Observing And Collecting Insects With Kids

This article aims to put aside any fear of bugs and encourages you and your child to get up close and personal with our favorite insects.

butterfly on flower

Observing and collecting insects with kids is not only a great way to get back in touch with your younger self, it’s an excellent way to bond with as a family. When we were younger, we used to go out into the back yard and gather up a few bugs in a mason jar. We’d observe them for a short time until lunch or something more interesting grabbed our attention. After a few hours, we’d return to all the bugs dead lying at the bottom of the jar.

A dead insect could become part of a mounted collection, a smaller version of what you would find in an entomological museum or in the house of a bored, but able-minded aristocrat in the Victorian era. Alternatively, you might want your kids to trap living insects, keep them alive to watch their behavior, then release them back into the wild to continue their lives.  An alien abduction conducted by humans.

black beetle on poop dung beetle

Where To Find Insects

To collect insects, you could just send your kids outside with a jar and have them overturn a rock. That should scare up any number of critters, and they could scoop a few into their jar and bring them in. Depending on where you live, cool dark damp places are frequented by many species of beetles. Although mostly harmless, some types can cause pain to humans.  It might be a good idea to explore your yard with your child before encouraging any kind of collecting. For instance, the Blistering Beetle secretes a toxin that causes the skin to blister. Be aware of your geographic location in terms of the dangerous wildlife it nourishes.

A more discriminating child might want to choose a particular species of bug and go hunting for it. Lightning bugs are not only fun to catch but are relatively harmless. If they exist in your part of the world, go out at dusk with a jar and let your eyes adjust to the low light. Soon you’ll see the familiar twinkling as the fireflies take flight.  Every time you see a flash, run over to it with your jar in one hand and the lid in the other. Try to capture the bug before it flies away. I think this is how I spent every summer evening of my childhood. I have probably spent more hours of my life attempting to catch lightning bugs than I have spent on any other activity, save perhaps sleeping or thinking about Star Trek. Other bugs can be caught during the day.

Catching Insects

A butterfly net can be used to catch butterflies, obviously, as well as most other large, flying insects. Keep in mind that touching a butterfly’s wing could permanently injure it. I would recommend avoiding insects that sting, so you should probably supervise the first backyard safari expedition.

Here are a couple different catchers you can use.

butterfly net on handle

Butterfly Net 36-Inch Handle

Butterfly nets are more for older kids and adults to use, but since every child is different an adult can help more patient children catch flying insects. This particular net has a 36″ handle and weighs 9.6 ounces.

butterfly net small on handle

Butterfly Net 15 to 59-Inch Handle

This net features an extendable handle from 15 to 59 inches but does weigh a little more at 1.41 lbs. If you are planning to go out with your children it might be smart to buy a couple of different types of nets that offer a range for easy access to bugs. Having options is never a bad thing especially if you are going to participate.

quick bug catch and release tool

Quick Bug Catch & Release Tool

If you are looking for a bug catcher that is geared more toward younger kids then give this one a try. It’s thumb/finger operated and doesn’t require the dexterity of an older child. Plus, it has a built in magnifier.

Storing Insects

Once you catch your insect, you need to put it in a container that will hold it but won’t kill it. You can put it in a jar with holes to transport it into the house, but as soon as you get there, you should put the bug in more suitable habitat. This means the captive habitat will need food, as well as some dirt, pebbles, and enough moisture so that the bug doesn’t dry out. Spray inside its habitat every few hours with a water sprayer. An alternative to capturing insects would be to have your child take photos or draw pictures of the bug in their natural setting. This ensures that neither the insect nor the child risk injury.

