Introduction to “Bug Collecting”

Collection techniques for terrestrial arthropods: insects, spiders, pill-bugs, etc.

Author: Joseph Spagna

Objective: Students will be able to identify three types of insect-collecting gear, explain what they are used for, and use at least one to collect and observe an insect or spider.


  • Sweep nets (nets with robust canvas bags for sweeping vegetation): 4-5, 1 per 5-6 students

  • Aerial nets (nets with lightweight, see-through bags for flying insects): 4-5, 1 per 5-6 students

  • Beating sheets (a sheet on a frame that you can shake/beat insects/spiders from vegetation onto): 2-3

  • Vials: 30, or 1 per student

  • Field notebooks


Quick Motivation Exercise (10 - 15 minutes):
Where do we find insects/spiders? Brainstorm…
Make sure the brainstorm reveals AT LEAST:

  • In the air

  • On the ground

  • In vegetation

  • Under rocks and under/ inside logs

Write on board / draw line to:
How do we take advantage of this if we want to catch insects/spiders?
Describe and demonstrate each tool. Example: For air insects, we have aerial nets, etc.

Creating Groups (5 minutes): Divide class into 3 groups— 1, 2, and 3
Within groups, partner up (this is because we don’t have a net for everybody, and you need a partner for the beating sheet).
Pass out 1 plastic vial to each student.

Take students outside to garden:

Part 1

  1. Redemonstrate the net technique, catching a bug if possible. Do the same with a beating sheet.

  2. Show the students how to catch a bug, get it into a vial, and snap the lid on.

  3. Explain their goals for the day:

    • to catch 1 bug (insect, spider, or pill-bug)

    • to draw/describe it in the field-notebook

  4. Group 1 will start with aerial nets
    Group 2 will start with sweep nets
    Group 3 will start with beating sheets

  5. Each group gets about 7 minutes with each implement.

  6. When time is up, get them to “switch!!!” to the next group.
    Group 2 gets 1’s implements, 3’s get 2’s, 1’s get 3’s.

Part 2

  1. With 15 minutes left in class, call all collecting to a HALT, for notebook time.

  2. Remind students: 5 things in your notebook entry. Part 5 should describe the bug you caught, or draw a picture of it. EXTRA REQUIREMENT: write down what tool you used to catch your specimen.

  3. Get them to sit at one of the tables, do their entry, and release their bug where they caught it.

Additional teacher information:

This is a non-killing, collecting/observation/release activity. Introduction to the use of kill-jars should be done separately, with a thoughtful, non-cavalier explanation of when and why it’s sometimes necessary to sacrifice some animals to study them. To make basic observations and practice field note skills, killing is not a necessity. Also, it is basically better to save the whole kill-jar intro until the students are familiar with other tools.