How Do Insects Eat?

Children will investigate how insects eat.


Lesson Objective

Children will investigate how different insects eat by experimenting with tools that are similar to insects’ mouths.


What You'll Need

  • Pictures of the mouths of an ant, bee, and fly (available online)
  • Empty juice container, cereal box, and applesauce container with labels attached – 1 of each
  • Child-size tweezers – 1 per child in small group
  • Straws – 1 per child
  • Sponges – 1 per child
  • Thick glue, paste, or paint – 1 container
  • Colored water – 2 cups
  • Aquarium gravel – 2 cups
  • Disposable bowls – 1 per child, plus 3 more (bowls)
  • Paper towels – 1 roll

What To Do

Note: This activity uses non-food items to avoid food-related concerns in some classrooms. This lesson will be completed in two parts; Part 1 is with the whole group, and Part 2 is in small groups. Place the empty juice container behind a cup filled with colored water, the cereal box behind a bowl of aquarium gravel, and the applesauce container behind a bowl of glue (paste or paint) prior to the start of the lesson. Refill as needed.

Whole Group:

1. Display the pictures of the insects’ mouths. Explain the different insect mouths and the different ways insects draw food into their mouths (see Did You Know?).

2. Display the various tools (tweezers, straws, sponges) and discuss how the tools are similar to the insects’ mouths. Match each tool to each type of insect mouth (see Did You Know?).

3. Divide the children into small groups, and tell them they will each get a turn to use the tools.

Small Group:

4. Distribute 1 bowl, tweezers, a straw, and a sponge to each child.

5. Tell them to pretend the bowl is the insect’s stomach and they will use tools to fill the insect’s stomach.  

6. Explain that the colored water is thin like juice, aquarium gravel is chunky like cereal, and the glue (paste/paint) is thick like applesauce.

7. Demonstrate using the straw by placing it in water and putting your finger over the opposite end of the straw, and then release the water onto a paper towel.

8. Allow the children to try using tweezers, sponges, and straws to move the materials into their insect’s stomach (bowl).

9. Discuss which instruments worked best for the different materials. Have children explain the difficulties they encountered picking up the materials with the various instruments.

Guiding Student Inquiry

  • Explain how the insects’ mouths are different from each other.
  • Which tool works like the mouth of an ant? Why?
  • Which tool works most like the mouth of a fly? Why?
  • Describe how a bee uses its mouth to eat.
  • Explain how the way insects eat is different from the way you eat.
  • Which tool worked best with each of the foods?

Explore, Extend & Integrate

  • At snack time, ask children which of the insects’ mouths would work best with any of the snack foods—e.g., crackers, cut-up vegetables, fruit, cereal, or pudding. Discuss what it is about each insects’ mouth that would help with picking up each type of food.

Check for Children’s Understanding

  • Can children explain the different ways insects use their mouths to get food?
  • Can children explain how each tool is like a particular insect’s mouth?
  • Could children explain which tool worked best with each of the foods?
  • Can children explain the difference between the way insects eat and the way they eat?


Did You Know?

Insects’ bodies are designed to help them live in their environment. Insects’ mouths are designed specifically to access their favorite foods. Ants and caterpillars have strong jaws, like the tweezers, to grip and chew their food. Butterflies and bees have a proboscis, which is a long tube, like a straw, for sucking up nectar. House flies are insects that draw liquids from food into their mouths like a sponge. 

Insects will go almost anywhere to get food. Due to their small size and ability to fly, there is almost nowhere on land they cannot go to get food. All insects eat, but not all insects eat the same types of foods. Some insects eat grass and leaves. Other insects each mushy food like soft, decaying garbage. Still other types of insects eat only liquids. Many insects such as mosquitos, bees, and butterflies siphon their food. Some of the insects who get their food this way pierce it first, like the mosquito. 

Vocabulary: Child-Friendly Definitions

  • insect – a small animal with three body parts, two antennae, six legs, and a hard covering over its body.
  • mouth – the part of the body through which an animal eats, breathes, and makes sounds.
  • tool – an instrument used for doing work.
  • tweezers – a small metal tool that has two arms used for picking up small objects.
  • proboscis – an elongated tubular sucking structure on certain insects.
  • chunky – full of lumps.

Lesson Tips

  • It is important to place the empty food containers with the corresponding testing materials so children can recognize that each material is representative of the food item.
  • This is a fun, slightly messy activity. You may want to cover the tables prior to starting the activity.
  • Be sure to have a clean sponge for each child, as the sponges will get sticky.


  • The Very Hungry Caterpillar by Eric Carle
  • The Very Greedy Bee by Steve Smallman
  • One Hundred Hungry Ants by Elinor J. Pinczes
  • Hi! Fly Guy by Tedd Arnold

Home School Resources

Home educators: use these printable lesson PDFs to teach this lesson to your home schoolers. They're available in English and Spanish.

While we believe that the books and resources recommended may be of value to you, keep in mind that these are suggestions only and you must do your own due diligence to determine whether the materials are appropriate and suitable for your use. PNC has no sponsorship or endorsement agreement with the authors or publishers of the materials listed.

Content Provided By

Common Core State Standards Initiative – These lessons are aligned with the Common Core State Standards ("CCSS"). The CCSS provide a consistent, clear understanding of the concepts and skills children are expected to learn and guide teachers to provide their students with opportunities to gain these important skills and foundational knowledge [1]. Visit the CCSS