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Yellow Medicine County Bug Camp Activities

What is an insect and how do they eat?

Grade level: 3

Objectives: Students will be able to identify that an insect has three body parts, six legs, one or two pair of wings, one pair of antennae, and external mouth parts. Students will be able to design an insect and explain how and what their insect eats and the kind of mouth it has.


Duration: 2 hours


Before studying insects, children should be able to identify an insect from other anthropods and be able to describe the different types of insect mouth parts.


Explain how to identify an insect from other arthropods:

Show pictures of various insects (fly, butterfly, grasshopper, mosquito) and point to mouth parts. Demonstrate how the different mouth parts work:

Mouth parts are a clue to an insect's feeding habits, and also are a means of identifying an insect.

Have students design their own insect. It can be one they know, or an imaginary one. (Remember there are millions of insects not identified yet.) On their posters, the students will indicate the three body parts. Students will explain what their insect eats, and the kind of mouth parts it has. Have the students share their posters with the class. Before being displayed, posters can be sorted according to mouth parts, the beginning of a classification system for your insects.


Insects come in a wide variety of shapes and colors, but all insects have certain things in common (3 body parts, six legs, wings, antenna). By studying the ways that insects eat and the different mouth parts that insects have, students can begin to classify insects into the different orders.


Student's posters will demonstrate that they know number of body parts, legs, and wings, and one way that insects eat.

Integration across curriculum:

This lesson includes some art work. More could be added by drawing the insect's habitat, or making a large mural to display the insects.


Ranger Rick's Nature Scope: Incredible Insects, National Wildlife Federation, Washington, DC

The Practical Entomologist, Rick Imes, Simon and Schuster/Fireside, New York

Lesson Plan prepared by Susan Taylor, Penn State Cooperative Extension, Bug Camp for Teachers, 7/97, Catch the Bug! Workshop, NAE4-HA, 11/98

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Collection and Sorting of Insects from the Field

There are many ways to sample plants and animals. The technique you use will depend upon what question you are asking and what you are looking for. First, there are some basic points about sampling, regardless of the reason:

First rule of sampling: Sample in such a way as not to destroy the critter!

Second rule of sampling: LABEL your sample! You will forget most of the important points if you do not label the sample right away. Write labels in pencil or indelible ink.

Third rule of sampling: PRESERVE your sample so it will look like itself later! Zip lock bags work well as temporary storage, but insects should soon be put into alcohol.

Corollary to third rule = Rule of the Hot Car. If you want a live sample, don't put it in a HOT CAR!

Sampling Techniques

Direct Observation

Direct observation is an important way to get information about what is happening in the biological world. You are watching a small segment of the ecosystem and forming ideas about what might be going on around you. Although it is a simple step, it is important to make some observations before you sample just to get a feel for the overall ecosystem you are standing in.

Trapping: Who and how

Trapping is a way to sample mobile creatures in the environment even when you are NOT looking. In the case of invertebrates, traps can tell you a number of things about the ecosystem you are looking at besides "what pest is present". Most of these traps can be made with homemade materials.

Catching plant dwellers

If the insects are on the surface of the plants, they can be captured by picking them off (tedious and often not very effective), using a sweep net or a beating tray. In all of these techniques, the critters are dislodged from the surface of the plant and hopefully, fall into your clutches with getting squished. You will practice these techniques in the field.

Catching soil and soil surface dwellers

Pitfall traps are containers sunken into the ground so that animals fall in and can't get out. To keep critters in, you can put a ring of Vaseline along the top, or put in water with a little detergent, or antifreeze. Depending on what you put in them, these traps tend to catch mostly arthropods that jump or walk across the ground, particularly lumbering beetle types and some spiders. Many of the beetles are out looking for an easy meal of other insects or decaying organic matter. The spiders are all predators and are DEFINITELY looking for a live meal. The presence of these creatures abundance may indicate a relatively undisturbed ecosystem because they feed on other insects or decaying organic matter that would be limited in a heavily sprayed field or a simple, open annual monoculture like young corn. A perennial crop, like alfalfa that provides an early season canopy habitat and is not necessarily sprayed may harbor many more such critters. Pitfall traps with baits, preserving alcohol, beer or other contents may attract a different complex of organisms.

