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Insect Investigations (JHARVNC)

TopicWildlife - Invertebrates/Insects
Participants will learn the basic morphology of insects, then collect specimens to observe.
Recommended SettingInside seated discussion, outside insect collection
LocationJanet Huckabee Arkansas River Valley Nature Center, Fort Smith

Education Program Coordinator, 479-452-3993

Duration45 minutes
Suggested Number of Participants25 - 30
Special Conditions
To do the outside insect collection, weather must be permitting; preferably a spring/summer activity.
  • Learn basic characteristics of insects (body parts)
  • Identify body parts on picture and model
  • Learn basic collection techniques
  • Observe collected specimens and verify if it is an insect
Key Terms*








  • Boxes
  • Collection nets
  • Enlarged insect model and/or large picture of insect with body part  identification cards
  • Enlarged model or photo of complete metamorphosis
  • Identification guides
Insects are one of the more abundant groups of organisms in the world. They are unique in both their life cycle and in their morphology or body arrangements. Insects have three major body parts: a head, thorax and abdomen.

  • Arthropods – jointed legs, exoskeleton, segmented bodies
  • More than 80,000 species of insects


  • Life cycle
    • Complete metamorphosis
      • Egg
      • Larva
      • Pupa
      • Adult
    • Incomplete metamorphosis
      • Egg
      • Nymph
      • Adult
  • Parts of an insect
    • Head – location of mouth, eyes and two antennas
    • Thorax – location of three pairs of jointed legs and one or two pair of wings
    • Abdomen – location of the reproductive and digestive organs

Collection Methods

  • Explain how to use insect net
  • Everyone collects insects
  1. Seat participants on floor and introduce insects.
  2. Go over life cycle of insects using props.
  3. Discuss body parts of insects using enlarged model, poster and puzzle so class can participate. Contrast noninsects.
  4. Instruct participants on how to do a live collection outside and give them nets. Give collection boxes to teachers/adults. Give participants parameters on where they may and may not collect.
  5. Observe participants collecting, answer questions, help them identify samples and collect specimens in boxes.
  6. Gather participants back inside and identify insects. Discuss which are insects and which are not. (You will often find a spider, rolly-polly or worm in the mix.)
  7. Wrap up with insect body part identification, differences in noninsects and the importance of insects to the ecosystem.

Make a list of insects found at the nature center.  How would that list compare to insects found in another area? Using similar techniques, collect insects in a different habitat area or in a schoolyard. Note differences, if any, in the collection and in the habitat.

  • Insects make up a very important part of the food chain or web. What is their general role? What impact would it have if all insects suddenly disappeared? What hazards endanger insect species?
  • Insects are very well adapted to their habitat, including where they live, what food they eat and camouflage from enemies. Give an example of an insect that is highly specialized to their habitat and explain how.
  • Many insects are masters of camouflage. Some insects use an opposite tactic by looking obviously out of place, meaning they’re poisonous or mimicking poisonous species. Find pictures demonstrating this.

Abdomen (insect) – the posterior section of an arthropod’s body, behind the thorax or the cephalothorax

Body (insect) – the entire structure of an insect, including the head, antennae, mouthparts, thorax, wings, legs and abdomen

Habitat – an arrangement of food, water, shelter or cover, and space suitable to animals’ needs

Head (insect) – anterior of the three body regions of an adult insect which bears the eyes (usually a pair of compound eyes), the antennae and the mouthparts

Insect – invertebrate animal of the class Insecta of the phylum Arthropoda with an exoskeleton, three sets of jointed legs, a segmented body made up of head, thorax, abdomen, and typically one or two pairs of wings

Metamorphosis – a change in the form and often habits of an animal during normal development after the embryonic stage. Examples include a maggot changing into an adult fly and a caterpillar into a butterfly, and in amphibians, the changing of a tadpole into a frog.

Thorax – in insects, one of the three main divisions of the creature's body where the wings and legs attach