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Backyard Diversity: Exploring Arthropods Close to Home

Updated: May 12, 2020

In times like these insects might seem to be difficult to find, especially when most of us are restricted to our homes. However chances are, there is some form of open space close to your home, open spaces are generally the best places to search for insects, as the habitat is generally undisturbed. Even without open space you can find lots of insects by your own house! Here I document some of the insects I found during the spring of 2020 close to home, and methods to find them.

Crematogaster sp. I found under a rock near my house.


Method 1: flipping rocks

When it comes to insect fauna, Colorado Is very diverse, however it is not the most diverse region ever. But the combination of the 3 main macro habitats of desert, mountains, and plains collide which makes for very diverse regions in the state. I happen to live in a region dominated by dry plains and foothills. Many methods can be used to find arthropods in your neighborhood. Including my favorite method, flipping rocks. this is an excellent way to search for not only ants, but all sorts of arthropods, including beetles, centipedes, isopods, termites, millipedes, spiders, etc...

A pair of Reticulitermes tibialis primary alates (king and queen) found their nest under a rock.

The two non-reproductive termite castes in Reticulitermes tibialis, worker and soldier

A [presumed] Metaltella simoni spider found under a rock.

A wolf spider with eggs

A small colony of Monomorium minimum, one of the smallest ants in the world (≤1mm)

A stone centipede next to its previous molt.


Method 2: Black lighting

Another great way to search for insects in your neighborhood is to set up a black light for them. There are various setups for this, but if you are just setting one up in your yard, you can run an extension cord from your house. This can be done with mercury vapor lamps as well. As long as your light is brighter than the moon you can blacklight anywhere, but usually you shouldn't blacklight on a night of a full moon as you won't attract much. You should elevate the sheet if you can, but it will attract insects even if it is flat on the ground. The insects are attracted to UV light so this must be done with a light that can produce UV waves.

Here is a great example of black lighting from alex wild, as you can see, lights like mercury vapor lamps even work for black lighting as they produce UV-A light. Click the image or his name to go to his website.


Method 3: searching on a walk

Another good way to find arthropods in your neighborhood is to simply go on a walk. you can find ant nests, and when the queens have nuptial flights, you can catch them wandering on the ground. You can also find plenty of other insects.

A grasshopper from the side of the sidewalk in my neighborhood sits and warms in the sun.

This butterfly was found on the sidewalk, it likely was deformed internally and therefore didn't survive.

Sometimes driving just a bit away from your house and pulling off onto the side of the road can find insects as well. This can be a great way to observe insects! as often the side of the road has many untouched habitats which are great for ants or other insects. Plenty of species in the US have been discovered just off the side of a road.

Formica worker I found on the side of the road tends to a moth larva.


Insect Method 4: Rotten logs, submerged logs, and flipping logs

Some insects nest in rotten logs or under them, Flipping them over or splitting them apart is a great way to find these insects.

A media worker from a Camponotus cf. noveboracensis colony from an excavated log


Method 5: leaf litter, flowers, and other botanicals

The garden in one's backyard often has one or more trees, if not there is most certainly some nearby, collecting leaf litter from beneath trees is a good way to find insects. As well as this, snapping twigs or opening acorns can find other insects. As well as this many insects are attracted to flowers, even dandelions! observing flowers is often a good way to observe insects in your relative area.

A lepidopteran caterpilar I found in grass and pine leaf litter curls up to avoid predators

These unique larvae likely belong to an acorn moth, a species that is very common here in Colorado.

Another acorn worm, this one is regurgitating hemolymph to repel me as a potential predator.

I like to observe insects and other arthropods especially during this difficult time, as watching them helps me cope with situations in the world right now.

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