Ground Cover Traps

Many arthropods seek moisture and darkness. You can create a "trap" for them simply by providing such a habitat in open ground by laying down a board, piece of cardboard, carpet etc. After a day or two have passed, go lift up the ground cover and see who is home. You will find some different species than in the pitfall trap including nocturnal ones.

Leaf Litter Traps (Berlese funnels)

Many invertebrates are detritivores, feeding only on dead and decaying organic matter. (And by the way, we are glad they do, since life as we know it would not be possible without them. Do you know why? You can sample to look for a healthy detrivore community by collecting leaf litter and placing it on a screen pressed into a funnel. At the bottom of the funnel place a vial with alcohol. At the top of the funnel put a light bulb. The heat and light drives the critters down to their drunken death. You can compare evergreen forest, broadleaf forest, grassland and ag systems this way. This exercise never fails to astound by the sheer diversity of animals captured "out of nothing".

Critters that live IN the soil can be collected best in a similar set up as the leaf litter traps. For a quick and dirty assessment, take a couple trowel "bites" of soil down 3-4' and spread out the soil on a light colored cloth. See who comes out and collect them.

Airborne Insects

Sticky Traps

Sticky traps are a "generalist" trap ­ they will catch almost anything that flies that isn't a bird or bat! Sticky traps can give you an idea of how many different kinds of things are flying around day or night. These insects may or may not be living in that field and may or may not be "pests". The difficulty with stick traps is getting the insects OFF of the things to look at them. They are very useful for catching tiny things that you might miss using other sampling techniques. Sticky traps are especially useful in monitoring hothouse or greenhouse pests such as fungus gnats or whiteflies.

Malaise Traps

Malaise traps capitalize on the fact that when most flying insects hit an obstacle, they fly up. This trap is made by setting up a tent-like structure with mesh "walls" that cause the insects to fly up into the killing jar you so shrewdly put there.

Light Traps

Light traps are also a generalist trap but they catch nocturnal flying insects that are attracted to light, mostly homely brown moths and big clumsy beetles. Sifting through light traps tend to be a bit of a mess, so you should have a good reason for setting one up! Other ways of sampling nocturnal insects is to just set up a light colored sheet near a night light and pick out the insects you want to look at.

Pheromone Traps

Pheromone traps are very specific to the type of flying insect they catch. They are usually some sort of sticky trap with a special "sex scent" bait included. This scent attracts specifically the males of a given species of insect. It is most useful in telling you when the adults are flying and mating. With weather information, you can then predict when egg laying, egg hatch and the various stages of larval development will take place. If you decide you need to spray, you can better determine which product and when you would use it.

From Bug Camp for Teachers, Jun, 1997 Penn State College of Agricultural Sciences, Department of Entomology

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Traps, nets, and cages


  • Large can
  • Ice pick or sharp object to punch holes in can
  • Plastic container (optional)
  • Boxes
  • Petroleum jelly
  • Bait (honey, molasses, meat, fruit)
  • White sheet
  • Screen to cover the bait
  • Funnel or coffee cup liner (optional)

Can traps

First punch small holes in the bottom of the can so that it won't fill up with water if it rains. Then dig a hole in the ground and sink the can so that its top is at ground level. (Pick a spot that is rich in insect life.) For bait, you can use a piece of meat left to decay, molasses or honey, or fermented fruit. Put the bait at the bottom of the can and cover the food with a screen. (That way you won't have to pick through the bait to see the insects.)

Experiment with different baits to see which foods attract which kinds of insects. Try setting up cans containing the same bait in several different locations. Which cans attract the most insects? You can also use plastic coffee cup liners or small plastic funnels in making traps. Put the funnels in a plastic container or can and place bait at the bottom. Insects walking by will slide down the funnel and into the trap. What kinds of creatures crawled in besides insects?

Box Traps

To catch insects such as cockroaches, silverfish, and beetles inside a building, use an open-topped cardboard box or jar. Set it in a dark, secluded place and put the bait inside. (Use molasses or honey, moist dog food, or any leftover bits of food.) Build a ramp up the side of the box onto the top of the box. Then coat the inside upper two or three inches with petroleum jelly. Once insects crawl in to get the bait, they will have a hard time crawling out.


