Intro: Quick Pitfall Trap!
I caught this little beauty one night using a quick pitfall trap. It was easy, free, and lots of fun! This is a great way to teach kids about ecology and animals that they might not know live in their backyard!
Step 1: Background
Pitfall traps lure insects and other small creatures by using smelly meatswho catch a whiff of the food you leave in the trap. This is a great opportunity to talk about different kinds of urban animals, but skip this if you'd like to get right to the trapping!
While you're no doubt aware of some of the insect life in your backyard, there's a lot more going on than you might imagine. Detritivores like centipedes, millipedes, potatobugs, and worms all crawl around either in the soil, or under the leaf litter layer. This means you don't see them often. Sure, you can flip a rock or dig a hole, but you're only getting a small glimse of the diverse ecosystem of tiny neighbors you share a lawn with.
Unless you dig around at night, you also arn't seeing some of the action that nocturnal critters get into. You're probably diurnal, meaning you are awake during the day. Using the pitfall trap is an easy way to check out what's going on in your yard at night.
Step 2: Materials
Easy stuff. Just grab a recycled container, something not too easy to climb out of. My yogurt container is slippery on the inside and pretty much vertical. You'll need something to poke holes in it, some smelly food waste, and a trowel to dig a small hole. Finally, (not pictured) you'll need a sheet of cardboard large enough to cover the top of the container with some room to spare.
Step 3: Drainage
An important point, be nice. Put in some drainage holes so you don't drown your prisoners in the event of a rain. Try and minimize the time anything might be left in the trap. Check it after a night, do your observation, then release them (unless you catch a nasty invasive).
Step 4: Placing Your Trap
Find a good spot for your trap. I chose a spot in the shade, at the back of my yard where there is already a leaf litter layer. You'll catch different creatures depending on your location, so feel free to experiment!
Dig a hole about the size of your container. Make sure that the lip of the container is at or below ground level after you've filled the sides back up with soil. The key is that insects won't have to climb up the lip to get in. I like to put a few leaves overhanging the lip, but not so much that a bridge across is created. I also put a few leaves and soil in the container so it has a more natural feel (but make sure there aren't any twigs placed like ladders!).
Lastly, create some shade but stacking a few sticks around the container, so that when you put your cardboard on top there is still room between it and the lip on the container. Secure your cardboard with a rock or something.
Step 5: Wait...
Check your trap the next morning. Who knows what you'll find?! Probably some ants, millipedes, potatobugs, but maybe something more exotic? I found a Rain Beetle (Carabus violaceus), and made a video about it!