This lesson helps students identify common macroinvertebrates and how to evaluate a creek based on biological indicators.

Grades: 3 +

Indoors or Outdoors

Time: 20 - 40 min.

Materials for each group:


  • Language Arts
  • Science


  • Scientific Processes
    6.4(a),  7.4(a),  8.4(a)
  • Scientific Concepts
    6.10(c),  7.12(b)
  • Reading/Vocabulary
    6.9(b),  7.9(b),  8.9(b)


  • Macroinvertebrate
  • Larva
  • Nymph
  • Pollution



Aquatic Ecology

"Bug Picking"
in the classroom

macroinvertebrate study:

Classroom Activity

Several days prior to using this lesson, locate a creek that has a good population of macroinvertebrates. Look under and near rocks and leaf litter. Collect enough macroinvertebrates so that each student will have several macroinvertebrates to identify.   Place the macroinvertebrates in a plastic peanut butter jar that contains rubbing alcohol. This will preserve your bugs until you are ready to use them in the lab.

  1. Divide your students into groups of three or four and give each group a random sample of macroinvertebrates in a flat tray. A plastic white tray works best. Give each group an egg carton (do not use egg cartons made of paper) and place a small amount of water in each egg compartment. This will keep the macroinvertebrates from drying out and make the identification process easier for your students.

  2. Next, have your students separate their bugs by insect orders. The compartments of the egg carton provide an excellent way of organizing your macroinverterbrates into specific orders. After separating the bugs, spend some time discussing the criteria each group used to separate their macroinvertebrates.

  3. Pass out copies of the "Bug Picking Data Sheet " macroinvertebrate key and evaluation form. Have your students use the key to identify their bugs. This key contains most of the bugs you will find in your local creeks. The resource section at the end of this lesson contains additional information on how to obtain more detailed keys.

  4. Have each group present their conclusions to the class. Discuss with students the difference between creeks that are clean, OK and dirty creek. What might cause a creek to be OK or polluted?.

Ideas for Additional Activities

Download data sheet media download(PDF 113.9 KB) for your students (in PDF format).
(You will need the free Adobe Acrobat Reader to view and print the data sheet.)


Cherry, Lynne. A River Ran Wild
Furtado and Gilroy, Biomonitoring Guide,   Colorado River Watch Network, January 1995.
Cummins, K.  &  Merrit, R. Aquatic Insects of North America, Kendall/Hunt Publishing Company,  1996.
EPA,  "Rapid Bioassessemnt Protocols for Use in Streams and Rivers", May 1998.
EPA,  "Volunteer Stream Monitoring:  A Methods Manual", November 1997
McCafferty, Patrick W. Aquatic Entomology, Jones and Bartlett Publishers,  1983.
Save Our Streams, The Izaak Walton League of America,  1401 Wilson Blvd., Level B  Arlington, Virgina 22209.
(Publishes an excellent key)
Sobel, David. Beyond Ecophobia: Reclaiming the Heart in Nature Education, 1996.
Texas Commission on Environmental Quality, WET Instruction Handbook,  2004.
Texas Parks and Wildlife,  "Junior and Master Angler Education Program."
Texas Parks and Wildlife,  "Clean Creek, Polluted Creek"  Video produced by Texas Parks and Wildlife Department,  1994.

Back to Top
Back to Top