How to Test Insect Responses to Color
Scientists have long observed differences in the way insects interact with different colors. Several hypotheses exist as to why insects seem to have “favorite colors.” To see this for yourself, you can set up a home experiment that is appropriate for adults and kids alike. Little preparation is needed for these experiments; however, you will need to be patient.
Using Colored Paper to Attract Insects
Cut out different colored pieces of paper.Construction paper works well for this, as it is a little sturdier than normal paper. Choose your colors, for example red, black, blue, green, yellow, and orange. Cut them into any size or shape you desire, but make sure that each piece is the same size and shape as the others.
- You may also choose to fold the papers after cutting them. Depending on the type of experiment you are doing, you could make a tent or shelter from the paper. Just remember, each colored sheet should have the same form and shape.
- Kids should only use scissors under appropriate adult supervision.
Place the colors outside.Put the colors in relatively the same area and against the same background. For example, avoid putting the red paper on a brown tree and the green paper in the green grass. Place your papers in a place that you know insects frequent, such as a flower garden.
Observe the number and type of insects that land on each color.Once your colored paper is placed, step away and wait. Be patient and quiet until you start seeing insects land on the paper. Record the number and type of insect that is attracted to each different color and then compare the results.
- If you want to take your results a step further, enter the data you collected into a spreadsheet and generate graphs and charts to help you visualize your results. For example, make a bar graph with the colors on the x axis (horizontal line) and the number of insects on the y axis (or vertical line). Use this to chart to show how many insects were attracted to each color.
- The more bugs you observe, the more reliable your data will be. You should try to observe at least 20-30 bugs to start seeing reliable trends.
Tailor the experiment to be more time efficient.You may wait for quite some time to see bugs on the paper cut outs if you simply place them outside. If you need to do a more controlled (or more time effective) experiment, fold the paper into tents and place all of the colors in the same Petri dish. Introduce one bug at a time into the dish and record the color that they prefer. Do this at least 20-30 times to see reliable trends.
- This method would be preferred for science projects because it allows you control the different variables that might affect the insects' choices.
Turning on Lights to Attract Insects
Select different colored lights.You can use a different light bulb for each color on the visible spectrum (red, orange, yellow, green, blue, indigo, violet), or you can buy a rainbow fluorescent light. Hang a translucent sheet above each color to make it easier to see and count the incoming bugs. The lights will be more effective at attracting bugs at night than during the day.
Prepare a power source for the lights.Since you will be doing this outside, it is likely that you will have to run an extension cord. You may also need a power strip, depending on whether you use individual light sockets or one fluorescent rainbow light. Make sure that you are following all safety specifications for your extension cord (don’t put too many things on it, be careful around wet grass, etc.).
Turn the lights on at night.You should leave the lights on throughout the entire night, if possible. Different bugs will be more active at different points in the night. You can stay up all night to watch the bugs, or set an alarm for every couple of hours to remind you to get up and go check on your experiment.
- Another great way to capture bug activity around your lights is to set up a camera or video camera.
Watch for bugs interacting with each light.Several different measurements could be taken. You could count the number of bugs that go to each light, or you could keep track of how long bugs stay engaged with a particular color. Each added measurement will make it that much harder to keep track of your experiment, and it might be a good idea to do several different experiments to measure each aspect of bug-light interaction.
- If you want to measure multiple things, using a camera or video camera can allow you to capture moments of the experiment and analyze them later. Otherwise, you could make it a multi-night experiment and look at one characteristic each night.
- You should see many bugs throughout the night, especially if you are recording times that you are away from the experiment. You should aim to observe at least 20-30 bugs for the sake of seeing reliable trends.
Observing Different Colored Plants
Choose two plants of different colors.Choose two of the same plant in different colors. For example, some plants will come in red or green leaf variations. It has long been hypothesized that the color difference affects the way that insects interact with the plant.
Take note of the condition of each plant.By noting any damaged leaves or insects on the plant initially, you will be able to compare what happens to each plant over the course of your experiment. Write down the number of leaves, record any damage to them, and how many insects you find on the plant. If you only want to look at one part of the plant (the leaves for example) then you do not have to record the number of insects on other parts (like the fruit or stem).
Check the plant regularly for insects.You should choose a fixed interval to check your plant. In other words, do it at the same time every day and the same number of times every day. This will help to reduce bias based on when certain insects are most active. Each time you check your plants, write down the number of insects you find on the leaves of each color plant.
Check the plant regularly for leaf damage.Insects will gnaw and chew through the leaves of a plant. This is the primary food source for many insects. Even if you don’t find an insect on your plant, small holes and damage on the leaves can show you that they were there. Keep track of these damages and write down the location and number of damaged leaves for each plant in your study.
Compare your results.Once you have collected enough data from your different colored plants, it is time to analyze how the insects interacted with each color. You can simply tally up the number of insects and damaged leaves found on each plant, or you can go so far as to create charts and graphs that show your data. Either way, look at the numbers and draw a general conclusion about how the color of the plant changes how insects respond to it.
Video: Why are Insects Attracted to Light?
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