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Bug Vacuums: Sucking up Biodiversity

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Have you ever wondered what a wildlife biologist does? Ronnie and Denise from DragonflyTV found out firsthand when they worked with a local wildlife biologist to take a survey of the fish populations in their local lake. They wanted to determine what the biodiversity (number of different species in a habitat) was like so that they could find out how healthy the lake habitat was. In this science fair project you can take on the role of a wildlife biologist by examining the biodiversity of insects in your own backyard using a homemade bug vacuum!


Areas of Science
Time Required
Short (2-5 days)
Material Availability
Readily available
Very Low (under $20)
Adult supervision needed to make bug vacuum.

Sandra Slutz, PhD, Science Buddies

This project is based on a DragonflyTV episode.

The concept for the insect vacuum was adapted from: Pollock, M. (2007). Bug Pooter. RAFT: Resource Area for Teaching.


Use a homemade bug vacuum to collect insects from your backyard to determine whether it is a biologically diverse habitat.


Have you ever heard the phrase "The more the merrier!"? In ecology—which is the study of living things and the habitats (or places) they live in—the phrase should be "The more species the healthier!". Habitats that have lots of biodiversity are considered healthy. Part of biodiversity is having many different types of plants and animals living in the same habitat. The plants and animals rely on one another for their entire life cycles. For example, let us say berries from a bush are eaten by a field mouse, then the mouse helps transport the seeds inside the berries to different locations, allowing more berry bushes to grow. The mice are eaten by birds of prey, like hawks, and then some of the hawk eggs get stolen and eaten by a fox, and on and on the chain goes. This web of relationships is called an ecosystem. The greater the biodiversity, the larger the ecosystem, and the healthier the habitat.

Wildlife biologists study and monitor the health of habitats and ecosystems. One way they do this is to survey (identify and count) populations of plants and animals to determine how much biodiversity is in a habitat. In this environmental science project you will do your own biodiversity survey right in your own backyard (or in a nearby park or field) by looking at how many species of insects you can find. To conduct your survey you will build a simple bug vacuum to collect the insects. Get ready to suck those bugs up!

Terms and Concepts



This science fair project was based on these resources:

To find out more about insects, try this website:

These websites are good resources about ecology and biodiversity:

  • National Center for Ecological Analysis and Synthesis (NCEAS). (2004). Kids Do Ecology. Retrieved June 28, 2013.
  • American Museum of Natural History. (n.d.). Biodiversity Counts!. Retrieved May 12, 2023.

For help creating graphs, try this website:

  • National Center for Education Statistics, (n.d.). Create a Graph. Retrieved June 25, 2020.

Materials and Equipment

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Experimental Procedure

Making the Bug Vacuum

  1. With an adult's help, use a single-hole punch or a leather awl to make a hole in the side of the plastic container.
    1. The hole should be 1 centimeter (cm) below the top rim of the container.
    2. Make sure that when the lid is on the container, the lid does not block the hole.
  2. Using the same technique, punch a second hole opposite the first one, again 1 cm below the top rim of the container.
  3. Insert the mouth end of a flexible straw into one of the holes. See Figure 1 below.
    1. If the straw does not fit tightly into the hole, wrap tape around the straw to make the straw fatter. Put the straw back into the hole. Keep adding tape and reinserting the straw in the hole until the two fit together tightly.
    2. If the straw is too large for the hole, gently push a pen or pencil through the hole to widen it until the straw fits. Make sure the connection between the straw and the hole is snug.
  4. Cover the mouth end of the second straw with a piece of nylon stocking. See Figure 1 below.
    1. Cut a piece out of the nylon stocking, large enough to be taped to the end of the straw.
    2. Use tape to secure the stocking piece to the straw.
    3. If necessary, overlap two layers of the stocking so that air can pass through but insects will not be able to.
Two straws inserted into opposite side walls of a plastic container

Figure 1. The two straws are inserted into the plastic container opposite one another. One of the straws is covered by a filter made from a piece of nylon stocking.

  1. Using the same method as in step 3, insert the mouth of the covered flex straw from step 4 into the second hole in the plastic container. Again, make sure the fit is snug.
  2. With an adult's help, use a pair of scissors to cut out the center out of the plastic container's lid. This will be the observation window of the insect vacuum. See Figure 2 below.
    1. Fold the lid in half to easily cut out a circle.
    2. Leave a 1-cm border around the rim of the lid.
A hole is cut in a circular plastic lid with scissors    A plastic ring made from a cut lid

Figure 2. Folding the lid in half makes it easier to cut a circle out of the plastic.

  1. Stretch a piece of clear plastic wrap over the top of the plastic container. Hold the plastic wrap in place by snapping the lid of the container back on. See Figure 3 below.
    1. If you need to get rid of wrinkles, lift part of the lid and gently tug the plastic wrap to remove them, then snap the lid back in place.
    2. Make sure the plastic wrap is tight enough that the insect vacuum window is easy to see through.
    3. Make sure there are no holes in the plastic wrap or your insects could escape!
Two straws inserted into opposite side walls of a plastic container that is covered with plastic wrap

Figure 3. The completed insect vacuum is depicted here. Notice the clear plastic wrap window.

