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  • Insect vision is quite different to human vision, but insects do see colours, and they use their colour vision to get around and find food. We can exploit their preference for different colours in order to catch them to study their biology or monitor their abundance and diversity.

    Rights: The University of Waikato Te Whare Wānanga o Waikato

    Insect pan traps

    A number of day-flying insects are attracted to the colour yellow. We can take advantage of this attraction when trapping insects for monitoring purposes.

    The pan traps are filled with water and detergent. Any insect landing in the water will sink and be caught. Capturing insects in a pan trap may present an ethical dilemma for students and educators, as the trapped insects will not survive. This article outlines a process one school uses when trapping and studying insects.

    In this activity, students monitor flying insects by using yellow and black containers and record their observational data on an activity sheet.

    By the end of this activity, students should be able to:

    • construct simple pan traps
    • identify areas of vegetation/habitats to place the pan traps
    • collect and record data about the types of insects caught in the traps
    • collect and record data about the numbers of insects caught in the traps
    • use an identification sheet to name some common insects
    • make inferences based on their observations.

    Download the activity file (Word) and the identification guide What is this Bug? (PDF) – see links below.

    Nature of science

    This activity helps students practise the science capability ‘Critique evidence’. By using coloured pan traps in various locations, students have the opportunity to consider the methodologies used to collect the insects (data) and whether the results of their investigation are robust.

    Related content

    Learn more about surface tension with these resources.

    Discover the wide range of our resources on insects, or explore the range of content under our invertebrates topic.

    Find out how to monitor crawling insects with the activity Pitfall traps – monitoring ground-dwelling insects.

    Useful links

    Visit our We love bugs! Pinterest board with links to resources and community activities.

    Manaaki Whenua – Landcare Research has a lot of useful information, such as What is this bug? – a handy guide to common invertebrates of New Zealand.

    Visit the New Zealand Entomological Society website.

    Curious Minds is a government initiative that encourages and supports all New Zealanders to ask questions, solve local problems and uncover innovative science and technology solutions for a brighter future.


    This resource was developed by Morgane Merien, Dr Chrissie Painting, Tom Saunders and Dr Leilani Walker for the Curious Minds Buzz in the Garden project.


    This activity has been produced as part of a Participatory Science Platform (PSP) programme. The Buzz In the Garden PSP project has been funded through the South Auckland pilot of the PSP – a programme that is part of the Curious Minds initiative and funded by the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment. The PSP is currently being implemented as a pilot in three areas: South Auckland, Taranaki and Otago.

    The South Auckland pilot of the PSP is managed by COMET Auckland (Community Education Trust Auckland). COMET is a council-controlled organisation of Auckland Council and an independent charitable trust. Its role is to advance education in Auckland by supporting education and skills across the region. COMET Auckland hosts the Auckland STEM Alliance, which is leading the pilot in South Auckland. The Auckland STEM Alliance brings together businesses, educators and government.

    The government’s national strategic plan for Science in Society, A Nation of Curious Minds – He Whenua Hihiri i te Mahara, is a government initiative jointly led by the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment, Ministry of Education and the Office of the Prime Minister’s Chief Science Advisor.

      Published 22 October 2020 Referencing Hub articles
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