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Fun with Bugs
















Everyone knows there are “bugs” that live in natural environments.  Many persons, however, are put off by insects especially ones such as mosquitoes, hornets, and ticks, which bite or sting. Great Nature Wisconsin encourages naturalists and outdoor enthusiasts to get a better understanding of the lives of insects. And the role they play in the integrity of natural areas and quality of life for humans.


Here are twenty activities a naturalist could do this summer to better understand the role insects play in our natural world:

  1. Insight into the complex world of insects is far more important than collecting and accurate identification of insects. Many species are tiny with several species identified only under magnification by experts. While this accurate species knowledge is critical our accrued scientific understanding, the casual naturalist is best served by getting a flavor of a species habitat, and its relationship to other species.

  2. Carefully watch a flitting Monarch butterfly or any other butterfly species. What flowers do they stop at to attain nectar? Which plant species do they stop to lay eggs on? Identify those plant species. Many butterflies will utilize only a single genus of plants to feed upon, such as Monarchs utilize milkweeds.

  3. You notice a plant in your yard or in the woods with many greenish lumps along the stems. These could be aphids feeding on the plant juices. Watch carefully to see if any ants crawl over the aphids, and gently stroke them to expel juices, which the ants consume. In return, the ants protect these soft-bodied insects from attack by other species.

  4. In calm water near the shore, look at the water’s surface. You may see water striders or whirligig beetles. The do not sink due to tension on the water’s surface. Especially look at the tips of the water strider’s legs – notice the concave surface of the water or the much larger shadow dots on the bottom.

  5. See if you can follow foraging dragonflies, especially larger species such as green darners. Their foraging areas are well defined and if you are fortunate you make actually see them capture other flying insects upon which they feed.

  6. On open sandy area or even paths through the woods watch for scurrying insects running on the ground. These may be tiger beetles. This group of insects is highly predatory feeding on other insects. They are fast runners and fly rapidly to avoid humans. With binoculars, the naturalist can observe their behavior.

  7. If you find a gall forming on a goldenrod, or a leaf, such as an oak leaf, open the gall up to observe the larvae and the galls structure. Many gall wasps lay eggs in the plant and then chemical reactions cause the plant to develop very unusual growth forms.

  8. Large patches of flowering plants can provide excellent opportunities to observe visitors to those flowers.  Bees are obvious visitors, but many other species such as flower beetles, plant bugs, and soldier beetles feed on the plants nectar. Many of the insects feed only on one species or genus of plant flower.

  9. In addition, to the flower feeders look carefully at these same flowers for insect predators, especially assassin bugs, ambush bugs and crab spiders.   They are well camouflaged and lie in wait for an unsuspecting insect to venture too close.

  10. These same open grassy and sedge areas harbor numerous spider webs, especially argiope spiders. A walk though these meadows will startle jumping insects like grasshoppers. If one of them lands on the spider web, stop, sit down and enjoy the drama to unfold.

  11. The first cousins of grasshoppers are katydids, and they have special organs that produce sound. A great experience is to track down the sound maker to find out what it is. Some species like snowy tree crickets will stay in place and allow the naturalist to observe them calling. A good flashlight is needed.

  12. Participate in local butterfly counts. Organizations such as the Xerces Society and the Wisconsin Entomological Society and local nature centers hold butterfly counts around the fourth of July. A budding naturalist may be able to help an expert collect data.

  13. In open sandy are look for holes in the sand. These are homes of various beetles, velvet ants, wasps, and bees. By observing these holes, you will eventually get to see the occupant.

  14. Another special species of sandy areas is the ant-lion. These species fly for a short time as adults, but the larva is most noticeable. They build funnel shaped pits in loose sand. The larva is at the bottom in the lowest portion of the pit. It waits for another insect to walk into the pit, then by moving sand the intruder is forced to the bottom, where the ant-lion captures and consumes its prey.

  15. If the naturalist observes what looks like foam on a plant, it may be a spittlebug. Many spittlebug species are host plant specific and feed only on the plant juices of that host. The truly adventurous can remove the spittle to see what the insects truly looks like.

  16. Carefully follow bumble bees back to their honeypots. There are several species in the state, each with a different preferred location to place the chambers.

  17. Get a feel for the incredible night time diversity of insects by visiting locations where night time lights attract these insects. These light sources can be yard lights, business lights, or lights you place in a habitat yourself. Incredible moth diversity as well as night flying beetles can be observed. 

  18. If you visit one of our commercial caves, look for insects even in this subterranean habitat. Cave crickets are the most obvious of these troglodytes, but other species may be found. This experience shows explicitly the how insects fully utilize every conceivable habitat in the state.

  19. Tip over decaying logs to observe the insects that help in the decomposition process. Several beetle species specialize in these habitats as well as centipedes, millipedes, earthworms and may the salamanders that feed on the crawlies.

  20. The most advanced insect watchers look for the bizarre. If you see a dead mammals or birds that appear to be gyrating on the ground, look closely. Carrion beetles may be in the process of burying this food sources for use by their larvae before the flies get to it.

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