Lesson 6

The Search for Stick Bugs


Lesson Overview:

Through participation in a game where students pretend they are birds looking for food, students will gain an understanding of the importance of adaptation. Specifically, they will learn about camouflage for survival.


Content Standards Addressed:
Common Core State Standards



Adaptations are structural or behavioral responses to the environment that enable a plant or animal to survive. For example, thorns on a plant stem deter hungry animals or provide challenges to climbing insects. This is an example of a structural adaptation. Camouflage allows an animal to blend into its habitat. Whether it's a rabbit trying to conceal itself from a hawk flying overhead or a fox sneaking up on an unsuspecting rabbit - camouflage is an important survival tool in one's habitat.

Not all organisms have the ability to camouflage themselves in their environment. Some are quite visible due to their bright colors. However, they are not without alternative adaptations for survival. The brightly colored orange and black Monarch Butterfly is potentially poisonous and bad-tasting to predators. Many flashily colored caterpillars eject a foul-tasting and smelly spray upon predators when attacked.

In this game, students will become predators (birds) and search for food ("stick bugs" or caterpillars). The game can be played in the classroom but is more effective outdoors, as it sharpens student observation skills in addition to building an understanding of camouflage and its importance to survival in a habitat.



Cut a variety of colored chenille sticks (pipe cleaners) into 3- or 4-inch lengths. Determine ahead of time how many to hide, and be sure to hide the same number of each color. Find a location on the school grounds where this activity can be conducted. An area that has plants, shrubs or trees will be helpful, though not necessary. Hide the "stick bugs" in plain sight within the area, keeping track of the total hidden as well as their color. You can cover up to 50 percent of the bug, but the rest should be in plain sight and no higher than the eye-level of a child.

Explain to students that when they go out, they will imagine they are birds - very hungry birds. Allow students some time to brainstorm what very hungry birds would like to eat. Inform them that these particular hungry birds love to eat stick bugs and that in a particular area of the school grounds there has been a recent infestation. Birds are more efficient and safer exterminators of insects and other pests than man-made chemicals. So, students, as birds, will provide a pest management service to the ecosystem on the school grounds.

Show students examples of the stick bugs. Have them predict which colors will be the hardest and easiest to find. Have students record the predictions in their Logbooks 

Define the search area (observing someone walking the perimeter of the area is a helpful visual cue for young students). If dealing with a large group, you may want to break the class into smaller groups and use more than one area for the game.

Make sure that students know the rules before the game begins:

  • Use your eyes, not your hands or feet.
  • Don't pick up any of the stick bugs - instead, count to yourself the number of bugs that you see or keep track on paper (seeing a bug means eating a bug in this game).
  • Don't point out stick bugs to other "birds."
  • Don't talk during the search since birds do not talk.

Allow the students a designated amount of time to search before reassembling them. How many of the birds ate well? How many are still hungry? Poll the group as to how many found each color. Does this result match their predictions?

Allow volunteers, one at a time, to retrieve each stick bug. This allows those who could not find some bugs an opportunity to see where they were. Why were some bugs hard to find? Because they blended in or were camouflaged, some sticks were better able to survive in their habitat.

You can have subsequent games in which students can hide the stick bugs by dividing the group in half - one half are birds and do the looking, and the other half are stick bugs and hide one stick bug per person. Students not only delight in this opportunity but "adapt" their hiding skills as games progress, demonstrating understanding of the ecological concept of camouflage.

Back in the classroom, have students prepare a simple graph in their Logbooks to demonstrate the result.










School: Predict which color of bugs will be easy to find and hard to find. Graph: Color in a block for each bug before you hide them. Then, when you are done, color in a block for each bug you find.

Take Home: With your family, look for bugs in your backyard or neighborhood and draw a picture of one that you find.

Human Impact: Make up a poem that encourages respect for bugs and other creeping critters when we are outdoors.


Whenever I walk out on the street,

It's so important where I put my feet.

If I squash a bug and make it go crunch

I just took away some critter's lunch.