Looking for bugs in leaf litter

Image: Benhi Dixon | Creative Commons

Introduction

Take a garden insect census to see if you have a good range of bugs and beetles in your backyard.

Here are some ways to record and identify invertebrates in your backyard.


What you need

For each of these activities, you will need:

  • Spade
  • Garden gloves
  • Magnifying glass
  • Light coloured plastic tray or container lid (light colours work best as it makes it easier to see what you have found)
  • Invertebrate ID guide and tally sheet (PDF, 64K)
  • Camera/device for taking photos
  • A clean empty yoghurt pot for the pitfall trap
Recording your findings

Make note of what you caught, the date, and location. Some invertebrates such as hoppers, springtails and larvae may be very small and hard to see but are an important part of the survey.

You could also draw or take photos, and record your findings in a nature journal.


Leaf litter investigation

  1. Find an area with leaf litter (fallen leaves found on ground, under trees/ shrubs).
  2. Scoop up two handfuls or small spades of leaves from the leaf litter.
  3. Put the leaf litter on a tray.
  4. Separate out leaves and look for movement and signs of life.
  5. Record your findings. 
Remember

Be careful with the creatures, and put them back safely when you're done.

Soil dig

  1. Find an area with soil you can dig up. Look for soft, dark coloured soil as you will probably find more invertebrates.
  2. Dig a hole with about 5–10 cm wide and deep.
  3. Put your soil sample on a tray or plastic lid. Separate the pieces of soil, looking for signs of life.
  4. Record your findings.

Tips for soil digging:

  • Wait for a day when it is not too dry or too wet.
  • Dry soil (usually in summer months) can be hard to dig in.
  • Wet, muddy soil (during winter months) can be very messy.
  • Use a blunt trowel or small spade to dig. Working with adult helpers works best.

Pitfall trap

Make a pitfall trap for catching and studying ground-dwelling invertebrates. 

  1. Find an area near vegetation (e.g. under trees/ shrubs). Look for soft, dark coloured soil as you will probably find more invertebrates.
  2. Use a shovel to dig a small hole.
  3. Place a clean yoghurt pot in the hole. Fill any empty space around the pot with soil. Make sure that the top of the pot is level with the ground, or you won’t catch anything.
  4. Add some leaves to the bottom of your pot. This gives the creatures somewhere to hide in the trap and reduces the likelihood of larger invertebrates preying on smaller ones.
  5. Check your trap after a few hours. Or, since many invertebrates are most active at night, you could leave your trap overnight. Check your trap in the morning, before it starts to get warm.
  6. Empty the trap into a tray to see what creatures wandered in. Use the ID guides to help identify what kind of invertebrates they are.
  7. Record your findings.

Get help identifying species

Get help from scientists and fellow nature observers to identify the plants and animals in your photos by uploading them to iNaturalist, Seek and/or NZ Bird Atlas.

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