The Wonderful World of Insect Collecting for Kids

The Wonderful World of Insect Collecting for Kids

Insect Collecting

In This Article:

Where to Find Insects in the Back Yard
Fun Tools for Observing, Admiring, and Catching Insects
Backyard Insect Collecting: The Tools You Need and How to Use Them
Insect Collecting Kits

I grew up terrified of bugs, and I stayed that way until I took an entomology class in college. Insect collecting was integral to the course, and we had to amass a proper bug collection by the end of the semester. As I got to know the little critters who account for more than 10 quintillion heartbeats on this planet and came to understand the many ways in which they benefit us, I got a little less squeamish about them.

I decided early on in my pregnancy that no child o’ mine was going to be afraid of bugs like I once was, screaming at the sight of them and trapping them under coffee cups in the middle of the living room for someone else to deal with. So from the very start, I spent a lot of time with Ruby catching, observing, and admiring backyard bugs of all kinds.

Alas, it was all to no avail. The summer after she turned four, I felt compelled to warn any new neighbors that they were going to get an earful of blood-curdling screams whenever the kid espied a grasshopper, ant, bee, spider, cricket, beetle or cicada in the back yard. Which, of course, is about every five minutes in the summertime. My well-laid plans were all for naught, and my daydreams of insect collecting with Ruby were dashed.

Maybe you’ll have better luck than I did getting your kids to appreciate the creepy-crawlies. Here are some great ideas, tools, and gadgets to help them develop a friendly relationship with our six-legged friends. That way, down the road, when a spider happens to crawl across your kid’s new jacket, you won’t have to wash it before she’ll wear it again. 

Where to Find Insects in the Back Yard

Whether you’re out back observing, catching, or collecting insects, you can find countless bugs in the back yard and have awesome conversations with your kids about their habits and habitats, behaviors and body parts, and lore and lifecycles. Here are some of the places you’ll find lots of bugs:

  • On leaves and flowers (caterpillars, mantids, spiders, butterflies, and bees)

  • Crawling across the lawn

  • Eating through logs

  • In, on, and around water features (dragonflies)

  • In the cracks of sidewalks (ants)

  • Around the foundation and in dark places (crickets and beetles)

  • Under rocks (roly polys, silverfish, and beetles)

  • In the soil (grubs)

But don’t just look: Listen, too. How many different kinds of insects can you hear in your back yard during the day and at night?

Fun Tools for Getting to Know Insects

Quietly observing insects is a great way for your kids to get to know them up close and personal, and it can lead to a passion for insect collecting down the road.

If your bug lover wants to get a closer look at these little wonders, all you really need is a net and assorted jars with holes poked in the lids. But if you like to do things up fancy, here are a few fun bug-catching tools you can find on Amazon.

American Educational Nylon Insect Net

This sturdy nylon insect net features a wide 14-inch ring to make it easier to collect flying insects. The long net makes it easy to “flip” the net mid-air to secure the bug inside. Around 76 percent of reviewers gave this net four or five stars, citing high quality materials, easy assembly, the joy of the telescoping aluminum handle, and the sturdiness of the net. (And if your worst nightmares come true, this net can get a bat or a humming bird out of your house, no problem.) Poor reviews cite the fact that it’s too large to collect very small insects. 

GeoSafari Jr. Bug Viewer 

The crystal-clear GeoSafari Jr. Bug Viewer is a small plastic jar with a magnifying-glass lid that lets your child get a good look at whatever he catches. Reviewers give this viewer 3.7 out of 5 stars. Most liked it very much and reported that the magnifier, which is three inches wide, works great. A few people had some issues. One guy dropped it and cracked it straight away, and another said that the magnifying viewer works great if the bug is in the middle of the jar, but not if it’s crawling up the sides, which it usually is. Some were surprised by the small size of the jar and didn’t think it magnified the bug very much, while others were surprised at how magnified the bugs were. But for just over five bucks, you probably can’t go wrong with this neat little insect collecting tool.

