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Extension Activity: Sticky Traps

Unit Plan: Stream EcologyLesson: 7 Time: 40 minute lesson Setting: Classroom
6-8Water & Watersheds, Biodiversity
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Students will be able to discuss the life cycles of common macroinvertebrates and use data to compare macroinvertebrate larval abundance to adult numbers and make inferences.


    This lesson is an optional post-lesson that would take place in the classroom after students visit the Cary Institute.  Alternatively, teachers may deploy their own sticky traps at a local stream or pond and study the adult insects that emerge from their local body of water.

    1. As a class students will practice identifying adult Mayflies, Stoneflies and Caddisflies on a sticky trap.
    2. In groups of 2 or 3 students will identify and count the number of adult insects in these orders on a sticky trap.
    3. Students will compile their data and compare their adult insect numbers to the larval numbers they collected on their field trip to the Cary Institute.


    • Introductory Powerpoint
    • Sticky Traps from Wappinger Creek or local stream
    • Adult Insect ID guide 
    • Data sheets
    • Dissecting microscopes


    1. Where’s Waldo?  Introduce Sticky Traps by relating the adult insect data collection to a Where’s Waldo Game
    2. Show a few slides of Where’s Waldo images and practice finding him.
    3. Offer prompt: What observation skills did you use to find Waldo?  Discuss with students the methods by which they go about finding Waldo, including what distinguishing characteristics they look for, changes in patterns, colors, shapes, etc.



    1. As a class go through the process of finding Caddisflies, Mayflies and Stoneflies on sticky traps using scanned images projected to the class.  Have students practice finding these organisms on the example sticky traps.  Discuss what you look for to find the different types of insects, especially when there are a lot of other insects on the trap.
    2. Break students up into groups of two or three, and give each group one sticky trap to work with along with a dissecting microscope, data sheet and ID guide. 
    3. Have students count and identify the Stoneflies, Mayflies and Caddisflies on the sticky traps
    4. Compile all data by totaling the number of each order of insects
    5. Compare data collected from sticky traps to data collected in leaf packs while on the field trip. Does this give us more information about what these organisms are doing, such as what stage of the life cycle are they in or changing to?  Can we pinpoint emergence from these data?
    6. 2013 Sticky Trap data from the East Branch of the Wappinger Creek at the Cary Institute is available in a downloadable document. 



    1. Review:  Most aquatic insects go through a complex life cycle. There are two basic types of metamorphosis, complete and incomplete.  An example of an insect that goes through complete metamorphosis is the Caddisfly, and example of incomplete lifecycle is the Mayfly and Stonefly. 
    2. Mayflies and Caddisflies generally have one generation per year.   Often they emerge in the spring (although some species are fall emerging)  in a synchronous event, swarming above the water.  Stoneflies may take one to three years to complete their life cycle depending on the species.  The adult phase of all three species is generally short-lived (ranging from a few hours in the Mayfly to a few months for  the Caddisfly)
    3. Mayflies, Stoneflies and Caddisflies are ecologically important since they do not tolerate low oxygen levels or poor water quality. They are often used as indicators of stream health.
    4. The adult stage of these macroinvertebrates play an important role in both the aquatic and terrestrial food chain.  Not only due these emerging insects provide an important food source for fish, they are also important for the predators that live in the forests and habitat surrounding the stream.  These predators include bats, birds, salamanders, and spiders. 



    Have students develop their own simple key to identify adult Mayflies, Caddisflies, and Stoneflies, using the characteristics they learned during the sticky trap exercise.

    Lesson Files

    Adult Insect Body Plan
    Adult Insect Sticky Trap ID guide
    Sticky Trap Intro
    Sticky Trap 2013 EB Wappinger Creek Data

    Benchmarks for Science Literacy

    5A Diversity of Life, 5D Interdependence of Life, 5E Flow of Matter and Energy, 9B Symbolic Representation, 12D Communication Skills, 12E Critical-Response Skills

    NYS Standards

    MST 1 - Mathematical analysis, scientific inquiry, and engineering design, MST 4- Physical setting, living environment and nature of science, MST 6- Interconnectedness of mathematics, science, and technology (modeling, systems, scale, change, equilibrium, optimization), MST 7- Problem solving using mathematics, science, and technology (working effectively, process and analyze information, presenting results)
    Next Generation Science Standards

    Science and Engineering Practices

    Planning and carrying out investigations, Engaging in argument from evidence, Obtaining, evaluating, and communicating information

    Developed and written by Jen Rubbo and Andrea Caruso