Boy looking at bug under magnifying glass in the garden

We're going on a bug hunt

Nicky Sanford has some fun ideas for your children to explore the wonderful world of bugs and mini-beasts — and you've only got to trek as far as your garden or local park. It's a great way to get children outside with plenty of opportunities for fun and learning.

The natural world is all around us and it’s free! 

So as the weather brightens why not spend time outside with your little one exploring it?

Creepy crawlies, insects, spiders and mini-beasts may not be everyone’s cup of tea but going equipped with a pot, a small spade and a magnifying glass will mean you don’t need to be literally hands on (unless you want to be!).

Where are the best places to look for bugs and mini-beasts?

You will find a host of creatures all around you so you probably won’t have to go too far to look for some of them! 

Looking down…

Lifting up bricks, logs, large stones or digging in a mud patch will reveal a host of creatures that thrive in dark, damp places.

These will include worms, ants, woodlice, spiders, centipedes or beetles.

  • Watch the different ways they move – slither, shuffle, scuttle, squirm, wiggle… it’s a great way to introduce new vocabulary!
  • Examine how many legs they have…
    0? It’s a worm or a snail/slug
    6? It’s an insect
    8? It’s an arachnid (usually a spider!).
    Woodlice and centipedes or millipedes have lots of legs, probably too many to count!
  • Look for different patterns and colours. Think about how the different creatures camouflage themselves against stones, wood or soil so they don’t get eaten by predators.

Remember to replace the stone or log when you’ve finished looking.

Building a bug hotel

Try creating your own ‘bug hotel’ by building a structure from old wood, cardboard tubes, leaves, stones and bamboo sticks in a dark corner. Keep it moist and wait a few days for some new inhabitants to move in.

Looking up…

Bushes, hedges and trees provide home for many other types of minibeast.

Lay a large sheet of paper or a light coloured sheet underneath your greenery and gently tap the branches or leaves with a stick or umbrella. 

You’ll be amazed at the variety of creatures living above you… ladybirds, spiders, caterpillars, flies and bugs…  how many different species can you see?

Brilliant bug facts

* Some ladybird larvae have stripes or bands while the adults have spots.  Ladybirds come in a variety of colours (not just red!) and can have no spots upto 23 or more. The most common in the UK is the 7-spot ladybird.

* Butterflies suck nectar through a straw like ‘tongue’ called a proboscis.  

* Most brightly coloured caterpillars will turn into moths, however dull caterpillars usually become brightly coloured butterflies.

* Centipedes have only one pair of legs to each body section, while millipedes have two pairs.

* Beetles and woodlice have shells to protect their bodies, these shells are an exoskeleton – a skeleton on the outside!

* Spiders have eight eyes as well as eight legs – and not all spiders spin webs, some create tunnels or traps.

Creepy crawlie crafts and games

There are lots of games available on the market that build on children’s interests in creatures and mini-beasts, but there are plenty of easy and cheap activites that you can do at home too!

Play ‘beetle’.  Draw a beetle shape, roll a die and colour in one body part for each number thrown…. For example 1 = body, 2 = head, 3 = legs, 4 = eyes, 5 = spots, 6 = legs.

Explore symmetry with butterfly paint prints.  Fold a piece of paper in half and cut out a rough butterfly shape.  Paint with a brush or with fingers on just one half of the opened paper.  Fold over and press… open again to reveal symmetrical butterfly wings.

Junk box spiders.  Use a yoghurt pot or one section of an egg carton, fix on some pipecleaners and some googly eyes and create a spider puppet!

Spiral snail play dough.  Can you create a family of snails from play dough?

Move like a…. Cut out pictures of different mini-beasts and place them face down on the floor, take it in turns to turn over a card and move like the mini-beast you’ve picked.

Growing nettles and buddleia.  Why not have a go at creating your own butterfly and bee-friendly garden?  Growing wild flowers will encourage an abundance of wildlife to visit and even breed. Buddleia trees are commonly known as ‘the butterfly bush’ as you’ll find many variety of butterfly feeding on the flowers (for example, Peacock, Tortoiseshell, Painted Lady and Red Admiral), and as they will lay their eggs on stinging nettles these are a perfect addition to any wildlife garden and will support a full life cycle from egg, to caterpillar, to chrysalis to butterfly.

Building on their love for bugs

If your child shows a continued interest in mini-beasts and creepy crawlies, you may wish to invest in some commercial products to extend their learning further.

Look out for a commercial butterfly garden, a ladybird house, a worm or ant farm.

Brilliant bug books

You’ll find lots of stories and non-fiction books available to continue this interest:

Superworm and What the Ladybird Heard by Julia Donaldson

The Very Hungry Caterpillar and The Very Busy Spider by Eric Carle

Are you a snail? and Are you a butterfly? by Judy Allen

Minibeasts by Siobhan Hardy and Steve Lamb

Mad about Minibeasts by Giles Andreae

And don't forget…

— Leave creatures where you find them as this will be close to their natural food source.

— Always wash your hands after exploring minibeasts, particularly hairy caterpillars as the hairs can contain an irritant.

— Even the smallest bug is a living creature and must be handled carefully and with respect.

Where next?

Building a bee-friendly garden

Gardening ideas for children

The benefits of muddy play