You can learn a lot about bugs by going out no farther than your own backyard, and by using equipment you probably already have in the house.
One way is to make an insect spreading board — your own nature museum made up of the most common insects in your neighborhood. It might make you think twice before squashing the next bug you see.
Here’s how to make your own bug board:
STEP 1: Get a good field guide. You can buy “Bugs & Slugs: An Introduction to Familiar North American Invertebrates” from http://www.scoutstuff.org ($5.95, Item No. 30403), but you can also find good guides for free at the library or on the Internet.
A good guide should provide color photos or illustrations of different bugs, along with information on their behavior and habitat.
STEP 2: Make a collecting net. You can buy one at many retail stores (often in the toy department), or you can make your own with a wire clothes hanger and a patch of nylon strainer netting available at most hardware stores.
Bend the clothes hanger into a loop. Go to the paint section of the hardware store and ask for a five-gallon nylon strainer. Weave some fishing line through the holes near the edge of the strainer and “sew” it to the clothes hanger. Use duct tape to fasten the hanger to a broom handle or a wooden dowel.
STEP 3: Construct a killing jar. Freezing is the safest and cleanest method of preparing bugs for mounting. Just place your specimens in a jar and leave the jar in the freezer until the critters are dead.
You can also enlist the help of an adult or merit badge counselor to make a killing jar that uses chemicals (such as nail polish remover). Be extra careful, as these chemicals can be dangerous to you as well as the bug.
STEP 4: Make a bug board. You can use almost any shallow box to show your insects. Sometimes the top of a large box works great. Use a material such as polystyrene foam, cardboard or fiberboard to reinforce the bottom of your board.
Regular straight pins are O.K. for pinning insects, but they might rust over time and spoil the specimen. Search online for special insect pins that will last longer.
When pinning a bug to your board, be careful to do as little damage as possible. Small bugs should be glued instead of pinned.
STEP 5: Catch some bugs. Take your field guide with you. When you get started, it might be easier to look for any bugs, instead of one specific bug. Once you’ve collected a nice variety, then you can move on to filling the holes in your collection.
Learn which bugs are common in your area. A bug collection in Wisconsin is going to look different from a bug collection in Southern California. Don’t waste your time looking for critters that don’t even live in your region.
STEP 6: Label your bugs. You can simply tear off a small piece of paper from a standard white sheet, or you can buy labels from an office supply store. Write down the name of the bug and the date and location where it was found.
Take it a step further and write down the scientific name of the bug, along with notes on other conditions in which it was found, such as temperature, the kinds of plants nearby and recent rainfall.
Beware of Carpet Beetles. If you spot some brown dust on the bottom of your bug box, your specimens are likely being targeted by the larvae of carpet beetles, which will eat mounted insects. A moth crystal inside of an envelope will keep them out. Place the entire box in the freezer for a week to get rid of the ones that have already set up shop.
Good Hunting. You can watch and study insects wherever you find them, but it might be illegal to collect them from natural areas such as state parks, national parks and wildlife refuges. Collect them instead from around your house and throughout your neighborhood.