Frequently Asked Questions

1) What is Caterpillars Count!?

Caterpillars Count! is a citizen science project for measuring the seasonal variation (also known as phenology) and abundance of foliage arthropods like caterpillars, beetles, and spiders. Participants collect data by conducting surveys on trees and shrubs and recording all of the arthropods observed.

2) Why collect data on foliage arthropods? And why keep track of seasonal variation?

Insects and other arthropods are an important food source for birds and other wildlife, and they have economic and environmental impacts on our forests and crops. In some regions, the timing of spring has been coming earlier, and we want to know whether insects are emerging earlier as well. This information can also help us to understand whether migratory birds are migrating earlier enough to take advantage of those important food resources which they count on for successfully raising their young.

3) How can I participate in Caterpillars Count!?

Anyone can participate, but participation is limited to approved Caterpillars Count! locations that have set up survey trees according to our required protocol. If you would like to participate at one of the existing Caterpillars Count! sites (check the homepage) as an individual, or as part of a class or club, contact the appropriate Site Coordinator. If you would like to start a new Caterpillars Count! site, we would love to hear from you! See #4 below.

4) How can I create a new Caterpillars Count! site?

Caterpillars Count! sites are typically at established locations such as schools, environmental education centers, bird banding stations, and other places that are likely to have large numbers of potential participants. If you are interested in starting a new site, please read . To ensure that the data contributed by an individual Caterpillars Count! site are useful to scientists, a site must consist of a minimum of 10 survey trees, with the expectation that those will trees will get surveyed multiple times over the spring and summer. If you are interested in learning more about starting a new site, please read this Getting Started document and then contact us!

5) How long does it take to do Caterpillars Count! surveys?

The time it takes will depend on how many surveys are at the site, how far apart they are, and how many people are helping conduct the surveys. The number of survey trees per site varies from 10 to 40. Someone inexperienced might take 5 minutes for a single survey while someone who has been doing it for awhile might take only 1 minute. For an average site with 20 survey trees, it might take a small class of 10 inexperienced students working in pairs about 30 minutes (not including giving instructions). An experienced participant might be able to survey those same 20 trees alone in 45 minutes.

6) How do I submit my observations for Caterpillars Count!?

We have free smartphone apps available for both Android and iOS which make data submission a snap (see detailed instructions here). Participants are also able to submit data online through the Caterpillars Count! web entry form.

7) Can I visualize the data that I submit or contribute to?

Yes! We have a data exploration page which allows you to see how the arthropod density at your site compares to others sites around the country. It also allows you to examine the breakdown of arthropod types by tree species, and to examine the seasonal variation in arthropod observations at your site. The data exploration tool is great for open-ended class exercises! (see also #9 below)

8) How can I learn to identify different types of arthropods?

Try our arthropod ID quiz, and keep track of how your score improves over time! We also have a arthropod ID cheat sheet that you can print out to take in the field with you.

9) Does Caterpillars Count! have any classroom-based learning activities?

Yes, we have links to a number of learning activities related to climate change, caterpillars, food webs and phenology that meet various state and national education standards. We hope to develop more in the near future!

10) How will my data be used?

As noted above, data submitted to Caterpillars Count! can be explored and visualized by anyone through our website, and we hope that students and educators will take advantage of this feature. These data will also be used by scientists to address research questions related to the biogeography and phenology of foliage arthropods.

11) How can I access Caterpillars Count! data?

Caterpillars Count! data are made available under a Open Database License (ODbL). We hope to have a download feature on the project website in the near future where anyone can download all or part of the Caterpillars Count! database. Until that feature is built, however, data is only available upon request.