Ever wonder what's living in the ground under your feet? That dirt is home to all sorts of bugs that feed on decaying matter, break it down, and transform it into soil so new things can grow. Most are so tiny you'd never notice them, but now that it's getting warm out, you can find them with this homemade version of a tool entomologists use.
Who told us about it: The New Canaan Nature Center in New Canaan, Connecticut.
Fold and dampen the paper towels and lay them across the bottom of the jar. Place the funnel in the jar and cover the top with hardware cloth or screen. Cut both ends off the coffee can and set it on top.
Find an area of rich soil or rotting wood and leaf litter and scoop up a cup or so. Pour the soil into the can on top of the screen. Tester's tip: More bugs may fall into the jar if you use hardware cloth, which has larger openings than most window screen. However, more soil may fall through too. To keep the dirt in place, put a layer of leaf litter on the hardware cloth before you add the soil.
Set the whole contraption under a bright light or out in the sun for several days to a week. Check the jar each day for critters. After you examine them, put them back in the dirt and remoisten the towels in the jar for the next bugs.
Why it works: Arthropods and other soil-burrowing bugs can live only where it's damp. When you dry out the soil with the light, they burrow deeper, looking for moisture, and fall into the jar.