Pitfall traps

Pitfall Traps

A small pitfall trap is a simple method for catching ground-dwelling creatures such as beetles and woodlice. These traps are a great way of seeing what small creatures live in your local surroundings, and it doesn’t harm the creatures in any way - as long as you check it regularly, are careful with creatures and put them back afterwards.

Things you might need:

  • Soft ground
  • Lidded tin can or similar
  • Some small rocks
  • Board or slate

Activity details:

Age: All
Difficulty: Easy
Preparation time: 30 minutes
Running time: Days

Learning points:

  • What species live outside your home
  • How to survey biodiversity responsibly
  • How to make an effective trap

How to make a pitfall trap:

  1. Dig a hole the size of the can, making sure your can fits neatly into the hole, with its rim level with the ground.
  2. Once the can is in place, position four rocks around it and balance a board or slate on top. This will provide a dark space, protected from rain and debris, which will attract ground-dwelling creatures.
  3. If heavy rain is forecast, or you will be unable to attend to your pitfall trap, you should put the lid on the can so that creatures don’t get caught inside and drown.

If you’ve found a bug but need help identifying it, take a look at our page on Identifying Nature for some advice.

Pitfall trap
An illustration of what a pitfall trap might look like

Take care!
Make sure you check the pitfall trap at least once a day, removing any creatures you find there.
Remember to take care with your creatures and place them back in their usual habitat.
Finally, fill in any holes after you’ve used them.

How to take your investigation further...

Every species is different and they prefer different things. For example, some creatures will prefer living in damp, wet places, but others may prefer a drier, warmer environment.

Investigate what creatures fall into your trap on different days and during different seasons. A good way of seeing trends is to keep tallies of all the creatures you see so you can compare them.

Does the type of creature you attract change when you add small bits of food as bait?