BugInfo Science Fair Projects, Suggestions

Attraction to Lights. Several experiments can be performed with this topic. Use blacklights or mercury vapor lamps if possible to attract insects, as scientists do. Use the light in front of a sheet between two trees for best results.

  1. Compare numbers of insects that appear at the dark and full phases of the moon.

  2. Compare the kinds of insects that appear in higher numbers as the evening progresses. Especially record beetles and moths.

  3. Compare the volume of insects attracted between evenings that are dry or humid OR cooler or warmer.

  4. Compare difference in kinds and quantities which come to ultraviolet versus mercury vapor, etc. lights.

Comparisons of Insects in Soil Samples. This involves the gathering of soil from two or more areas, preferably from a garden and/or undisturbed field and/or forest floor. When the soil is moist but not wet, stake out an area 6 inches by 12 inches, then dig out a soil sample some 4 inches deep. Place the sample on a large sheet of white paper, or possibly a white sheet. Break the soil apart and record the kinds of insects and other organisms that emerge from the soil (room temperature, for one hour). Repeat the process with other samples and compare the kinds of organisms (numbers also, if possible) between the samples.

Bark Insects at Night. This involves placing temporary cardboard covers on tree bark to determine what insects hide or rest under such covers. Cardboard sections can be 18 inches or so, by 12 inches or so, and placed with the wider sides on the top and bottom. Light strings should be attached to the upper corners of the cardboard, then tied on the back side of the tree (large trees are best). Several such devices may be placed on forest trail trees, preferably in a location that they won't be disturbed (back yards will work). It may be necessary to bend the cardboard slightly to fit against the tree. Place the "traps" before darkness, then return to them in the morning. Before lifting the cardboard to observe insects that might be hiding there, place a sheet or white textile at the base of the tree under the cardboard. If the insects drop, this will let you see them before they escape. Species of trees, kinds and numbers of insects, general weather humidities and such combinations may be recorded for comparisons. One may place small amounts of peanut butter, honey, rotting fruit and other food substances under the cardboard to assure a more successful "catch," and to compare with the same type of trees without such baits.

Camouflage comparisons. This concept is relatively simple, and involves gathering insects in two or more habitats to compare their predominant colors. The easiest method to gather insects in numbers is to use a sweep net (a regular insect net will be okay, provided one is careful of brambles and vines) . Sweep the net back and forth in a grassy field some 25 times to take in insects, then dump the catch into a large jar. The main color of each kind of insect is then recorded, then counted to see which is the most common color in grasses. Then go to a forest and carefully search for insects on vegetation or on the ground, not using a net this time. Record main colors of kinds of insects found, then compare the numbers (or percentages) of colors of insects between the two kinds of habitats.

Pupal protection. This simple experiment demonstrates the capacity that insects have for limited control of color. On cabbage or lettuce plants from home gardens in the spring or early summer, collect a few caterpillars of the Cabbage White Butterfly. Place some caterpillars in a cardboard box with an interior painted green, and the others in a similar box but with the interior painted cream. Provide food plants for the caterpillars and keep them until they form pupae. Note the colors of the pupae that are reared in each box.

Other suggestions for Science Fair Projects:

Attraction to Moisture. Divide enclosure with cardboard with small hole in bottom center, and record preference ("wet" or "dry")

Attraction to Different Foods. Offer a selection of foods to insects (caged or uncaged), and record preferences.

Sugaring. Which insects come to molasses on tree bark at night?

Alarm Reactions. Will insects drop, fly, etc. when startled?

Light Preferences. Prepare enclosure with corners of different light levels, and record which ones attract different insects.

Selected References:

Chinery, Michael. 1977. Enjoying Nature with your Family. Crown Publishers, New York.

The Big Book of Nature Projects. 1997. Edited by Laurance Rosenzweig. Thames and Hudson, Inc., Hong Kong.


Prepared by the Department of Systematic Biology, Entomology Section,
National Museum of Natural History, in cooperation with Public Inquiry Services, 
Information Sheet Number 50, 1999