just like
the leaves. Many moths are brown and look just like the bark on their
favorite trees. Butterflies are drawn to red, orange and pink flowers
and also like phlox, alyssum, verbena, and herbs such as marjoram and thyme.
Look for beetles under fallen logs or rocks.
Crickets love cracks in sidewalks and buildings. (Hint: you've got to be
fast to catch them as they hop away!).
You might find the woolly bear caterpillar crawling across a sidewalk or on
Keep your eyes open for ants of all sizes---they are everywhere. (Most of
our families decided these were not their favorite critters, however.)
If you're heading on a nighttime hunt, try turning on a porch light, standing
near a street light or shining a flashlight and you're sure to see some
Find a large grassy lawn on a warm summer's night and you'll see the bright
flickering of hundreds of fireflies. Fireflies and ladybugs were favorites among our panel families.
Be a Detective
Signs of critter life include nibbled plant leaves or
Look on the stems and underneath the leaves or petals for hungry
caterpillars and other insects. Carefully lift up leaves, flowers and rocks
to look for critters.
Listen as carefully as you look. Cicadas, for example, sing at dawn
and dusk in the summer. Peek on tree trunks. If you're lucky, you
can watch a green cicada drying out on the tree trunk after crawling out of
its brown nymph skin, which may still cling to the tree.
. . . and Catch!
If you plan to keep your critters, gently shake a branch
over a light-colored towel so the bugs and critters fall onto it (try not to
handle with fingers). Let them crawl up a stick to transfer them into your
jar. Do not try to capture anything that may sting including wasps,
bumblebees, or hornets.
Identify your prey
It may be difficult to correctly name what you've found,
but here are some tips.
Count legs: Insects have only six legs, but spiders have eight.
A hairy spider could be a "wolf spider" that lives in the ground and moves
very fast to catch its food.
Antennae? Most butterflies have antennae that look like golf clubs with
thick bumps at each end; moths tend to have antennae that are straight or
If you want the official insect names, check out a field guide from the
library; a good one for kids is the National Audubon Society's First Field
Guide-Insects published by Scholastic.
Unable to identify a critter? The Murphy boys plan to draw a picture and take it to their county extension office for a professional opinion.
MAKING A PLASTIC CRITTER-KEEPER JAR
If your kids want to collect what they've found, make this keeper jar. Your
critters can breathe and you can watch them closely. Add some grass, sticks,
leaves or flowers and when you're finished watching, let the bugs go back to
their own homes again.
TIP: Use scraps of lace or netting and substitute masking tape and
permanent markers to cut down on supply costs.
What To Do:
Remove the paper label. Ask an adult to cut a small rectangular hole in
the upper half of one side of the jar. Make it about 3 inches wide and 1-2
Cut a piece of netting that is 1 inch wider than the hole and 3 times the
height of hole plus 1 inch. Fold the netting into thirds so you have 3
layers of netting to cover the hole.
Stretch the netting layers over the hole and tape it in place along all 4
edges with electrical tape. Press tape firmly against jar. Decorate the
tape with paint markers and bug stickers.
To make an optional handle: Wrap one chenille stem around the top of jar
under the lid and twist ends together. Slide the ends of the other stem
under the first one at opposite sides of jar. Hook the ends around it and
twist to hold.
TAKE IT FROM ME:
Jack (age 5) just received a bug collecting kit for his birthday. The set
has tongs for pick-ups, a net, a small jar with a magnifying glass built in
and a larger jar for bigger prey. --The Hannan Family
We have critter discoveries often when we dig in the garden. Once I found a
newt and the kids loved holding it and looking at it before we set it free. --Peggy LaClair