You can also attract insects by using a sweet concoction of fermented fruit juices, stale beer, mushy bananas, and molasses or honey. Mix it all together and spread it on tree trunks, fence posts, stumps, and logs. Beetles, ants, roaches, flies, and butterflies may come to feed. Try this activity during the day and at night to see if you attract different insects. You will probably also attract daddy longlegs, spiders, sowbugs and maybe even some mammals, amphibians, or reptiles.

The Sheet Trick

Many insects have a habit of folding their legs and acting dead when they are disturbed. You can make use of this trick to catch them. Take a white sheet outside and spread it out under a plant. Try shaking a tree or jarring a weed with a stick. See if any insects fall out onto the white sheet.

Making An Insect Net


  • 3-foot (1m)piece of broom handle
  • Old lace curtain or nylon net, at least 45 inches (114cm) long and 24 inches (61cm) wide
  • Strip of muslin (or other cotton fabric) about 45 inches (114 cm) long and 3 inches (8cm) wide
  • Strong tape
  • Wire coat hanger
  • Funnel or coffee cup liner (optional

Here is an easy net to make for capturing flying and hopping insects that are hard to catch by hand. (It is not the sturdiest net, but it will work well for beginning collectors.).

Flowerpot cage


  • Flower pot
  • Gauze
  • Cylinder of clear plastic, glass or screen
  • Food plant of the insect
  • Rubber band

To watch a plant-feeding insect up close, make a "flowerpot" cage. First plant the insect's food plant in a flowerpot or large can. Cover the plant with a cylinder of clear plastic, glass, or screen. The cylinder should be open at both ends. (if you are going to watch for only a short time, you can invert a glass jar over the plant.) Put the insect on the plant and cover the top with gauze held on by a rubber band.

Light lovers

Have you ever noticed all the insects flying around a night? Lights are often used to attract insects that fly in the evening, especially moths. Areas with lots of trees and flowers‹like backyards, parks or wood ­ are good places to watch night fliers.


  • Tacks
  • An old white sheet
  • A light (porch light, large flashlight or lantern)
  • A large glass jar and lid with holes punched in
  • A plant stem or twig to put inside the jar

  1. Tack the sheet on the side of building or from the branch of a tree.
  2. Shine a bright light on the sheet at night.
  3. You can stand very close to the sheet without scaring off the insects. When an insect lands on the sheet, try to catch it in your jar for a closer look. Let it go when you are finished.

Have a moth ball

You don't have to dress up like a moth to attract one. In fact, with a few simple materials you can host a party for moths, and other insects, and get a good look at some of your surprising neighbors. You may want to use a field guide to help identify some of your guests.


Just like kids, many insects love sweet stuff. You can attract moths and other insects by getting out a sweet and sticky treat. Moths are more easily attracted at dusk, but you can use the same bait and method for attracting other insects during the day.


  • Sugar or molasses
  • Stale fruit juice
  • Spoiled, mashed up fruit (bananas work well)
  • Bowl and spoon
  • Trees
  • Old paintbrush
  • Flashlight
  1. Mix up the sugar, juice and fruit in a bowl.
  2. Late in the day choose a tree, or trees, and use an old paintbrush to paint the mixture on the trunk.
  3. Return about an hour later in the dark. Use your flashlight to see who is dropped in.
  4. You can make a moth trail by painting several trees along a route that can be walked in 20-30 minutes. Try to end up where you started. By the time the last tree has been painted, some insects may already be at the first tree. Follow the route around, checking to see what has been attracted at each stop.

Tricks Of the Trade

Many insects prefer quiet, dark places and take a bit of persuasion to come into the open. Here are a few "tricks of the trade" for finding insects and luring them out into the open.

Low Life

Ground-dwelling insects may come out of hiding if you tempt them with a sweet and sticky snack.


  • Towel
  • Spoon
  • A rinsed-out soup can with one end removed
  • Peanut butter and jam
  1. In a field or woods, dig a hole big enough to hold your can. Pack soil around the can, making sure the open end is level with the ground.
  2. Put a couple of spoonfuls of jam in the can and spread a thin layer of peanut butter around the inside of the rim.
  3. Leave your trap for several hours or overnight, and then come back to see what you have caught.
  4. After you have had a good look at your can in a different habitat and compare the kinds and number of creatures that you catch.

Make a bug catcher

What do you get when you cross a baby food jar with two drinking straws? A terrific bug catcher, of course!

