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Daily Classroom Special: Insect Safari

About this Daily Classroom Special: 
Science to Go
provides easy yet meaningful science activities for grades k-8. Science to Go was written by Barbara Smith, Magnet Coordinator at Harvard Elementary, Houston (TX) and former Teachers Network web mentor.

Insect Safari


In this activity, students will monitor "bugs" at their school by observing insects collected in their area. Insect data collected from participating students will be shared over the Internet.

Insects are the most populous group of animals in the world, and entomologists discover new insects every year. As a group, insects possess an amazing array of adaptations that allow them to survive in many different ecosystems, from the tropics to polar regions, and from high in the atmosphere to caverns deep in the earth. While we usually think of insects as pests, they are incredibly important to us and other organisms in many different ways. They pollinate plants, assist in decomposition, and play a large role in many food chains.

Insects possess a kind of skeleton on the outside of their bodies called an exoskeleton. The body itself is composed of three divisions: head, thorax, and abdomen. The thorax has three segments, each with a pair of jointed legs; so an insect normally has six legs. Most insects also have two pairs of wings attached to the thorax, but some have only one pair, and a few have none at all. Insects usually have two sets of jaws, two kinds of eyes (simple and compound), and one pair of antennae. Insects do not have lungs, but breathe through holes in their sides called spiracles.


  • Identify insects from amongst other organisms.
  • Use research skills to classify insects.
  • Manipulate lab equipment.
  • Learn and practice methods for handling live organisms.


  • Piece of plywood or wood, approximately 12" x 6", size may vary.
  • Magnifying glass
  • Insect identification guide
  • Small bottles or jars for collection (baby food jars are durable and usually readily available)
  • Pencil and paper


  1. Have the students pick a location in which to place their boards. Encourage the students to describe the biome. Examples of biomes are: urban, suburban, rural, field, woods, gravel/sand, or concrete/black top.
  2. Record temperature, date, and weather conditions.
  3. Place the board on the ground and record the time.
  4. After 24 hours, examine board and collect any organisms on top of it. Flip the board over and collect those, too.

*Safety Tip: Caution students to use collection materials and safe handling techniques, without touching the insects by hand. Some insects are poisonous, and some students may have unidentified allergies to insect bites.

To retrieve insects for closer inspection, place the bugs in a plastic container in the refrigerator for one hour until the insects fall down to the bottom. Most of the insects will be sluggish from the chill for easier transportation and observation. Chilled insects may be placed in clear plastic containers for observation and later released.

Alternatively, they may be placed in the freezer for two to three hours to euthanize the insects for permanent collection. Check the living organism guideline from your school district for approved handling techniques.

  1. Use the magnifying glass to examine your organisms closely and determine which ones are insects.
  2. Record the type and number of insects on a data sheet.
  3. Use the insect identification guide to find names of the insects caught. Identify order, genus, and species.
  4. Make a graph showing the insect names and the numbers caught.
  5. Share the information with others on an Insect Safari (e-mail  Barbara Smith). We are specifically looking for the following information:
  • Which is the most common insect at your home/school?
  • Are there fire ants in your vicinity?
  • Can you video conference.

Questions for Discussion and/or Sharing

  • Do the types of insects caught differ greatly from school to school? Why?
  • Would the numbers of insects change in different seasons? Why?
  • Which insects were found at other schools that we did not find?
  • Do those insects live in our area?
  • How many different insects can we find and identify?

If time allows, have the students experiment with different colors of boards and locations or have students create their own Bug Board experiments.

If the board method does not produce many insects, try marking off a square foot or yard of ground with sticks and yarn. Use a thin stick or pencil to investigate the area.

Additional Activities

  • Learn to identify the different body parts for insects. Which parts are different from those found on people? The same?
  • What is the difference between a "bug" and an "insect"?
  • Identify the organisms you caught which were not insects.
  • Make recordings of insect sounds.
  • Examine metamorphosis.
  • Map their Bug Board placement on both a map of the school and a local map.

Website Picks for Science

Iowa State University's Tasty Insect Recipes--Yes, just what it sounds like! Teach your students the importance of insects in the human food chain in some parts of the world, and get them to try it if you can!!

Software Recommendation:
A first for Science To Go! I heartily recommend The Multimedia Bug Book by Workman/Swifte for elementary and middle school classes. The CD has students collecting insects in different biomes for a scientist whose live collection has just escaped. Included are identification tips, photos, encyclopedia-like listings, film, note-taking, games, spreadsheets, and much more. You can easily teach a whole unit using this software as a resource.


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