Citizen science and global biodiversity
Citizen science and global biodiversity

Start this free course now. Just create an account and sign in. Enrol and complete the course for a free statement of participation or digital badge if available.

Free course

Citizen science and global biodiversity

3.1 Sampling on the soil surface

Insects that move over the ground are sampled with a pitfall trap (Figure 13).

Described image
Figure 13 A pitfall trap

This trap is made by simply burying a large yoghurt pot or jam jar in the ground so that the rim of the container is flush with the soil surface. Insects running along the ground fall into the container and cannot climb out. The opening of the trap is covered with a flat stone raised off the surface with pebbles, allowing insects to enter the trap but preventing small mammals from falling into it. To trap live insects, the bottom of the container is filled with dry vegetation or a folded kitchen towel, paper tissues or similar, giving the insects somewhere to settle. Pitfall traps are good for collecting ground beetles (family Carabidae) and wolf spiders (family Lycosidae).

If insects are to be collected for later identification, water with a drop of washing-up liquid or ethylene glycol (antifreeze) should be added to the trap. Identification of many insects can only be done with dead specimens and sometimes dissection is needed. Collecting any living organism for identification has to be done responsibly and for good scientific reasons.

Activity 7 Pitfall traps

Timing: Allow about 5 minutes

Can you think of any disadvantages to the live trapping of insects described above? Write your answer in the box below.

To use this interactive functionality a free OU account is required. Sign in or register.
Interactive feature not available in single page view (see it in standard view).


Yes, there are some disadvantages. One disadvantage of pitfall traps is that they will collect only active animals. Also, spiders and some beetles are predators so may bias your sample by eating other insects in the trap.

Now watch the following video which shows a pitfall trap survey.

Download this video clip.Video player: Video 5
Skip transcript: Video 5

Transcript: Video 5

A good way to take a look at bugs and insects is to set a few simple pitfall traps. A coffee cup sunk into the ground and left overnight will soon have passersby dropping in. My guide is entomologist Dave Boyce.
OK, Dave, let's see what we've got.
OK. All right, now. Let's just pick a few things out. This is my real passion.
Your thing.
Yeah. And this is a green tiger beetle.
That's a beauty, isn't it?
He's a day-hunting predator with these very long legs. It means he can run very fast. He's got very big eyes you can see on the front there. So he's finding things. He sees insects from a distance, and he'll either run them down or even fly. Beetles, you don't think of as being good fliers, but tiger beetles are terrific fliers.
The Billy boy of the heathland.
Very much so, yeah. Right, well, the green tiger beetle is a beautiful animal and lovely to see. But here is the thing that really gets my pulse racing as a beetle twitcher. This is [INAUDIBLE] ground beetle-- beautiful, green-metallic wing cases and this pinky metallic full body. And this is a very, very rare species.
Why is it that some creatures do have such a hard time of it surviving?
This is a very, very specialised beast in the habitat it requires. It not only needs lowland heath. It needs particular conditions. It likes very open heath and with lots of patches of bare ground. It's very warmth-loving, and the bare ground creates that very, very dry, very hot environment it requires.
And the work the RSPB's been doing here, in terms of opening up areas of heath for this and for a number of other rare invertebrates and other species, is critical to its survival.
End transcript: Video 5
Video 5
Interactive feature not available in single page view (see it in standard view).

Take your learning further

Making the decision to study can be a big step, which is why you'll want a trusted University. The Open University has 50 years’ experience delivering flexible learning and 170,000 students are studying with us right now. Take a look at all Open University courses.

If you are new to University-level study, we offer two introductory routes to our qualifications. You could either choose to start with an Access module, or a module which allows you to count your previous learning towards an Open University qualification. Read our guide on Where to take your learning next for more information.

Not ready for formal University study? Then browse over 1000 free courses on OpenLearn and sign up to our newsletter to hear about new free courses as they are released.

Every year, thousands of students decide to study with The Open University. With over 120 qualifications, we’ve got the right course for you.

Request an Open University prospectus371