Resource 5: Working with insects

Background information / subject knowledge for teacher

Collecting small animals

Caution: You will need to research the ‘bugs’ in your local area and be aware of any that are poisonous or dangerous.

You will also need a reference book that describes the insects that might be found in your country so that you can help your students identify what they find.

Students of all ages are usually quite keen to collect small animals, such as invertebrates (which include 97% of all known animal species), from the school playground or surrounding areas. However, you should point out to them that, although apparently insignificant, these are living creatures; they and their habitats must be treated with respect and consideration; e.g. any lifted stones must be replaced with great care. If pupils are going to collect creatures and bring them into school, you need to show them how to set up a temporary habitat for them in a suitable container such as a margarine tub or similar.

  1. The environment should be quite moist and placing a small piece of rolled up damp tissue paper in the bottom of the tub will ensure this.
  2. Placing a few leaves inside the tub is a good idea, preferably those of the plant or shrub near or on which the creature was found.
  3. Each different type of animal should, ideally, be kept separate; slugs, for example, leave a trail of slime in their wake and other animals legs’ may stick together if they are placed in a container with slugs.

Once they have transported them appropriately from home or the playground they should be transferred to a more suitable habitat within the classroom if a longer study is required. A large plastic or glass tank with leaf mould in the bottom together with a few stones will suffice. A piece of linen or muslin held in place by an elastic band or piece of string would serve as an appropriate cover. The animals should be returned to their natural habitat as soon as possible.


Assortment of small jars, boxes and containers

Nylon netting or muslin, elastic bands

Hand lenses

Plastic or glass tanks

Cardboard boxes

Black plastic sheet or large piece of card

Old white sheet

Sheets of card

Small lengths of wood

Trowel (to dig in soft earth)


Paint brushes/plastic spoons (also for transferring creatures into the containers)

Methods of collection

There are several ways in which small creatures can be collected, which should not cause them distress.

  1. Small paintbrushes can be used tovery gently brush animals from leaves, tree bark, rocks, etc. into small containers.
  2. Pitfall traps: these are small holes dug into the soil and filled with small containers, such as jam jars, so that the mouth of the container is just below the surface of the soil. In each container should be placed a few morsels of ‘bait’ to entice the creatures in. The container should be covered so that light cannot enter directly. Placing a few stones around the edge and covering the stones with an appropriately sized piece of card can achieve this. There should, of course, be sufficient space between the stones to allow the creatures’ entry. The traps can be inspected daily to see what creatures have been caught.
  3. Lay a piece of black plastic sheeting over the ground, say 1 square metre, early in the morning and see what creatures are under it towards the end of the day.

Main groups of invertebrates

You will need to research the invertebrates that live in your local area.


The class can be divided up into groups of three or four. Each group can be given the task of collecting small creatures by one or more of the methods described above. Their task will be:

  1. To identify each of the animals they collect.
  2. To classify them into groups justifying why they have assigned each one to a particular group.
  3. To gather evidence to support their classification in terms of the animal’s structure and habitats.

Choice chambers

You could also carry out investigations into which types of environment each of the groups of animals prefer, e.g. light or dark, dry or moist, by constructing choice chambers. These are closed containers with several chambers, each of which comprises a different environmental variable, as suggested above.

Setting up a dry environment will require the use of a desiccant such as silica gel. An example of a choice chamber is shown on the next page.

Resource 4: Questioning

Resource 6: Examples of classification keys