Homeschool (unschool) author and entomologist Roberta Gibson provides advice for students on how to make an insect collection. Information includes choosing the appropriate box, collecting insects, hard-bodied insects (beetles, grasshoppers, plant bugs) versus soft-bodied insects (aphids, caterpillars, spiders), and proper presentation.

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Common sense is the collection of prejudices acquired
by the age of eighteen.
~ Albert Einstein

    Science Project - Making an Insect Collection
    Roberta Gibson

    In a recent study, biologists were asked what influenced them as children to become scientists. Overwhelmingly, the most common answer was “making an insect collection.” Although adults may be squeamish about killing insects and putting them on pins (I know I am and I’m an entomologist!), learning to identify insects and group them into groups with related characteristics is very important for children.

    To get started, your children will need some sort of box with a soft bottom that will hold the pinned insects. Old cigar boxes are great, but a cardboard box with some styrofoam board in the bottom works well too. Collect insects by spreading an old sheet under a shrub and then shaking the branches vigorously. You’ll be amazed at what falls out. Put hard-bodied insects such as beetles, grasshoppers, and plant bugs in a plastic container and kill them by placing them in a freezer for 48 hours. The freezer is best, because that way the insects remain soft and pliable for pinning if forgotten for a period of time.

    Entomologists typically pin up specimens on special insect pins that are thinner than straight pins and coated so they don’t rust. Children can cut out small triangles of cardstock or 3 x 5 cards, glue the insects on with white glue or clear nail polish, and then pin the triangle with straight pins. The small end of the triangle goes on the underside of the middle of the insect (the thorax) and the pin goes through the broad side.

    Soft-bodies insects such as aphids and caterpillars and spiders go into a vial or jar filled with 70-75% alcohol (you need to add water to keep the insects from bursting). Encourage your kids to label each insect with the collection date and location. If you don't want your children to kill insects, it is possible to use insects that died of natural causes or to buy packages of realistic plastic insects and use those.

    For more information on insect collections and insect identification, check for insect guides at your local library or bookstore. Most 4-H programs have insect activity guides as well. I think you will be pleasantly surprised how rewarding making an insect collection can be.

    Copyright February 2000
    Originally published in March/April 2000 issue of HELM (Home Education Learning Magazine).

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