Insects make for great study topics because they can be found in large numbers almost anywhere. Did you know there are an estimated 1015 ants in the world! Here are some tips and tools Headwaters has developed to help make insect related research run smoothly.
Feel free to use our scientific question brainstorming and experiment design worksheet to help students develop research questions and ways to test them.
1. Use active sampling techniques.
While sticky insect traps can be good for collecting samples overnight or longer periods of time, sweep nets work much better for student sampling. At Headwaters, we make our own using the following pattern. While you can buy larger sweep nets online for $30-50 each, these cost us under $2 in materials plus a couple minutes of sewing per net. More nets mean, more science, and fewer students standing around. To sample simply have students sweep these nets around vegetation for a standardized amount of time, ~30 seconds works great. Alternatively, insects can be found in large numbers by turning over rocks or logs and combing through forest litter. When using these techniques just be sure to have students standardize the effort in each trial.
2. Only identify insects down to the order level, if at all. The diversity of insects is massive, roughly a million species have been described with the total number of insect species estimated to be 6-10 million. It can be easy for students to get bogged down in trying to identify what they are catching, so we only recommend students identify what they are catching if it is essential to their research question. If identification is necessary, we only recommend ID’ing down to the order level. Students still can assess biodiversity without even opening a guidebook by counting the different types of insects they can see with the naked eye. That being said if students do find an interesting population while sampling, giving that insect an informal name “shiny green beetle” and looking it up later is a great strategy. Just make sure to take lots of photos. Here is an easy guide that covers common orders of terrestrial insects from the John Muir Laws Guide to the Sierra Nevada.
3. Expect lots of other invertebrates too. Using these sampling techniques students will likely catch lots of other invertebrates like 8 legged arachnids (spiders and ticks), isopods (pill bugs), and lots of other arthropods like millipedes. Be sure to remind students that insects have 6 legs and a 3 part body. However, including the other invertebrates in their research can make for some interesting projects like, “Do we find more predatory spiders in places with larger or smaller insect populations?”
Example Insect/Invertebrate Student Research Questions
- How does the air temperature affect the number of insects caught?
- Which micro-habitats around our school have the greatest insect biodiversity?
- Which orders of insects are most commonly found in grass versus wooded areas?
- Does the timing of flower development affect the timing of insect hatches or population peaks?
- What types of food, sweet, salty, or fatty attract the most insects?
As always, feel free to reach out to us at firstname.lastname@example.org if you have any questions about doing an entomology related project of your own