Insect Lore Bug Collector Observation Wheel

The Bug Collector Observation Wheel is the above-mentioned GeoSafari Jr. Bug Viewer on steroids. It has eight clear, removable insect collecting pods situated on a wheel that spins beneath a viewing scope so that your little one can examine a whole bunch of insects—or other natural things—up close. Reviewers give this bug wheel 3.7 out of 5 stars, with 82 percent awarding it four or five stars. The positive reviewers said their kids liked it, while the negative reviewers said that it was smaller than they thought it would be and that the viewing scope is certainly no microscope (which is why you’re not paying for one, duh.) 

Nature Bound Bug Vacuum with Light-Up Habitat Case

This cool bug-catching kit comes with a bug vacuum with a built-in LED laser light so that your kiddo can go insect collecting at night. The light-up habitat case comes with batteries and a sturdy handle for little kids who want to tote their new friends everywhere they go. This kit gets 3.7 stars out of 5. Seventy-one percent of reviewers gave it four or five stars, citing good suction and happy kids. Thirteen cranky reviewers cited terrible suction and cheap plastic.

Backyard Safari Critter Shack

I wish I’d had the Backyard Safari Critter Shack during my entomology class. In addition to insect collecting, we had to raise a Madagascar hissing cockroach and observe the lifecycle of a butterfly. This crystal-clear container has a breathable mesh lid and sturdy handle and works for both wet and dry habitats. It can also house a turtle, frog, lizard, or other small creature. The Critter Shack scores 4.3 out of 5 stars. Four- and five-star reviewers tout its durability, versatility, and enjoyability. Two of the three one-star reviewers cite defects, and the other one just says, “Cheap!”

Melissa & Doug Snake Magnifying Glass

This darlin’ snake-shaped magnifying glass is shatterproof, easy to grasp, and durable. Ninety-two percent of reviewers gave this magnifying glass four or five stars for durability, its nice size and weight, and its magnifying ability. It’s probably more suited to little kids, so if you’re shopping for your older whippersnapper, check out this classic mahogany-handled, Sherlock Holmes-style, 2.5x magnifying glass that gets 3.8 out of 5 stars. 

Pop-Up Butterfly Cage

This compact, pop-up butterfly cage is parasite-proof and can hold all of the butterflies or fireflies your little one catches—or raises. Release the critters with a quick zip, then fold the cage flat until next time. Eighty-seven percent of reviewers gave this cage 5 stars. They like the size, which apparently is roomy enough to put a potted milkweed inside for the perfect butterfly habitat. The only one-star reviewer complained that it was basically a pop-up laundry hamper like you can get at the dollar store, which is obvious from the picture. Except that it has a zipper. And a lid. So, not really the same at all, Karen.

Backyard Insect Collecting: The Tools You Need and How to Use Them

If your spawn wants to create a beautiful butterfly or beetle collection to display in her room and show off at school, she’ll need some supplies and a little know-how about insect collecting. BugGuide has a clear, concise article entitled “How to Start a Proper Insect Collection” that explains the tools and techniques for trapping, catching, killing, mounting, labeling, and storing insects.

Here are the tools you’ll need for a summer of insect collecting that nets your kid a rad display of wonderful, funderful bugs.

The Net

Nets are used to catch flying insects, and you can swish them through the grass machete-style to collect those hanging out on plants. Successful insect collecting requires a sturdy net. See the Tools section above for a quality net you can get on Amazon.

The Kill Jar

Whenever I went insect collecting for my entomology class, I carried along a homemade kill jar: A lidded mason jar with four or five cotton balls soaked in nail polish remover. It did the trick nicely, and it’s cheaper than buying a kill jar. A piece of cardboard over the cotton balls keeps the bugs out of direct contact with the killing solution, but you want to take the bug out as soon as it meets its maker so it doesn’t dry out and turn to dust when you try to pin it. If you’d rather collect like a pro, here’s a kill jar that comes with ethyl acetate, which is a little less harsh than fingernail polish remover and won’t dry out the insect so quickly.

The Forceps

Handling insects with your hands can damage the specimen. You can use tweezers to move and position the insect, but tweezers can damage them, too—especially the wings. Forceps make it easy to gently handle the little critters. These entomology forceps will do the trick nicely.

