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How Do Insects Make Their Sound?

The "Bug Buzzers" Activity

By Denise Webb (Guest Blogger)

Posted on 2020-05-14

How Do Insects Make Their Sound?

One of my favorite activities to do during Family Science Nights and in the classroom lab is “Bug Buzzers.” It’s a great way to integrate a bit of engineering design into the phenomenon of how bugs make their buzzing sound. You may find this activity useful for distance learning or passing the time with your kids at home.

Opening Discussion

Begin with a discussion about insects and the sounds that they make. You can ask questions such as the following:

  • What are some bugs you’ve seen when you play outside?
  • Do any of them make sounds? (Ask students to imitate some of the sounds they have heard bugs make.)
  • How do you think bugs make these sounds?
  • Why do you think they make these sounds?

For information about common bugs and the sounds that they make, see the article “Top 6: Noisy Insects” at www.rockypest.com.au/general/top-6-noisy-insects. The article also contains good resources to consult for more background on this topic.

Materials

Distribute the following materials to each student:

  • String (about 12" long)
  • Craft stick (a plastic straw or a small pencil will also work if you do not have a craft stick)
  • Masking tape or clear tape
  • 2 eraser caps
  • 3"´ 5" index card (scrap paper or magazine pages cut to the size of the index card also work)
  • Scissors
Materials

“Bug Buzzers” Activity

Step 1
Have students make a wing for their bugs using the index card. First, they should cut the index card in half (lengthwise), then they should shape one half into a wing. Students do not need the other half of the index card.

Step 2
Tape one craft stick to the bottom half a wing piece. Be sure to center the craft stick and tape only the sides of the wing to the stick, as shown in the picture.

Steps 1-2

 

 

Step 3
Wrap the string around one end of the stick several times. Make sure the string is trailing in the opposite direction of the wing, then tape the string to the stick.

Step 3

Step 4
Place an eraser cap on each end of the stick.

Step 5
Stretch a rubber band across the erasers. 

 

The diagram below provides an overview of all the steps.

Step 4

Overview

After students have finished creating their bug buzzers, ask everyone to spread out so that they have plenty of space. Now have students give their bug buzzers a swing! They should hold the end of the string as they move their hand in the air in quick circular motions. They can safely swing their buzzers over their heads or in front of them.

Exploration Questions

After students have had time to test out their wings, ask them the following questions?

  • Did your buzzer make a noise? (It’s likely that someone’s buzzer did not. But this provides a good opportunity to dive deeper into what’s actually making the noise.)
  • Let’s closely examine a buzzer that didn’t make noise. How does the structure of a silent buzzer differ from the structure of a buzzing buzzer? (Students may notice that the string is touching the rubber band. Have them fix that issue and test the buzzer again. It should make noise now. OR Students may notice that the rubber band is twisted. Have them straighten the rubber band and test the buzzer again. It should make noise now.)
  • What do you think is making the sound? (Have students consider this question in light of what happened when adjustments were made to the rubber band. ANSWER: The vibration of the rubber band makes the sound.)
  • What will happen if we use a thicker rubber band? What about a thinner rubber band? What about two rubber bands instead of one? (Have them make predictions about what would happen. If possible, replace the rubber bands with these variations you discuss, writing down the changes in sound that occur with each type of rubber band. They can also do trials that adjust the speed of the swing, making observations after each trial.)

Closing Discussion

This activity is a good way to launch a discussion about sound. By the end of the lesson, students should understand that swinging the bug buzzer causes air to flow above and below the rubber band, which then causes the rubber band to vibrate. Changing the speed of the spin makes the bug buzzer produce sound at a different pitch. Explain that sound is a wave produced by vibrating air.

Close by having students brainstorm what else vibrates to make sound. Many students will guess musical instruments, and this answer can lead into a lesson on how instruments make their sound.

Keep the Fun Going!

Read aloud the NSTA Kids book Sounds Are High, Sounds Are Low, by Lawrence Lowery (part of the award-winning I Wonder Why series). It will help you continue the conversation about pitch and volume.

 


If you enjoyed this activity, you can purchase the full “Bug Buzzer” lesson plan, including references, safety notes, standards connections, and teacher background information, here. This excerpt from Staging Family Science Nights also includes Chapter 9 (an overview of the section and an introduction to the format used to present ideas for Family Science Night activities), Chapter 11 (background information for intermediate-level activities), and more!

 

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Biology Engineering Lesson Plans

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