  • 2 flexible bendable drinking straws or pieces of plastic aquarium tubing
  • Hammer
  • Large nail
  • Jar lid
  1. Hammer the nail into the lid to make two holes, 0.5 cm (1/4 inch) wide each, and about 3 cm (1 inch) apart.
  2. Turn the lid over and hammer down the sharp edges around the holes.
  3. Push the two straws or tubes through the holes in the jar lid. Use tape, to seal around them.
  4. Tape a piece of cheesecloth over the bottom of one tube. This is to prevent you sucking insects into your mouth.
  5. Place the lid tightly on the jar.
  6. To catch a bug, place the tube with the cheesecloth attached at the bottom in your mouth and suck hard. Place the open end of the other tube near a small insect. The insect will be sucked through the tube and into your jar. Now you can have a good look at it before letting it go.

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Predator/prey games

Caterpillar field: Some caterpillars are well hidden by their camouflaged colors. Hide different color pipe cleaners in a field of tall grass. All the students are hungry bird and must go find one caterpillar and bring it back to the nest. What color pipe cleaners were easiest to find? The birds are still hungry, so they must find two more caterpillars. Are the caterpillars harder to find now? Did some birds go hungry? What would happen to the bird population if all the caterpillars died off? Variation: Have the students make their own pipe cleaner insects and hide them.

Bat-Bat-Moth: Bats eat hundreds of insects every night. They locate their prey by echolocation, meaning they emit a sound which bounces off the insect and echoes back to the bat the location of the prey. In this game, the bat is blindfolded. To find his prey, he calls out "bat-bat-bat". The prey (the moth) must answer back "moth-moth-moth" while moving around the circle trying not to get caught. The rest of the players stand quietly in a circle and act as spotters to protect the bat and moth. When the bat catches the moth, two new players come into the circle to play the bat and the moth.

Poison Squirting Bug: Some insects squirt a repulsive liquid when startled or threatened. In this game, one person is the Poison Squirting Bug. He is blindfolded in the center of the circle, and has a squirt gun or squirt bottle of poison that he squirts on anyone who come near. The rest of the players must try to get their food (clothespins) that is on the ground near the Poison Squirting Bug, without getting squirted. This game is best played on gravel. You may want to tap each player on the shoulder, so they take turns trying to the food.

You Can't See Me: Sometimes insects are hard to see because they stay very still when a predator is near. The predator closes his eyes and counts to 100, while all the insects hide. The insects must be able to see the predator from their hiding place. When the predator reaches one hundred, he opens his eyes and looks for the prey. He must stay in one spot, not moving out of a three foot circle. (You can define this circle by putting a hula-hoop or a circle of rope on the ground.) When he sees and insect, he calls out that person'' name or describes that person'' clothing. When the predator has identified all the insects he can see, he closes his eyes and counts to 20. While he is counting, the insects in hiding must move three steps closer to the predator and hide. They the predator looks for more insects to eat. Repeat until all the insects are found.

Praying Mantis: Not only are the prey good at hiding, the predators can hide too. This game has one predator, the Praying Mantis. Choose a tree or other object to serve as a base. While the group counts to 100, with eyes closed, the Praying Mantis finds a hiding place. When they reach 100, the players move about, trying to find the Praying Mantis. While the Praying Mantis wants to catch the insect players, it may be in his best interest not to jump too soon. By waiting, the Praying Mantis may be able to lure the prey farther away from the base. As soon as a player sees the Praying Mantis, he screams out loudly, "Praying Mantis!" This is the signal for all the insects to run back to the base. As they race back to the base, the Praying Mantis tries to tag as many as he can.

Prepared by: Susan Taylor, Penn State Cooperative Extension Catch the Bug! Workshop

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Preparing a bugfeast

The thought of eating insects can be very repulsive to some people. In fact, we make an effort to keep insects out of our food. But in some countries, insects are eaten as a source of protein. Americans eat other invertebrates and arthropods, such as crab, lobster and shrimp, even consider them a delicacy. So why shouldn't insects be considered a taste treat also?

If your group is really adventuresome, you may want to plan and prepare a Bugfeast. You can purchase canned and prepared insects, such a chocolate covered ants, at some gourmet shops. But it is easy and fun to prepare you own bug treats.

