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Color Bugs

Time: 2 Class periods Setting: Schoolyard Type of Organism: Invertebrates
Schoolyard Ecology
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Guiding Questions

What colors are different kinds of insects attracted to and why might this be so?

    After researching the natural history of individual insects, students will form hypotheses and design an experiment to answer the question "which colors are different insects attracted to?

    • anglefoot, available in nurseries or the garden section of most larger department stores. The spray is easiest and cleanest and goes on smoothly (1-2 cans) Or if spray is not available, Tanglefoot spread (has the consistency of spun honey) (1 or 2 tubs). If the students will spread Tanglefoot themselves, divide the spread into 1 container (margarine tubs)/group with just a few tablespoons in each container.
    • 1 plastic knife inside one recycled plastic bag/group (if students are spreading the Tanglefoot themselves).
    • Poster paper in various colors (white, red, yellow, green, blue, brown, your choice) cut into strips about 10" long x 5" wide. The exact dimensions are not important as long as they are all the same size. You will need either one paper strip of each color/group (if each group will investigate all colors) OR one strip in one color/group (if each group will investigate one color).
    • Plastic wrap - 1 roll.
    • Staplers - up to 1 stapler per group.
    • Data sheets or classroom data chart.
    • Hand magnifiers - 1/group or more.
    • Insect identification guides or handouts OR have the children invent names for different kinds of insects.
    1. Assign each group of students a color or a set of colors to investigate.
    2. Ask your class to predict what color of sticky trap will attract the most insects and WHY they think so. If appropriate for your grade level, ask the students if different colors will attract different kinds of insects and WHY they think so.
    3. Prepare sticky traps after marking one side (the white side if colored on only one side) with the group name. First, ROLL the rectangle into a short tube with the marked side on the inside and staple the ends closed, overlapping about 1 inch on the end. Next, have each group select a location where they will hang their trap over a tree branch or other structure where it will be secure enough to not blow away. The traps should all be placed at about the same height and in about the same kind of habitat. Third, use the plastic knives to smear a THIN, EVEN layer of Tanglefoot on the colored side of the poster paper rectangle while holding the stapled section. LEAVE ABOUT ONE INCH BARE ON THE STAPLED END TO HOLD ON TO so your fingers don't get sticky!
    4. Hang up the traps and leave in place for 24 hours. This is not a good activity to do if rain is expected overnight.
    5. Sticky plastic knives go back in the bags and discarded.
    6. At the time of retrieval, each group removes their color trap, holding the uncoated & stapled edge. Gently OPEN the trap at the staples to form a flat rectangle once again.
    7. Cover each trap with a layer of plastic wrap; staplers can be used around the edges to keep the plastic wrap in place as needed.
    8. Each group counts the number of insects of each variety on their sticky trap and records this information on a data sheet AND/OR the classroom data chart.
    9. Compare and discuss the similarities and differences between the students' predictions and the actual data, and the possible reasons for different color preferences in different insects.


    Using sticky traps all of one color (perhaps the one determined to be the most popular in the above exercise), compare the variety of insects that are captured in different portions of the schoolyard and under different environmental conditions. E.g. Which sticky traps catch more insects, and why: Traps high on branches vs. traps on the ground? Traps in windy areas vs. traps in calm areas? Traps in thick vegetation vs. traps in open areas? Traps placed in different kinds of trees?

    During what season or what weather conditions are the most insects captured on sticky traps, and why do you think so? At what time of day are most insects captured on sticky traps and why do you think so?

    Select one insect species, research its natural history FIRST, and then try to predict what color sticky trap will attract the most individuals of that species.


    Dr. Kathy Winnett-Murray; Department of Biology; Hope College. For help in insect identification: Dr. Harvey Blankespoor and Dr. Allen Brady (Hope College Biology Department); Gordon VanWoerkem (Birder's World, Holland, MI).


    Kathy Winnett-Murray
    Hope College, 1994
    Holland, Michigan