Let's Go on a Bug Scavenger Hunt!

Laure Latham - San Francisco Bay Area
February 19, 2017

It's time to graduate from The Very Hungry Caterpillar and see if real bugs out there live up to the expectations. How so? Enter the miniature world of creepy crawlies by taking your kids on a hike with a mission that's not impossible: finding different types of bugs. Through your adventures in the Bay Area, you might find spotted cucumber ladybugs green as polka-dotted snap peas, Jerusalem Crickets looking like little warriors in training, or golden buprestids whose metallic rainbow armor outshines the brightest spring blooms around. First, the packing list.

What To Bring

To optimize your chances and make your bug expedition even more fun, the following items will prove useful for the hike:

  • Magnifying glasses for kids
  • Bug boxes or clear plastic boxes with lids, or even bug vacuums if your kids are afraid of getting close to creepy crawlies
  • Local bug guide
  • Bug net, if you intend to observe bugs that don't fly
  • Camera, to capture the moment and identify the bug later at home

Now you're ready to go. What's the strategy?

Start Small

Ants and roly-polies are probably the easiest bugs to find and you don't even have to go far. To find roly-polies, go around your backyard or a shady trail and look for damp and dark places. Then, lift rocks, sticks and leaves and see what's hiding!

Ants are even easier to find than roly-polies. They are literally anywhere and will stop at nothing to find food for their colony. Bonus points if you find an ant colony—that's quite special. Of course, to avoid bug bites, use your common sense and ask kids to keep a safe distance when observing the animals.

If your kids are ready to look for big bugs, the Bay Area has some pretty cool specimens walking around that will make a good identification project when you get back home.

Look for Unusual Colors and Patterns

Bigger bugs tend to stand out in an outdoors setting because of their colors, size, and patterns. In insect language, it usually means "get out of my way." For kids, unusual colors and patterns are fun features that make the insects easier to spot on a uniform green (grass) or brown (dirt) background.

Take the Dark Jerusalem Cricket, a large wingless cricket with a striped abdomen also known as the Potato Bug. Measuring between one and two inches, it will definitely catch your eye on packed dirt when you lift a rock or a stick. It's big! 

By contrast, the Darkling Beetle is a smaller but still sizable insect. An all-black beetle, it walks with its head down—sort of a depressed bug in mourning. With one pair of antennas and chewing mouth parts, they represent the typical beetle and have been nicknamed "stink beetles" because of the foul-smelling fluid they emit when threatened. Look for them around decomposing plants and fungi. 

To brighten up the day, try to find a Golden Buprestid Beetle. This cheerful-looking beetle adopts a brilliant metallic green coat with red lines on top and bronze color below. It looks very decorative on a sun hat!

If you've found an interesting or unusual beetle, don't forget to photograph it so you can identify it later.

Identify Bugs

Identifying a bug is a great project for kids, connecting the outside world with scientific knowledge and fun facts. In San Francisco, bring a photo of the bug you found on the trail and head to the Naturalist Center at the California Academy of Sciences. Naturalists can help you browse their natural history specimens, sketch or identify the bug.

Online, check out Insect Identification, a bug finder that allows you to narrow down your search by color, number of legs and state, or Ask The Bugman where you can ask about identification as well as bug bites.

If your child really loves bugs, the Bay Area has some more treats in store for the junior entomologists.

Celebrate Bugs!

Every year, San Francisco's Randall Museum celebrates all things crawly on Bug Day, and in Berkeley, the Essig Museum of Entomology celebrates Bug Day on Cal Day.

In addition to these annual events, many parks organize family or children programs focused on bugs. Check out the online calendar of the East Bay Regional Parks District, the Parks Conservancy or the Santa Clara County Parks for more information.

Have fun!

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