Local Nocturnal Insect Evaluation

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Updated on Feb 26, 2010

Insects can carry and transmit diseases that are harmful and even life-threatening for humans. We should be aware of the types of insects in the area we live in and know how to protect ourselves from them.

To many of us, insects and bugs are merely pests, getting in our food at a picnic or giving a bite that makes us hurt or itch. However, some insects can be very harmful to humans, even causing death. Many people are allergic to bee stings. Ticks can carry Lyme disease and Rocky Mountain spotted fever. Mosquitoes can spread deadly diseases, including malaria and yellow fever. It is important to know what species of insects live in your community.

This project attempts to collect a representative sample of the type of insects in your area. First, several devices for collecting insects will be constructed and tested. Then, the successful collecting device will be used to gather insects, which can then be studied, identified, and researched to see if they might be a potential health hazard to humans.

Respect for all forms of life is imperative. Therefore, only a short period of time will be allowed to collect insects to have a minimal effect on the environment and to prevent the needless loss of insect life.

Hypothesize which of the four insect-collecting devices you have constructed will collect the most insects during a given amount of time. Also, hypothesize that you will collect more than ten different organisms.

  • Book on entomology (a branch of zoology that deals with insects) to help you identify the insects you collect
  • Four 2-liter plastic soda bottles
  • Four wide-mouth jars
  • Two flashlights
  • Clock or watch
  • Outdoor area away from bright lights in the evening
  • Black construction paper
  • Adhesive tape
  • Magnifying glass
  • Scissors
  • Marker pen
  • Possible adult supervision needed

First, we must construct a device that will collect a sampling of nocturnal insects. To do this, we will construct four different devices and test them to see which is the most successful. Cut the top and bottom off four 2-liter plastic soda bottles, leaving just the hollow cylinders. Use caution when working with sharp scissors.

Find an outdoor location around your home or neighborhood that is safe, but away from strong lights. On the ground, set up the four plastic cylinders. Place flashlights inside two of them, with the beam facing straight up.

On top of each cylinder, set a wide-mouth jar. Keep the lids screwed on the jars.

Fill one of the jars that is over a flashlight half full of water. Next, fill one of the jars that does not have a flashlight underneath half full of water.

Using black construction paper and adhesive tape, wrap each cylinder and jar with the paper, so light from the jars that have a flashlight underneath them will only shine out of the top.

When it's dark, turn on the flashlights and remove the lids from the jars. The size of the jar openings, the location, the time of night, and the period of time the collectors are exposed are the constants in the experiment. The variables are light and water.

After one hour, screw the lids back on the jars, and then turn off the flashlights. With a marker, label the lids of each jar as "Dry, no flashlight," "Dry, with flashlight," "Wet, no flashlight," and "Wet, with flashlight." Then, take the jars inside.

Which device collected the greatest quantity of insects? Was your hypothesis correct?

Using a book on insects, identify the insects collected. Research more about each insect and create a fact sheet on each, including information on whether or not they are harmful to pets or humans, and, if so, why they are harmful.

Write down the results of your experiment. Document all observations and data collected.

Come to a conclusion as to whether or not your hypothesis was correct.

Something More
  1. Did the unlit dry collector attract different insects than the lit wet collector?
  2. Construct several of the insect-collecting devices that were the most successful at attracting insects. Give one to each of several friends who live in different locations in your community. Have them all expose their collectors for the same period of time during the same evening. Examine both the quantity and type of insects collected. Does one location have a higher insect population than another? Why? Are the same types of insects found at all locations?
  3. Are different types of insects active at different times of the night? Collect insects just after dusk and just before dawn (when it is still dark).