Part of the Biodiversity in the Schoolyard (BitS) unit
Authors: Ryan Hill, Nicole VanderSal, and Alison Purcell
Overview: In this lesson students will learn how to use several
types of insect sampling and collection equipment. Students will work in groups to
collect insects in different areas of their schoolyard.
Sampling insects is one way to estimate the abundance and number of species
(species richness) of insects of an area.
There are several ways to collect insects and you should select your method
based on the type of habitat you are sampling.
Insect composition can differ between different habitat types.
Grade Span: 912
Quadrats: 1 m2 (6; at least 2 per group)
Beating sheets (4; at least 1 per group)
Sweep nets (4; at least 1 per group)
Aerial nets (10; at least 2 per group)
Plastic vials (enough for 4-8 vials per student)
Plastic "ziplock" gallon bags
Glassine envelopes or triangles for butterflies and dragonflies (wax paper would suffice)
Data labels with student name, date
Sharpie markers for labelling plastic bags
Visit the three different areas to be sampled prior to the field trip.
Gather all required equipment.
Prepare labels: There are two choices for preparing the labels:
Prepare and cut out ~8 labels per student with student name and date to be placed
in each of the student's vials. The vials are then placed in a separate plastic bag for
each collection method (quadrat, beat sheet, etc). Each bag has collecting method, date
and location clearly written on outside.
Prepare and cut out ~8 labels with a space for student name, date, location, and
sampling method to be placed in each of the student's vials. Make sure the students keep
specimens from each sampling method separate.
Time: 1 hour
Grouping: Break the class into 3 groups (each group to be lead by an instructor).
Teacher Background: (optional)
Most arthropods may be collected in empty vials, vials filled with ethanol or kill jars.
However, Lepidoptera (moths and butterflies) should be kept separate in glassine envelopes
to reduce wing scale loss, and Odonata (dragonflies and damselflies) can also be placed in
envelopes and then later curated in plastic sleeves to save space. In the procedure outlined
here, we prefer collecting in empty vials and then placing the specimens in the freezer for
several days before pinning. This method avoids using ethanol and other chemicals used in
kill jars, and does a decent job of producing nice specimens.
Record keeping/Standardization: In an effort to standardize for comparison between
areas/schools, instructors should record data for each group: number of students in group,
time sampled using each method, weather conditions, name of area sampled (could be
quantified later). In the interest of maximizing collecting time we suggest group leaders
write this down. However, depending on your group's maturity it may work to have a record
keeper. Also we suggest asking your group for predictions about which method will be most
effective for collecting to refer back to in reflection.
Vocabulary: quadrat, sample, insect, arthropod, arachnid, species richness,
Introduction (10 minutes)
Break class into three groups and assign them to a particular sampling area.
Explain to students that they will be using three different techniques to collect insects.
Divide equipment equally so that each group gets at least 1 of every type of sampling equipment.
Each group then goes to their sampling area.
Insect Collecting: Each group will rotate through each collecting technique.
Quadrats (15 minutes): First, explain that quadrats are generally used to randomly
sample insect diversity on the ground. Demonstrate randomly throwing the quadrat and
collecting insects within the quadrat. Divide students into groups with one quadrat per
group. Have students randomly throw their quadrat into the sampling area, then collect all
ground insects within this quadrat. Have them spend at least five minutes searching a space
and then have them repeat it a second time. Students can use their fingers, forceps, or
vials to pick up the insects. Each student must put a label in their vial once the insects
are collected. All vials from the quadrat sample should be placed in a ziplock and labeled
"Quadrat," with location and date. This will keep these vials separate from those collected
from other methods.
*Note: If there is one species of insect that is very abundant within a quadrat, the
students do not need to collect all individuals, but they should collect a minimum of five
specimens of each species if possible to compare variation within species.
Beating sheet, aerial nets, and sweep nets (15 minutes): Demonstrate using each of
these sampling methods and then break students into pairs to collect. Instructor should
record how many students are using each type of equipment. Students may switch equipment
with another pair once they have sampled for a while if they want to experience different
methods. Be sure each student places a label in the vial with each of their samples
keeping aerial, beat sheet and sweep samples in separate vials. Again, place the vials
from the different collection methods into ziplock bags with the name of the collection
method ("Beat sheet," "Aerial net," "Sweep net"), date and location information written
on the bag.
Wrap-up and Clean-up (10 minutes)
Have students return to the classroom. Collect all sampling equipment and specimens. Keep
specimens separated by group and sampling method. If time, have students share experiences
in the classroom.
All insect specimens need to be put in the freezer as soon as possible after this activity.
Snap cap vials and ziplock bags should be sufficient to maintain them for up to 1-2 weeks before
Extensions: Follow this activity with insect curation the next week.
Reflections: Refer back to student's predictions and ask:
What method seemed to sample the highest number of insects?
What method seemed to sample the most species of insects?