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Going on a Critter Hunt

By Beth Stevens for Real Families, Real Fun

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).


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 plants.

  • 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 moths.

  • 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 flowers.
  • 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 feathery.

  • 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.


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.

What You'll Need:
  • 28 or 40-ounce plastic peanut butter jar
  • sharp scissors (an adult's job)
  • nylon netting, tulle, or fine wire mesh
  • electrical or masking tape
  • Optional: 2 chenille stems, paint markers, bug stickers

  • TIP: Use scraps of lace or netting and substitute masking tape and permanent markers to cut down on supply costs.

What To Do:
  1. 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 inches tall.

  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.

  3. 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.

  4. 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.

    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

    Also see:
    Take the kids to an art museum
    Enjoy a one-day family escape
    Great children's museums

    ©Studio One Networks


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