Here are few great containers for temporarily observing insects, just remember to encourage your child to release all wild animals (bugs included) after a short time so they do not die.

critter cage bugs

Critter Cage

This is what I got my son and it works perfectly for most bugs, and small frogs. We love to catch grasshoppers, little moths, or baby frogs and place them in here overnight. Don’t worry we release them every morning. The cage is well built and the netting allows for an almost 360 degree view of creatures kept inside.

bug discovery lab with portable terrarium

Bug Discovery Lab

This portable terrarium is great for slightly older kids who are around 8 years old. Besides offering a different type of large container, this set comes with a bug catcher and trap to help your little ones obtain and move their new friends.

outdoor explorer's bug catching kit

Outdoor Explorer’s Bug Catching Kit

For those kids that are hardcore about being outside all the time, this explorer’s kit has it all. Sure, it might be a little overboard for those that want to stay inside and just read about bugs, but for kids that are always exploring, catching bugs, and stomping through the woods this starter kit is perfect. Just don’t forget the mosquito repellent.

Keeping Insects & Bugs As Pets

One of the best insects to keep for an extended period of time is a caterpillar. This will also give your kid a chance to watch the process of metamorphosis occur. If you want to keep your caterpillar for a long time, you will need to create a mini terrarium or purchase one. For a caterpillar, this is a large, empty plastic jar with holes cut in the lid. Fill the bottom with an inch or two of dirt. Add a twig with leaves attached. The leaves should still be green so that the caterpillar can feed. Be sure to check what type of food your caterpillar eats. If you pulled your caterpillar off of a tree, there is a good chance that it eats the leaves of that tree. Be sure to have an upright twig in your jar so that the caterpillar has a place to build his cocoon. Once your caterpillar metamorphoses into a butterfly or a moth, it is best to set it free. Butterflies and moths need a large territory, and the shape of their proboscises makes it difficult to eat in captivity.

caterpillar to butterfly habitat

Caterpillar To Butterfly Habitat

This awesome caterpillar to butterfly kit comes with an mail-in form to receive live catepillers delivered to your door. The habitat is included, along with food and instructions.

ladybug habitat with volcano

Ladybug Habitat

If your child would like something that is a little more active, how about raising some ladybugs. Here’s a wonderful ladybug habitat that comes with a voucher to receive some in the mail. Don’t worry ladybugs are great for releasing to protect your garden from pests.

praying mantis habitat with plant

Praying Mantis Habitat

Is your family allergic to furry animals? There are lots of other options out there that can be suitable for people with allergies. For instance, older kids might love having a Praying Mantis the family pet. Just be sure someone is old enough to care for and feed this animal. There are multiple stores online that ship these carnivorous insects.

Most bugs love sugar. Any insect that feeds on flowers or scavenges at picnic sites would be happy with a sugary snack. To make food accessible to an insect, you can make fake nectar. Take one part sugar and four parts water. Mix them together and boil the mixture. Let it cool until it is room temperature. You can soak some into a paper towel, then leave that in the container with your insect. Putting it in a cup could cause your insect to fall in and drown. If this came to pass, your kid would learn a lesson about nature, but likely not the lesson you had intended.

Learn More About Bugs

Collecting insects is a labor of love. I recommend keeping only a few at a time, observing their behavior for a while, feeding them well, and then setting them free and catching new insects to take their place. Insects being short-lived, will die of old age if you keep them too long. Not to mention, you will have the creepiest collection of dead bugs in old couscous containers, but if your kid is Wednesday Adams, that might be exactly what she wants.

Continue learning more about bugs and insects indoors with these fantastic books.

backyard bug book

Backyard Bug Book

This is a fantastic book for little kids who are just starting their journey outdoors. Features stories, facts and some things to do. Plus, it’s written by an entomologist.

national geographic big book of bugs

National Geographic Big Book of Bugs

As your little one starts to grow and begins to spend more time outside, it’s probably not a bad idea to get them a book that they can use to identify bugs. Don’t worry this one is still easily readable and filled with facts. My son loves it.

the bug collector fiction book

The Bug Collector (fiction)

Not everything needs to be an encyclopedia, The Bug Collector tells the tale of why bugs are so important. Perfectly paired for children that are already using Big Book of Bugs.

ultimate bugopedia book national geographic kids

Ultimate Bugopedia

Finally, for older elementary kids, Bugopedia holds 272 pages of everything young minds will want from a book about insects. Get ready because your child is probably going to start bringing you all kinds of creepy crawlies.