The Relaxing Jar

If the insect isn’t pinned right away after killing it, it will get all dry and brittle over the course of a couple of days. Before pinning it, you’ll need to relax it so that it doesn’t break apart when the pin goes in. I used a regular jar with a tight-fitting lid and cotton balls in the bottom. Just moisten the cotton balls with water and add a little splash of ethyl acetate to prevent fungus from growing. Put a piece of cardboard or cork over the cotton balls, and use the forceps to place the insect on the cardboard. In a couple of days, the insect will be relaxed enough to pin. If you want to do it up right, here’s some appendage relaxing fluid to get those bugs all loosey-goosey.

The Spreading Board

The spreading board is used to spread a butterfly’s wings out to dry so that you can see the full wingspan and beautiful patterns when it’s pinned. This simple spreading board is pretty standard in price and design.

The Pinning Block

A pinning block is a three-tier block of wood with a hole drilled in the middle of each level. The pinning block helps you position the insect on the pin just-so. Once an insect dries on the pin, you can’t readjust it, and the pinning block ensures that all of the insects are in the same position on the pin for a better-looking collection. Here’s a pinning block on Amazon, or if you're handy that way, here are some instructions from the University of Kentucky for making your own pinning block.

The Pins

Part of insect collecting is pinning the insects, which means you insert a long pin through the insect’s body to hold it in position on the display board. Most insects need a size 2 or 3 pin. Here’s a pack of one hundred size 2 pins that should last a while unless you’re an insect collecting fiend.

The Labels

Insect Labels

You gotta label your insects. Labels go on the pins below the insect and specify the location (city and state,) the date of collection (MM/DD/YYYY), the name of the collector, and where it was found (a pond, a tree, under a rock.) The labels should be around 1/2-inch x 3/4-inch, cut from sturdy paper, and uniform in size.

The Storage & Display Box

I kept my insect collection in a cool old wooden cigar box, but microscopic critters got in and snacked on my bugs. After a year, it was just a box filled with dust. I shoulda put ‘em in an actual display case made for insects. Don’t make the same mistake I did and render your insect collecting all for naught. Here’s an 8’’ x 12’’ insect display case made from heavy-duty cardboard with a glass top. The bottom is lined with 3/8’’ foam for pinning the insects into position. Here’s a smaller box—8’’ x 6’’ x 3’’—that’s also made of heavy-duty cardboard and has a glass top. It’s got 1/2-inch foam on the bottom for pinning. You can find larger and smaller boxes, too.

Insect Collecting Kits

It may be simpler—and cheaper—to buy an insect collecting kit for your young’un. Here are two highly rated collecting kits you can buy on Amazon.

Bio-Quip Products Student Insect Collecting & Mounting Kit

This insect collecting and mounting kit comes with:

  • A high quality 12-inch diameter net.

  • Two pocket-size kill jars.

  • A spreading board.

  • Insect pins.

  • A fiber board insect box for storage.

This insect collecting kit earns 4.3 stars. Reviewers like how professional the kit is and how easy it is to use, but they disliked that there was only one size of pin and that there were no order forms for replacement supplies. 

Educational Science Entomology Lab Insect Collecting Kit

This insect collecting kit comes with:

  • A net.

  • A kill jar with ethyl acetate.

  • Vials and envelopes for soft-bodied specimens.

  • A display case with a plastic lid.

  • A folding magnifier.

  • Pins.

  • A spreading board.

  • A pinning block.

  • Pinning forceps.

  • Labels.

  • A 30-page how-to booklet.

  • Milkweed seeds to grow a butterfly’s favorite plant.

  • Some other fun stuff.

Reviewers gave this kit 4.5 stars. They liked that it had everything you need—and more—for insect collecting.

So there you have it. Insect collecting is fun, and it nets you a really cool box full of beautiful bugs that you can enjoy for years to come (if you store them right.) Collecting insects is a great way to get your kids excited about the natural world and instill in their sweet little souls a lifelong, healthy relationship with bugs.

Happy insect collecting!

Mosquito Control for Safe Backyard Play

Mosquito Control for Safe Backyard Play

Make a Fort: 7 Fort Ideas for Hours of Backyard Fun

Make a Fort: 7 Fort Ideas for Hours of Backyard Fun