Exploring Insects

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Exploring and Observing Insects

Insects Exploration Icon ImageAlthough not as “charismatic” to many people as mammals, insects make up the largest group in the phylum known as arthropods (spineless animals with an exterior skeleton) and have many members that are beneficial to humans, from bees to silkworms.

Join entomologist Richard Lewis in the Exploring Insects virtual nature walk as he outlines the many insects you may observe locally and opens a new world of discovery.

After watching the virtual nature walk, find a set of resources and activities on the page below.

Exploring Insects Virtual Nature Walk with Lead Naturalist Richard Lewis


Exploring Insects Resource Recommendations from Richard Lewis:



  • iNaturalist.org is a powerful resource for information and local sighting histories for insects and all aspects of natural history. If you need help with it, check out our iNaturalist Tutorial.
  • www.beekeepinglikeagirl.com/is-it-a-bee-wasp-or-fly/ this section of the Beekeeping Like a Girl website is useful for differentiating flies, bees, and wasps and also for identifying different kinds of bees.
  • www.bugguide.net is an online community of naturalists who share observations of insects – a great place to get help with identification.
  • www.xerces.org is the website of the Xerces Society for Invertebrate Conservation, an international nonprofit organization that protects the natural world through the conservation of invertebrates and their habitats. Key program areas are: pollinator conservation, endangered species conservation, and reducing pesticide use and impacts.
  • www.crownbees.com provides a variety of resources for raising bees.

Citizen Science Projects:

These citizen science projects represent ways you can help pollinators.

  • www.pnwbumblebeeatlas.org: the Pacific Northwest Bumble Bee Atlas offers opportunities to contribute to a census of bumble bees in an area you choose.
  • www.greatsunflower.org: this citizen science project takes counts of the number and types of pollinators visiting plants (especially sunflowers) to create a body of information to determine where pollinator service is strong or weak.
  • https://beespotter.org: BeeSpotter is a partnership between citizen-scientists and the professional science community designed to educate the public about pollinators by engaging them in a data collection effort of importance to the nation.
  • https://budburst.org: Budburst brings together researchers, educators, gardeners, and citizen scientists on a shared journey to uncover the stories of plants and animals affected by human impacts on the environment. We hope that sharing these stories will increase appreciation of plants and the natural world and inspire conservation action.

Exploring Insects Activities from Richard Lewis:

  • Choose a focal species bee to study more deeply. Start by finding a bee in your neighborhood that you want to study. Try to get these three photos of your species so you can identify it: a photo of its back (from above), a photo of its side, and a head shot (from directly in front). If it is too fast, then temporarily capture it in a container. If it is too active to photograph, Richard suggests putting it in the freezer for 5-10 minutes to slow it down enough to photograph. It will warm up after that and be fine to release. Richard Lewis suggests one of these following pollinators as a focal species:
    • Family Apidae – Native Bumble Bees
    • Western Bumble Bee– Bombus occidentalis
    • Yellow Faced Bumble Bee- Bombus vosnesenski
    • Family Megachilidae – Hole Nesting Bees
    • Blue Orchard Bee – Osmia lignaria
    • Red Footed Cuckoo – Coelioxys rufitarsis
    • Family Halictidae – Sweat Bees
    • Ligated Furrow Bee – Halictus ligatus
    • Family Andrenidae – Mining Bees
    • Death camas bee – Andrena astragali
  • After you have chosen your focal species to study, begin these activities:
  • Identify your species by referring to your photos and using the suggested resources above.
  • Draw or paint your bee. These Sketching Tips and Resources may be helpful.
  • Answer these questions about your bee from Richard Lewis:
    • How does your bee transport pollen and what plant/plants does it specialize on? Draw or paint your bee visiting its favorite flower. These Sketching Tips and Resources may be helpful.
    • What time of year are the adult bees active? Draw their lifecycle.

Exploring Insects Family Activities from Richard Lewis:

Richard Lewis has two young entomologists (his two boys) in his family, so he made these suggestions of activities that his children have enjoyed:

  • Create a photo journal of the insects in your area. Try to see how many different kinds of insects and their relatives you can find and record. Look where you think bugs might be — on flowers, under rocks, near ponds or rivers, under bark, in rotten logs. Some are fast so having a container is helpful to catch them. If they’re hard to get a picture of or will fly away, they can be put in the freezer for 5-10 minutes to slow them down to document. They will warm up and be fine to release.
  • Try to separate the photos into major groups (Orders) such as Beetles, Butterflies, Bees, Dragonflies, etc. Use the suggested resources above if necessary.
  • Try more advanced sampling. This requires some parental assistance and supplies. Try things like beat trays, insect nets, pitfall traps, and aspirators. They are easy to get online or make and will allow you to find many different insects that would otherwise be hard to see. Here are some Bug Hunter tips on Collecting Equipment and Methods from Texas A&M to get you started.
  • Join a citizen science project. Check out the different citizen science projects listed above and consider joining one so you can contribute your discoveries to a wider community.