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How to see invertebrates in the soil

Homemade Berlese funnel

Beetle larvaIf this week's lunchtime series has made you want to learn more about life in the soil, there are several ways to see the cast of characters with your own eyes.  I tried out a homemade Berlese funnel and quickly rustled up a tiny spider and two beetle larvae, although I took the contraption apart after a couple of hours instead of letting it run the recommended five to seven days.  A Berlese funnel can be made out of any materials as long as it contains a bright light source on top, a funnel holding your soil, and a dark container below for critters to escape into.

Another option is the Baermann funnel, which is often used to sample nematodes, potworms, protozoa, and rotifers.  In this case, the soil is wrapped in cheesecloth and placed in a corked funnel, which is then filled with water.  Once you remove the cork, the water (and critters) are drained out into the jar below.  Baermann funnels tend to turn up smaller organisms than the Berlese funnel does, Wolf spiderso you'll want to check out the results under a microscope.

If you're more interested in big invertebrates, like beetles, why not make a pitfall trap?  Dig a hole in the forest large enough to insert a mason jar into, then elevate a rock or board just far enough above the opening so that an insect can easily crawl underneath.  Pitfall traps are usually considered catch-and-release traps, so you'll want to check it at least once a day so your prey doesn't perish.

Of course, most critters are napping right now during our cold winter, but you're likely to find life hopping around in the warmth of your compost pile.  Or maybe in the deep litter of your chicken coop?  I'd love to see your results if you start hunting down the life in the soil.

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This post is part of our Life in the Soil lunchtime series.  Read all of the entries:


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