Diggers: What Kinds of Insects Live in Soil?

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Author: Janice VanCleave


What kinds of insects live in soil?


  • trowel
  • 2-quart (2-liter) bowl
  • ruler
  • 2 sheets of white poster board
  • colander with small holes
  • colander with large holes
  • three 1-quart (1-liter) glass jars
  • index card
  • 3 knee-high stockings
  • magnifying lens
  • insect field guide (See the Appendix.)
  • sponge (optional)
  • 1 teaspoon (5 ml) tap water (optional)


NOTE: Ask an adult for permission to remove the soil samples. If possible, repeat this experiment during different seasons.

  1. Use the trowel to remove the leaf litter (layers of newly fallen and partially decayed leaves covering the soil) from beneath a tree or bush. Fill the bowl with the soil under the leaf litter. Dig no deeper than 4 inches (10 cm).
  2. Lay the poster boards on the ground.
  3. Use the trowel to transfer about one-third of the soil from the bowl to the small-holed colander. Gently shake the colander to spread a thin layer of soil over one of the poster boards.
  4. Transfer any soil that does not fall through the first colander into the second, large-holed colander. Gently shake the second colander to spread a thin layer of soil over the second poster board.
  5. Look for insects in the soil layer on each poster board.
  6. Diggers

  7. Transfer the insects to one of the jars by holding the edge of the index card near each insect and allowing it to crawl onto the card.
  8. Cover the jar with a stocking.
  9. Repeat steps 3 through 7 until all insects have been placed in jars.
  10. Use the magnifying lens and field guide to study and identify each insect. NOTE: After 60 minutes or less, replace the soil and insects where you found them. If more time is needed to study the insects, fill the jars with the collected soil and add a small piece of sponge moistened with water. If the soil is dry, add 1 teaspoon (5 ml) of water. Use colanders to separate insects and soil for observation. Release the insects within 3 to 4 days.


You find different kinds of insects.


Many insects live on and in soil. You can find different active adult insects, such as beetles, earwigs, mole crickets, and ants, all year long in regions with mild winters. You will find the largest number of adult insects during warm weather. While some adult insects are active during the winter, most insects are dormant (in an inactive state) during the cold season.

Let's Explore

Would soil from different locations contain different kinds of insects? Repeat the experiment, taking soil samples from different locations, such as an open area (not covered by a tree or bush), an area near a building, or a garden. Remember to replace the insects where you found them when finished. Science Fair Hint: Make and display diagrams of each insect found.

Show Time!

    1. Create a "bug catcher" to observe insects found on the surface of soil. Do this by cutting off the top 4 inches (10 cm) of a 2-liter plastic soda bottle. Place half of an overripe banana in the bottom part of the bottle. Insert the top part of the bottle backward into the bottom part. Lay the bug catcher on its side on the soil as shown for 6 to 8 hours.
    2. Diggers

      Observe the bug catcher as often as possible during the 6 to 8 hours. Use a field guide to identify the insects that enter the bug catcher. At the end of the experiment, release insects where you found them.

    3. Study the insects on the soil in different locations by making several bug catchers and placing them in different areas.
  2. Prepare and display an identification guide for the insects you find. Make an information page for each insect as shown. Take a photo or draw a diagram of the insect and place it on the information page.
  3. Design a system for organizing the guide. You may want to put all insects of the same order together. Once the guide is organized, number the pages and prepare a table of contents. Prepare a title page, such as "Instant Guide to Central Texas Insects." Protect the pages of your guide by placing them in see-through plastic sheet protectors and store them in a ringed binder. You can use the binder as part of a project display.


Check it Out!

June beetles are a common beetle usually first seen in June. During the warm weather, they spend their days buried a few inches (cm) under the soil and come out at night to eat leaves, to mate, and to lay eggs in the soil. Find out more about June beetles and other insects that are dependent on soil, such as cicadas. For information about trapping beetles, see page 64 of Looking at Insects by David Suzuki (New York: Wiley, 1992).

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