Meadow Field Trip
In this lab you will observe insects commonly found in open field environments and learn how to collect and mount them for scientific study.
The main objectives of this lab are to help you:
- learn where to look for insects and how to collect them safely
- learn how to preserve and label insect specimens for scientific study
You will need the following materials for this lab:
- Wide-mouth collecting jars or plastic boxes
- Insect net (optional)
- Killing jar (optional)
- Clear nail polish – used as glue
- Insect pins
- Paper “points”
- Permanent ink pen – fine point
- Date/locality labels
- 4-dram glass vials
- 70% ethyl alcohol
For your first field trip and insect collecting expedition, visit a meadow or “old field” environment where you can find a variety of weeds and flowering plants. A large, diverse flower garden or nature park might also be a suitable venue for this excursion.
Your meadow field trip is a good opportunity to collect insects in the following ecological categories:
- Leaf chewing
- Plant sucking
- Batesian mimic
- Chemical defense
- Warning color
- Cryptic color
- Insect predator
If you have a net and killing jar, watch the Meadow Lab video to learn a few tricks for using them safely and effectively.
If you don’t have a net or killing jar, you can catch insects in wide-mouth jelly jars or plastic storage boxes. Put them in your freezer overnight or kill them with a few drops of acetone (nail polish remover).
Tour the following picture galleries to see examples of insects in the following ecological categories:
Visit a meadow or “old field” environment. Look for insects on the flowering plants. If you have a net, you’ll be surprised at how many different kinds of insects you can find just by taking a few sweeps through weedy vegetation. If you can find goldenrod plants, look for ball galls or spindle galls on the stems.
Some non-insect arthropods look superficially like insects. Identifying whether or not a specimen you have collected is an insect is an important first step in identification that may save you time and effort in putting together your collection. It may also serve you at work and/or home in the future. Use the Arthropod Flowchart to familiarize yourself with the physical characteristics that can be used to distinguish among the various classes of arthropods. Only members of the class Insecta should be included in your insect collection.
3. Pin and Preserve
When you return from your collecting trip, read the Guide to Mounting Insects on Pins. Follow the instructions for pinning or pointing each insect you have collected. Put a date/locality label on every specimen, using the format described in the instructions. Use the Label Request Form if you need customized labels (ENT 425 students only). Keep good notes to help you remember which insects fulfill ecological categories. You will add Ecology labels later after you have identified the specimen.
Read the Instructions for Spreading Insect Wings and follow these directions for mounting butterflies, moths, dragonflies, and damselflies (all members of the orders Lepidoptera and Odonata). These insects must be mounted with wings spread because wing venation characters are needed to identify them. Insects in other orders may also be mounted with spread wings, but it is not required. Prepare a date/locality label for each insect you spread.
Read the instructions for Preserving Insects in Alcohol and follow these directions for all immature stages such as maggots, caterpillars, wireworms, white grubs, etc. If an insect does not have functional wings and you are unsure of its developmental stage, store the specimen in 70% alcohol until you learn more about it. Adults may be submitted in alcohol as long as they are labeled as adults on the ID label. Prepare a date/locality label for each vial containing specimens in alcohol. Be sure to use permanent black ink for your labels. Put the label inside the vial. If your writing fades or runs in alcohol, the pen does not have permanent (archive quality) ink.
Try to mount all of your insects within 24 hours of each collecting trip. The longer you wait, the harder they are to pin or spread. Sometimes you can “relax” an unpinned specimen by adding a few drops of alcohol and warming it in a microwave oven for 30-60 seconds, but it will never be as easy to work with as a fresh specimen. If you simply don’t have time, put the insects into a sealable plastic container (Tupperware, for example) and store them in the freezer.
Always keep moth balls in your box with all dried insects. Ants, cockroaches, dermestid beetles, clothes moths, and a variety of other insects will eat your collection if given a chance. Tie several mothballs together in a piece of woman’s nylon hosiery or pin them individually into the four corners of your collection box.