Preparing insects for eating

Insects can be purchased at bait shops or pet shops (they are sold for reptile food). To make sure the insects are purged of any pesticides or other toxins, you need to feed them a healthy diet for a few days to purge their gut. Mealworms should be put in corn meal for a few days. Crickets and others should be fed a diet of raw apple for two or three days. To separate mealworms from any attached food or waste material, place a handful in a colander and gently toss. Remove any dead worms and wash the remaining live worms under cool water. Crickets should be placed in the refrigerator for a few hours before attempting to wash them, to slow them down.

Cooking insects

There are lots of tasty ways to prepare insects for a Bugfeast. Insects, like lobster, are best if cooked while alive or fresh frozen. To facilitate your Bugfeast preparations, insects can be kept alive for several days in the refrigerator. In fact, refrigeration before cooking is advised because it slows down the insects and makes them easier to handle. Warning: alert your family that there are live insects in the refrigerator.

Dry roasted insects

Take cleaned insects out of freezer or refrigerator. Spread them on a paper towel covered baking sheet. Bake at 200 degrees for one to two hours, until the insects are easily crushed with a spoon. You may want to remove the legs, wings and ovipositor of crickets after roasting them.

Now you are ready to add dry roasted insects to your favorite recipes. Try them in chocolate chip cookies, in Rice Krispy treats (Crispy Critter Krispies), in trail mix or Chex mix. You can dip the insects in chocolate for a special treat.

Information taken from University of Kentucky Entomology YOUTHFACTS, Bugfood II: Insects as food!?!, by Stephanie Bailey, Entomology Extension Specialist, University of Kentucky

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Beneficial insects

Not all insects harm plants. Some insects called beneficial insects kill harmful insect species. Adult lady beetles, lady beetle larvae, adult lacewings, and larvae of syrphid flies all eat aphids are examples of such beneficial insects. The larvae of several lacewings, called "aphid lions," suck boy juices from aphids are are therefore beneficial.

Suggestions for doing this exercise

Collect a colony of aphids, count them, then place in a container with one of the above mentioned beneficial insects; observe and record what happens.

What you will need

  1. A wide-mouth quart jar.
  2. A piece of cheesecloth or other porous material to cover the jar.
  3. A string or rubber band to fasten cheesecloth to top of the jar.
  4. An aphid-infested rose twig or other infested plant sprig.
  5. A beneficial insect lady beetle larva or adult, syrphid fly larva, or lacewing adult or larva (aphid lion).

Each member should bring an aphid-infested rose twig to the meeting. Collect this aphid colony sample shortly before the meeting starts and examine it closely. Also have each member collect a sample containing any of the above mentioned beneficial insects. Place this sample in a closed container to avoid beneficial insects from escaping.

How to do it

  1. Take an aphid-infested rose twig or other aphid infested plant material and count the aphids on the twig. Place the twig in the jar.
  2. Place a lady beetle or one of the other beneficial insects on the aphid-infested twig.
  3. Cover the mouth of the jar with the cheesecloth or other porous material so the insects can't escape.
  4. Examine the infested twig at least daily and count the number of aphids present.

Answer the following

Information for leaders

The best time to run this exercise is during June or July when aphids and beneficial insects are most available. The exercise can be conducted in about 30 minutes with a group of 15-30 individuals. It will take one to four days to complete depending on the number of aphids used and the beneficial insect selected. Example, one lady beetle species eats about 200 green peach aphids a day. It would be advisable to locate aphid-infested twigs and collect these colonies plus some beneficial insects mentioned above and bring them to the meeting. This assures having plenty of material available for members.

When setting up these exercises make sure only one predaceous adult or larva is added in each sample. Results will be erroneous if such precautions are not followed. A little water (one half inch) should be added to the jar containing infested twigs when the member reaches his home. Water will help keep the sample fresh and healthy.

Adult lady beetles, lady beetle larvae, and adult lacewings eat the aphids. Syrphid fly larvae (aphid lion) suck the body juice from the aphids. Members should observe the beneficial insects feeding on the aphids. The aphid lion larva holds the aphid in the air with its big "tusks" while sucking the fluid from the body. The aphid is unable to use its legs to escape when held in this manner.

Prepared by Lloyd E. Adams, former Extension entomologist

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