If your child has a love for all things creepy and crawly, a nighttime insect-listening party is a great way to educate and intrigue them. Bugs are found everywhere, underneath rocks and loose bark, in gardens and on crops, and even flying through the air. During a nighttime insect-listening party, kids have the opportunity to sit outside, listen to the sounds around them, and try to distinguish the types of insect they hear. I know my kids used to love when we did this, especially if I built them a small campfire and let them make s’mores while we were out there in the dark.

Types of Nighttime Bugs

While most bugs are awake during the day to hunt and feed, others prefer to come out at night when their predators are asleep. Moths are one type of insect that prefers the darkness. Much like butterflies, moths come out to feed on pollen and play a major role in the pollination process. Most species of moths are nocturnal, although they are attracted to light.

While some cicadas are diurnal, the majority are nocturnal and rely on camouflage while at rest to protect them from predators. These insects generally emerge in the springtime, in late April or May in warmer states and May or early June in cooler states. At night, cicadas make a sound to attract nearby females, which generally respond by snapping their wings.

Katydids, also referred to as long-horned grasshoppers, are known for their unique mating calls. These “songs” are produced by stridulation, the rubbing together of their forewings. Each species of katydid has its own unique songs, and the songs differ depending on the insect’s purpose, either territorial, reproductive, or aggressive in nature.

Crickets are another common nighttime insect related to grasshoppers and katydids. They are known for a distinct chirp created by the males’ wings, which act like an instrument. Females do not chirp; they fly through the air to get to their potential mates. During the nighttime hours, crickets are on the lookout for food and mating partners. To stay safe from predators, they fall silent when they sense that danger is near.

Listening for Insect Sounds

At night, it can be hard to distinguish crickets from cicadas and katydids from other nighttime insects. To help children determine which bug is which, start by playing recordings of insect sounds, which can be found on the Internet. Explain to children how each bug makes its unique sound. For example, a cricket creates a chirping sound by running the top of one wing along the bottom ridges of the other wing. While doing this, the male cricket also holds his wings up to amplify the sound.

Attracting Nocturnal Bugs

If you wish to attract nocturnal insects, you need to determine what these bugs are attracted to. A phenomenon known as phototaxis explains how some nocturnal bugs are drawn to light. Insects like moths and fireflies are naturally attracted to light, as it helps them to navigate and alerts them to food sources. Blacklights, or ultraviolet lights, are often used by entomologists to sample and study nocturnal insects. Blacklights produce shorter wavelengths than regular incandescent lights, so they can attract different types of bugs.