Backyard Connections: Easy Bug Traps

by Melissa Harding

March_1_13_camp_58

There are more bugs on this planet than any other animal. That means that there are millions and millions of insects out there, outnumbering us all in multitudes. There are so many insects, in fact, that it is difficult for scientists to truly know them all. Researchers are discovering new insects all the time; if you are looking to discover an animal and name it after yourself, entomology is your best bet. Thankfully, you don’t need to be a learned entomologist to appreciate how awesome insects are. Being a bug scientist is easier than you think. At summer camp, we teach all of our campers to use observation to practice good scientific skills. While we are always able to look through our native landscapes to find insects to study, we also like to set a variety of bug traps to see what we can catch. We set both bait and pit traps over the course of the week and check them daily, hoping to find an insect friend or two.

This activity works well in the Conservatory and even better outside! Here is how we do it:

Day 1 Bugs 050

Bait Traps
Bait traps attract insects with food. Rotten meat attracts carrion feeders, while other insects like overripe fruits, fermented foods, sugary foods, or oils (peanut butter). While not all of these are suitable for bait traps at home, knowing what you want to catch will help you decide what kind of bait to use. At Phipps, we use sugar and baked potatoes.

Sugaring is a method of painting tree trunks, rocks, etc. with sugar to mimic the natural weeping of sap from a wounded tree. This is a good method to catch nectar-drinking insects like butterflies and bees. To make sugar solution, mix two parts of sugar with one part warm water and stir until dissolved. Paint this solution on tree trunks, rocks, or other areas where you would like to attract bugs; areas that are easy to observe are best. Check after several hours to see what you’ve caught.

Baked potato traps are just what they sound like; the soft vegetation will attract decomposers like potato bugs, millipedes and ants. To cook potatoes, poke several holes in a potato and microwave on high power for 5-10 minutes until tender. Cut this potato in half and lay face down on bare soil. Choose a place that is shady and cool, not in direct sunlight. Leave the trap overnight and check the next day by lifting the potato and looking for bugs on the white underside.

059Pit traps
Pit traps are an easy way to catch ground-dwelling insects, such as ground beetles and millipedes. These little critters walk along on the ground and fall into your trap, where it is easy to catch and observe them. These traps also usually include some type of bait to entice bugs to come closer for a look.

We make our pit traps out of repurposed containers. Old pill bottles or small glass jars make great traps. Fill your trap with a small amount of mashed banana and cereal; add a small amount of dirt on top to give the insects something to hide in. Finally, smear a thin layer of petroleum jelly around the inside rim of the trap near the top. Take your trap and bury it in a moist, shady location; dig a hole deep enough that the entire container fits into the dirt and is flush with the top of the ground. Cover your trap with a large leaf to give it some cover. Let your trap sit for 24 hours and check to see what you’ve caught.

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Creating a happy bug habitat
The bugs in your trap will not survive long if they are not put into a hospitable environment. While an empty bug box is best for observation, if you plan to keep your bugs for the long term they will need somewhere comfortable to stay. Creating a bug habitat is easy; all your bug needs is access to oxygen, food, moisture, and places to hide. A plastic bug box is built for this, but you can also use a shoebox or plastic container as long as you poke some small holes into the top for air. Next, add some vegetation and dirt for both places to hide and food. You can lightly spray your vegetation with water to add moisture to the environment. If you know what kind of bug you have, look up what foods they will enjoy most.

Observation
Once you have caught some critters, it’s time to observe them. This is the time to put your bug into a clear, small bug box or into a small, empty plastic container. Use all your senses to observe – look, smell, listen and, if appropriate, touch. Never taste or lick your bug friends – neither of you will enjoy the experience! Jot down your findings in a notebook; this is also a great time to draw your observations and make note of  your bug’s behaviors. When you are done observing, either let your bug back into it’s new home or let it go free.

This is a fun activity that you can do at home in your own backyard. Try out some of these fun and easy bug traps today – you may be surprised by the diversity of life that you find!

The above photos were taken by Science Education staff.

 

 

 

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