How to Beginner Bug Collecting

mantis Preying Mantis, photo by Charles Buchanan

Bug collecting, summer time and children, go hand in hand. Beginning bug collecting is fun, virtually free, educational and can grow into a lifetime hobby or a career as an entomologist (bug expert).

This article will tell you how to do this for the average child (or adult) that has a curiosity about bugs. Insects are everywhere and in a much greater variety than most people realize. For example there are over 150 types of grasshoppers just in the American West!

Things You'll Need:

· Glass or plastic wide mouthed jars with lid for catching bugs and a wide mouth glass jar with a lid for a killing jar. Clear plastic Mayonaise jars and pickle jars work great as catch jars. Petshops often sell catch boxes made of plastic.

· Cardboard box with lid, glass topped collecting box or Ryker display boxes.

· Insect display pins. (long pins you can get in the sewing department or craft store)

· Magnifying lens

· Styrofoam sheets

· Alcohol for storing soft body insects and spiders in bottles.

· Small bottles

· Wide mouth glass jar with lid for a bug killing jar.

· nail polish remover or rubbing alchahol for killing jar

· cotton balls

· tweezers

Step 1: Capture Jar

jar 1 graphics by Charles Buchanan

Catching insects and spiders: To catch insects you need a wide mouthed jar or butterfly net. You probably have at least one clear mayonnaise or pickle jar around. Glass jars work well for older kids, but clear plastic is a bit safer for younger kids.

Young children should be supervised in catching insects. They should be educated in staying away from wasp nests, bee hives, centipedes and poisonous spiders like black widows and tarantulas. All insects make great additions to collections, but small children should be restricted to catching beetles and common garden bugs.

Punch or drill some holes in the top of the jar to let your bugs breath. A nail and hammer works great on the a metal lid. A plastic lid requires drilling, a nail and hammer will shatter it.

The idea is to unscrew the lid, encourage the bug to climb, fall or get pushed in with a stick and then screw the top shut. The clear jar allows the bug to be observed. This is a great education for a child.

When capturing try not to injure the insect. This allows you to release the insect uninjured if you want, and uninjured bugs make for better insect displays.

Step 2:Killing jar


Once the insect is caught it must be killed quickly and humanely. No need to make them suffer. A killing jar is one method of killing the insect without injuring it for display.

Making your killing jar: Take a wide mouth glass jar with a sealing lid. Make sure it is clean and dry. Cut a piece of stiff cardboard the so it will fit in the jar like in the illustration. punch holes in the cardboard to allow poison fumes to move up through the cardboard. Drop several cotton balls in the bottom of the jar. pour just enough rubbing alcohol or nail polish remover onto the cotton balls to saturate them but not leave liquid on the bottom of the jar. Place the cardboard in the jar as in the illustration. Seal the jar.

Now your killing jar is ready for any insect you need to kill. Carefully pour the insect from you capture jar into your killing jar making certain it does not escape! Close the lid tightly and wait for at least one hour before removing he insect. Make certain it is dead before handling. Now your insect is ready to mount.

Step 3: bug box

jar 4

A bug box can made from any flat box with a lid. Collectors boxes with glass or Plexiglas tops are available at craft shops. A standard cardboard glove or shallow gift box works great for kids. A flat piece of Styrofoam from packing or an old Styrofoam cooler works great as a base inside the box. Cut it to fit snuggly. Large pins can be found at your department store craft or sewing department, hobby center or florists. Run a pin through the center of your bug and pin it to the Styrofoam. Hand made labels can identify each bug, where and when it was collected. A cardboard top will protect the collection from dust and other insects that might want to eat the collection!

Step 4: Identifying Bugs:

catapillar gulf fritillary caterpillar, photo by Charles Buchanan

Insect guides are available at your local library, bookstore and for purchase online. You can also surf the web for information. Once you identify your insect, make a label. List the common name, Latin name, when and where you found it.

You might want to encourage your child or yourself to keep a journel on the insect, its common and Latin name, where and when it was found, and any information you find out about the insect.

Step 5: Spiders

:spider1Orb Weaver Spider, photo by Charles Buchanan

Saving Spiders, Caterpillars and soft body insects: These bugs should be stored in clear glass bottles or vials filled with rubbing alcohol. Seal the bottle tight and put a paper label on the outside of the Jar. Their soft bodies will dry up and disintegrate if pinned to a Styrofoam display board, so jar storage works best.

Tips & Warnings:

  • As you interest developes in the hobby you can purchase better or professional Insect Display boxes, which are class or plexiglass boxes of cardboard or wood construction.

  • You can make or buy a butterfly or collecting net for catching flying and hopping insects at some hobby shops or online.

  • Insects are attracted to lights at night try collection under your front porch or patio lights.

  • Encourage small children to capture fireflies, beetles, moths and butterflies (non stinging and non bitting insects)

  • Rubbing Alcohol and Nail Polish Remover are harmful or deadly if consumed, they should never be left open or used by or in the presence of small children or animals if unsupervised.

  • Stinging and biting insects must be handled with care.

  • Wasp nests, bee hives, poisonous spiders and insects should only be collected by experienced adults. Children should be made aware of their dangers.

  • Do not disturb killer bee hives or fire ant mounds.