How To Create An Insect Collection
Insects are the largest class of animal on the planet. Their numbers and diversity are astounding. One million species of insects have been identified and there are thought to be another 5-6 million species waiting to be discovered. Studying insects is a great way to teach students about biological diversity.
You can start by creating a collection of insects from right where you live. This will give students a great picture of the varying types of insects all around them and how similar, yet different, they all are. Insect collections are simply insects that have been captured, killed, then pinned to a board and labeled. This is a common method of preserving and studying insects.
Insect Collection Supplies
- a couple glass jars
- cotton balls
- nail polish remover or rubbing alcohol
- bug net
- Styrofoam board
- stick pins
How To Collect Insects
Collecting insects is simple. Insects are easy to find and relatively easy to catch. Some maybe caught by trapping them in a collection jar as they are scurrying away. Flying insects can be caught using a bug net. Just be sure to be careful. Some insects bite and others are very fragile. Use caution and care when handling insects.
To find insects, think of where they might be. Think food sources. Flower beds, gardens, under logs, in mulch, and on trees are all good places to look. Look at different times of day. Certain insects only come out at night.
Once the insects are captured, they must be killed before they are pinned. There are a couple of methods you can try for this. If you capture an insect close to your house, you can place the jar with the insect inside in the freezer. The insect will be dead in 2 to 3 hours.
Another method is to create a “kill jar”. Place 3 or 4 cotton balls in the bottom of a glass jar. Pour enough nail polish remover or rubbing alcohol to soak the cotton balls, but not so much that there is a layer of liquid on top of the cotton balls. Place collected bugs in the kill jar and close the lid tight. The liquid added to the jar will kill the insects in a few minutes up to a couple hours.
Go For Variety
When I assign an insect collection, each student must have 20 different species with at least 1 species in 5 different orders. It isn’t as daunting as it sounds. Insects are everywhere. If you find a house fly in your kitchen, a bee in your garden, and a butterfly in your flower bed, you are well on your way.
You can learn about a few of the most common insect orders and more about insect taxonomy in this insect classification post and printable.
Once your insects are killed, carefully remove them from the jar with tweezers and place them on a paper towel in a safe area to dry. Now, it’s time to identify your insects. You can use an insect guide book like the ones below (my preference) or use a website like BugGuide.net or InsectIdentification.org.
If you get totally stumped or just want to see some cool insects, there is an Insect Identification Facebook page where people post pictures of insects for others to identify them.
When you have identified your insect, write the insect Order, Genus, and Species on a small piece of paper to be pinned with the insect later or to be used as a label.
How To Pin Insects
After identification, gather the Styrofoam board and stick pins. Grab a stick pin and stick it through the thorax of the insect you wish to pin at a right angle to the insect and slightly to the right if you can. Next, you can stick the pin through the small paper with the name of the insect. (You can, also, use the paper to label the insect underneath the insect on the pin board. However, if it is pinned, it won’t get mixed up with other labels.)
Stick the pin with the insect and paper into the Styrofoam. Adjust the pin and insect so that the insect is not resting on the Styrofoam.
Some people like to group their insects into similar kinds or by size. It’s interesting to see the different types of insects and the size variations. I love the look of insect collections when they are finished. The diversity is beautiful and fascinating.
More Insect Resources
Insect Classification Lesson and Printable
Studying Bees In Your Backyard
Honey Bee Anatomy and Free Printables