Citizen Science Project #8: Bugs In Our Backyard

Shelli's homeschool citizen science adventures with a backyard bug project

This month I focused on the citizen science project Bugs In Our Backyard, which, you can probably guess, is about finding bugs in your own backyard. Seems easy, right? Bugs are everywhere! (Except when you are trying to find them.)

I gotta tell you, this was a little more time consuming than my previous citizen science projects. In the end, it turned out not to be hard, so I don’t want to discourage anyone from trying it, but there are more steps to take.

For a busy homeschooling mom who would like to do things quick, quick, quick, I got a little hung up on the paperwork and the fact that one way to look for bugs is to find a tree or plant and then describe all the bugs on it and around it. You see, I went outside, found a tree, and I couldn’t find any bugs. Then I found another tree, and I found some bugs, but they were mostly ants, and I couldn’t identify the ant species. (They offer a field guide on their website for the most common bugs you might find, but, of course, I wasn’t finding any of those.) You also need to describe, measure and identify the tree or plant and take photos of everything.

I took photos of those first bugs I found, but then I put off filling out the paperwork. This probably had more to do with how busy I was at the time, but the form to fill out asked for my latitude and longitude, and sigh, I didn’t feel like trying to figure that out on top of everything else. So, I put this project off a month.

Fast forward, and I felt refreshed and determined to complete this project. I sat down and read all the fine print (which is 3 pages long), and I realized that I could just go outside and look for bugs that weren’t attached to any plant, but if I did that, I would have to fill out a separate form for each bug on their website. Well, okay, if I must. 

They do have some pretty cool activities on their website for students, and if you have a child who’s interested in bugs, you’ll probably love this project and their teaching modules. I printed out some Bingo scavenger hunt pages for my boys, and they went outside looking for the items on their sheets while also helping me look for bugs. They had fun.

We found some cool bugs, but only one of them was on a tree. I took photos, and later at my computer, it was pretty easy for me to identify them by googling their descriptions. And I also found out it’s easy to find out one’s latitude/longitude with a quick google search too. So, ahem, I was just being lazy before.

I decided to report only three bugs because you do have to fill in separate forms for each. I found a large cicada, a Largus and a Saddleback caterpillar. It didn’t take long to fill out the forms and upload my photos.

Like with any citizen science project, when you do it once, you realize it’s not hard, and it would be easy to continue to help the project by continuing to find and report. I think Bugs in Our Backyard could be made easier by letting participants fill out one form per site (like a yard instead of just a tree), but I understand that there’s a reason the researchers need their data reported this way too. It’s a worthy project, especially if you have children who like looking for bugs.

Let me know, if you try out any of these citizen science projects, and tell me what your experience was like.