Collecting Insects

  1. Mark off a 4-foot by 4-foot (or about 120 cm by 120 cm) section of your yard, a field, or other outdoor place where you think insects might live. See Figure 4.
    1. Use a tape measure to measure a 4-foot line on the ground.
    2. Mark the beginning and end of the 4-foot line by pushing sticks into the ground so that they stand upright.
    3. Using the tape measure, place two more sticks parallel to the sticks already in the ground, 4 feet away. The result should be four sticks marking the corners of a 4-foot by 4-foot square.
    4. Tie string between the four sticks, low to the ground, to identify the perimeter of your testing square.
Drawing of four sticks used to mark the corners of a four-foot by four-foot square

Figure 4. A tape measure can be used to make a 4-foot by 4-foot square, with sticks and string marking the boundaries.

  1. Carefully search the 4-foot by 4-foot testing square for insects. Use the insect vacuum to suck up all the insects you find, as described below. You will need to have a search pattern so that you do not crush insects in the square.
    1. To begin collecting insects, start at one corner of your test square and walk along one edge of the square, walking on the outside of the string but looking into the square.
    2. When you find an insect, gently place the filter-less straw so that the end is very close to the insect.
    3. Place the straw with the nylon filter in your mouth and breathe in forcefully. This will create a vacuum, which sucks in the insect. Repeat this process until the insect has been transferred into the plastic container chamber.
    4. After you have walked along the outside of one edge, start walking in a zigzag pattern inside your test square. See Figure 5.
      1. Do not forget to check for insects under wood, rocks, and leaves. When you do this, get ready for the insects to quickly scatter!
    5. Repeat your paths again until most of the insects in the 4-foot by 4-foot testing area have been collected.
Drawing of footprints in an S-shaped pattern over a four-foot by four-foot square

Figure 5. To avoid crushing the insects as you collect them, establish a zigzag search pattern, like the one shown here, walking on strips of ground where you have already collected bugs.

  1. Examine the insects you collected by looking at them through the plastic wrap window of the insect vacuum.
    1. You may want to use a magnifying glass to get a better look at the insects. How many different types of insects did you collect?
    2. In your lab notebook, make a data table (like Table 1 below) describing each type of insect you collected. Note down how many you collected of each type.
    3. Optional: Drawing a picture of each type of insect is an additional way in which you can describe the insects you collect.
    4. Optional: You can try to identify the different types of insects you collected. To help you do this you may want to look at the resource in the Bibliography (in the Background tab at the top) by BioKIDS.
    5. When you are done examining the insects, you should release them outdoors, near where you caught them from.
  2. Repeat steps 1-3 on two additional days.
Insect Type # Collected Insect Descriptions: Day 1
Color(s) Number of Wings Antenna (yes/no) Picture
Type A          
Type B          
Type C          
Table 1. In your lab notebook, make a data table like this one to record your results in. You will want to make a new table for each day you do your testing.

Analyzing the Data

  1. Draw three bar graphs to illustrate your data, making one graph for each day's data.
    1. On the axis going from left to right (the horizontal axis, or x-axis), make a bar for each type of insect you collected.
    2. On the axis going up and down (the vertical axis, or y-axis), make the height of the bar represent the number of individuals you collected for each type of insect. For example, if you collected four ants and two ladybugs on day 1, the graph for that day would show two bars. The bar representing the ants would be four squares high and the bar representing the ladybugs would be two squares high.
    3. You can make the graphs by hand or use a website like Create a Graph to make the graphs on the computer and print them.
  2. How many types of insects did you collect? Which type was most common? Was your data similar on all three days? Based on your data, do you think there is a lot of insect biodiversity in the area you chose to test?
icon scientific method

Ask an Expert

Do you have specific questions about your science project? Our team of volunteer scientists can help. Our Experts won't do the work for you, but they will make suggestions, offer guidance, and help you troubleshoot.

Global Connections

The United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (UNSDGs) are a blueprint to achieve a better and more sustainable future for all.
This project explores topics key to Life on Land: Sustainably manage forests, combat desertification, halt and reverse land degradation, halt biodiversity loss.


  • What kinds of insects do you expect to find in your backyard? Research which species of insects live in your area. Then do the science fair project above, this time using insect guidebooks and websites to identify the insects you collect. Did your expectations match your results?
  • Do different locations have different insects? Compare two or more different habitats, like a field and a forest. Which habitat has more insect biodiversity? Why?
  • Does changing the conditions in your test area change the types of insects you collect? For example, what happens to the biodiversity if you sprinkle the ground with water first?
  • If an area does not have much biodiversity, what do you think can be done to improve it? Would adding things like old wood, leaves, or water improve the biodiversity? Devise a way to test this and then try it out! Be sure to give the insects enough time to get used to, and move into, the area after you change it.


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MLA Style

Science Buddies Staff. "Bug Vacuums: Sucking up Biodiversity." Science Buddies, 12 May 2023, https://www.sciencebuddies.org/science-fair-projects/project-ideas/EnvSci_p045/environmental-science/bug-vacuums-sucking-up-biodiversity?from=Blog. Accessed 22 Feb. 2024.

APA Style

Science Buddies Staff. (2023, May 12). Bug Vacuums: Sucking up Biodiversity. Retrieved from https://www.sciencebuddies.org/science-fair-projects/project-ideas/EnvSci_p045/environmental-science/bug-vacuums-sucking-up-biodiversity?from=Blog

Last edit date: 2023-05-12
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