Backyard Bug Safari Expedition
Caution: Advise children to explore with their eyes, not their hands (ant and bee stings can be dangerous), and take care not to injure insects or their homes. Word to the wise: Determine whether or not your child is at risk for allergic reactions before undertaking this expedition.
What to Pack
- Magnifying glass
- Sketch pad and pencils, crayons or markers
- Sugar (one teaspoon in a sealable sandwich bag)
- Optional: An insect field guide for kids from the library, such as National Geographic's My First Pocket Guide: Insects
- Check the weather. Choose a warm, sunny day to start your safari in your backyard or a local park.
- Play detective. Tummies down! Lie facedown in the grass and stay still. What do you see? Can your child find any insects? Look under dead leaves, rocks and rotting logs. (Fun!)
- Take a closer look. Use your magnifying glass to zoom in. Point out that all insects have six legs, two antennae and bodies divided into three parts: head, thorax and abdomen. What bug isn't an insect? A spider! Note its eight legs, lack of wings and only two body sections.
- Explore sidewalks and pavements. Look for ant hills and watch the ants at work. Drop a few grains of sugar and watch what they do.
- Record your findings. Have your child sketch the bugs he finds, and help your child write down the bugs colors and locations.
- Take measure. Hold a small stick beside each bug and make a mark on the stick with your pencil to record its size. Then copy the info onto your sketch pad. How does a beetle's length compare to an ant's?
- Watch a weaver. If you're lucky enough to find a spider weaving a web, take the time to watch one of nature's miracles in action. You might even see the spider capture its next meal.
- Search a garden. Look for spring buds and the bugs that visit—bees, butterflies, moths and so on. Peek inside before you sniff!
- Investigate. Ask your young explorer these questions:
- What's your favorite bug and why?
- Would you like to be as small as a bug? Why or why not?
- Where do insects live? (Discuss hives, nests, colonies.)
- What sounds do bugs make? (Compare a bee's buzz to the chirp crickets make by rubbing their front wings together.)
- How do insects move? Can you imagine having six legs?
- What do insects eat? (Answer: Plants, nectar, other insects. Mosquitoes bite animals and humans to suck their blood.)
- Why are many insects green or brown? (A: To blend with grass and trees to hide from predators.)
- Where do baby insects come from? (A: Most insects hatch from eggs.)
- How do insects help us? (A: Some, like ladybugs, eat insects that destroy farmers' crops. Bees make honey from the nectar in flowers. Bees and butterflies help flowers reproduce by carrying pollen from one flower to another.)
- Read all about it. Look for Eric Carle's classic books about bugs, such as The Very Hungry Caterpillar, The Very Busy Spider, and The Very Quiet Cricket, and Nic Bishop's Spiders.
Bonus Explorer Activity Consider buying an ant farm to watch how ants carve tunnels through soil, or a butterfly kit to witness metamorphosis. Your child will never forget it! (Set the insects free afterward.)
Check out the Dawn Wildlife Champions program for free lesson plans and tools to explore the issue of oil spills, and lots of ways for your kid to get involved in wildlife education!