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Investigating Insects in the Garden

Mary Gadek, Master Gardener

Calling all Family Insect Investigators! Along with plants and people enjoying the summer, many insects are traveling around in our yards and parks, too. Gather your family and friends in July to investigate insects in the Minnesota outdoors. Learn how to identify insects from other types of bugs, view some common Minnesota insects and how to do your own investigations of these creatures.

Investigating Insects in the Garden

Insects are bugs but not all bugs are insects

There are many types of bugs in the world, like insects or spiders. Scientists that study bugs, called entomologists, group bugs into different categories. One category is insects

When you are looking around to find insects, use this insect checklist to determine if it is an insect or not:

  1. Three basic regions of the insect body-

 A. Head - (front of body) includes an antenna, eyes and mouth parts;

 B. Thorax - (middle of body) has three pairs of walking legs; 

 C. Abdomen - (back of body) contains a heart, reproductive organs and digestive system.

2. Legs - depending on the insect, the legs are shaped to help carry out their day to day activities, including swimming or holding prey.

3. A pair of compound eyes - their eyes can see multiple images that appear like many dots and can judge distance and movement with ease. The special eyes allow the insects to catch their prey to eat.

4. Antennae - The body segment located on the head helps the insects smell and taste, and, sometimes, determine air currents. 

Some insects have wings, while some do not.

For more details, see:

Insects found in Minnesota 

Our Minnesota yards and parks contain many different insects. Many are pollinators, which help fertilize our plants so more plants can grow. Pollinators are important because we rely on the earth’s plants to give humans and earth’s creatures food to live. Here are some insects you can find in Minnesota:

  1. Bumble bees 

These very hairy creatures are usually 3/8 - 3/4 inch long with black and yellow or orange striped bodies. Bumble bees pollinate our plants. Nests can be found in the ground or little spaces of a garden, like in a retaining wall.

2. Honey bees are about ½” long, with a golden brown color, a fuzzy body and wings. They are pollinators, which help fertilize our plants so they can grow. 

3. Ladybugs

More than 50 species of native lady bugs reside in Minnesota.  They have many names, but are all the same insect: ladybugs, lady beetles or ladybird beetles. When full grown, most ladybugs have domed, hard, round to oval bodies, usually with a red color with black spots, but some with black, yellow, pink, and orange shells. Gardens benefit from ladybugs because they are pollinators as well as eaters of some insects that harm plants. 

4. Butterflies

Minnesota hosts many types of butterflies for their short life of about 4-6 weeks during mid-Summer  (See list of Minnesota butterflies at: The orange and black monarchs hold the title of “Minnesota State Butterfly”. As these beautiful insects fly from plant to plant, they pollinate our plants, too. 

5. Ants

A common ant in Minnesota’s outdoors is a field ant. In July through September, look for the black, brown or red creature measuring 1/8 to 1/4 inch long in exposed dirt areas, making dirt mounds up to 10 inches across. They can also nest under objects, such as wood, stones, and patio blocks. The ants benefit our gardens because they eat live and dead insects. 


Want to be an Insect Investigator this summer?! Using the information in this article, head outside to your yard or local park to do one or all of these fun, family activities:

Scavenger Hunt: Look high and low in your yard or local park to see if you can find the following common insects described in this article: bumble bees, honey bees, ladybugs, butterflies and ants.  

Extra Challenge Scavenger Hunt- Gather family and friends along with some paper, pencils and a timer. Set the timer for 10 minutes (or whatever time limit you wish).  See who can find and write down the most of the listed insects (can find repeats) before your timer goes off. The winner can be declared the “Insect Champion of the Day.”  Try again later in the season to see if everyone finds more, less or about the same amount of insects compared to the first challenge. 

Insect Hotel-You can make a “hotel” for insects to live in and for you to watch them live in your garden. 

  1. Using a clear, clean container, with at least one opening, such as a recycled plastic bottle, carefully remove the top with the help of a grown up. 

  2. Gather outside leaves, flowers, sticks and other natural items and put them inside the container. Now you have an “insect hotel”!  

  3. Place the filled container in a location in your yard where you can observe any insects that come to live in your “insect hotel”.

  4.  Use your investigative skills to determine if you found an insect or if it is a little creature from another bug category. Keep a journal or take pictures of all the insects you see.  

To continue more investigation, find out more through these programs in Minnesota: 


I Love Bugs! Philemon Sturges 

A book for younger learners with simple, yet useful descriptions of common bugs.  

Available at: Dakota County Library, ISBN: 9780060561680, 978006056169, or on Amazon

Bugs!Bugs!Bugs! Bob Barber 

Colorful book for younger children describing common bugs in our yards and containing a useful chart to assist with identification.

Available at: Dakota County Library, Digital Format or  Amazon


Photo Credit: Mark Gadek (1,2,4,5) & University of Minnesota Extension (3,6) & Philemon Sturges (7,8)

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