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Wood bugs: where do they like to live?

Wood bug habitats are set up in the classroom on each table of students. Students count wood bugs to determine what hiding places wood bugs like best, rotting wood or rocks. Students add their results to a group bar chart. The class results are used to put appropriate hiding places in each of the wood bug habitats.
Science content (2016 curriculum): 
Biology: Features, Adaptations of Living Things (K, 1, 3, 7)
Biology: Food Webs, Ecosystems, Biomes (3, 4)
Science topic (2005 curriculum connection): 
Life Science: Characteristics of Living Things (grade K)
Life Science: Needs of Living Things (grade 1)
Life Science: Animal Growth and Changes (grade 2)
Life Science: Habitats and Communities (grade 4)
  • Clear sided containers (e.g. salad container) with small holes punched in the lid (for habitat). Ideally one per table group, or one per student with small classes
  • Sand, enough to cover each habitat to a depth of about 1cm
  • Water to dampen sand. Ideally use water from a puddle or pond. If tap water is used, leave it to sit for a few days to allow chlorine to dissipate
  • Rotten wood chunks, one per habitat box (e.g. cedar or other wood that wood bugs are found under) to fit in habitat
  • Small rocks, one per habitat
  • Wood bugs, enough for at least 3 per habitat. Add to box early in the day to settle
  • Stickies - 1 per wood bug for habitat choice graph (stick on box lid for start of lesson)
  • Pencil for each student (on box lid)
  • Class chart with enough spaces for all boxed wood bugs

Set-up prior to experiment: one hour before students come into class, set up a habitat for each table group. Each habitat is a clear container with a layer of damp sand on the bottom, a chunk of rotten wood, a rock and five wood bugs.
Students are shown a habitat, and told that we will count how many wood bugs are in each place:, under the wood, under the rock, and out in the open sand. This will show us what kind of hiding places, if any, to put in our wood bug habitats.

Optional prediction: Students are asked to predict whether wood bugs might prefer to hide under the wood or the rock, or stay out in the open sand. For younger age groups it is best if predictions are done anonymously: ask students to close their eyes, and vote by raising their hand. Class predictions are recorded on the board. (Note: I would recommend skipping this prediction step if the students have not already done a lot of hands-on science with careful observation and recording already. Accurately seeing and recording scientific phenomena is the first step to be mastered, before adding the complexity of thinking ahead and predicting).

At their desks, each group counts how many of their five wood bugs are under the wood, how many are under the rock and how many are out on the open sand.
They record their results by using one stickie per wood bug, and writing where they are on it (sand/wood/rock). They can also record on a worksheet for a science notebook. Each group adds their data to a class bar chart. The bar chart has number of wood bugs on the upright axis, and three categories along the base of the chart: under the wood, under the rock, on the open sand. The stickies can be added directly to the chart to build the columns. (For the classes I worked with 90% of the wood bugs were under the rotting wood. The remainder were out in the open sand).
Students adapt their habitat in response to the results. (The rock was removed from our habitats).

Discussion on why the wood bugs prefer the rotting wood and sand (this is the result we got every time so far). The sand is damp and they can bury into it. The wood is a shelter, it is damp so keeps them moist, it is dark under the wood, they might also eat the wood.
Conclude that we have given the wood bugs a shelter that they like in their habitat.


Tricky for kindergarteners to record where 3 wood bugs are in their habitat and report back to class.

I have had very variable results with this activity - the wood bugs just want to hide and do not care much where in the classroom setting. It is best if after this activity, wood bugs do have a piece of wood in their habitat, as they eat it as well as hide under it. So if only one or two wood bugs are under the wood, do include the wood in all habitats.

Grades tested: 
Gr K
Gr 1
Gr 2
Gr 3
Gr 4
Gr 5
Carole Murray
Christy Wong
Diane Merchant
Julie Kawaguchi
Kecia Boecking
Mari Matsuo
Monika Pilat
Sarah Hummerston
Teaching site: 
General Gordon Elementary Science Club
ingridscience afterschool
McBride Elementary
Sexsmith Elementary
Simon Fraser Elementary
Weir Elementary
Activity originally developed and delivered: 

Scientist in Residence Program, Vancouver School District with teachers Ms. Kawaguchi and Ms. Merchant.
This activity is part of the Scientist in Residence lesson plan