Welcome to
Caterpillars Count!

Caterpillars Count!

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. Who runs Caterpillars Count!?

Caterpillars Count! was started by Dr. Allen Hurlbert from the University of North Carolina, and is part of a broader National Science Foundation funded project on phenological mismatch. Check out all of the scientists behind the PhenoMismatch Project here!

3. 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.

4. How can I participate in Caterpillars Count!?

Anyone can participate, but surveys are limited to approved Caterpillars Count! locations that have set up survey trees according to our required protocol. If you would like to participate at an existing Caterpillars Count! site 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 #7 below.

5. What is the geographic focus of Caterpillars Count!

Although we are based in North America with a focus on seasonal environments, we welcome participation from anywhere in the world with woody vegetation to monitor!

6. What time of year should Caterpillars Count! surveys be conducted?

We are especially interested in surveys conducted from after leaves have flushed out through the avian breeding season. This means starting after leaf out (e.g. late April or early May in North Carolina) and going through July or early August. But feel free to keep monitoring for as long as leaves are on the trees and shrubs!

7. Do I need permission to create a new Caterpillars Count! site?

No! Once you've created a user account, you can create a new site by logging in and clicking on My Account > Create New 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, but dedicated individuals can certainly set up their own site as well. To ensure that the data contributed from an individual Caterpillars Count! site are useful to scientists, a site must consist of a minimum of 10 survey trees (and ideally ≥30), with the expectation that those trees will get surveyed multiple times over the spring and summer. Click here to learn more about starting a new site.

8. How long does it take to do Caterpillars Count! surveys?

The time it takes will depend on how many survey trees 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 8 minutes for a single survey while someone who has been doing it for a while 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.

9. 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 general survey instructions here and step-by-step app instructions here). Participants are also able to submit data online through the Caterpillars Count! web entry form.

10. I messed up! Can I delete or edit my observations?

Yes! If you made a mistake in your identification that you realized later, or you accidentally entered a survey branch twice, you can edit or delete any observations within 2 weeks of when they're made using the Manage My Surveys page of the website. (No edits using the app at this time.) Full instructions for using Manage My Surveys tools are available here.

11. 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 also great for open-ended class exercises! (see #13 below)

12. How can I learn to identify different types of arthropods?

Try our arthropod ID quiz and Virtual Arthropod Survey game, and keep track of how your scores improve over time! We also have an arthropod ID cheat sheet that you can print out to take in the field with you.

13. Does Caterpillars Count! have any classroom-based learning activities?

Yes, our For Educators page has links to a number of learning activities related to climate change, caterpillars, food webs and phenology that meet various state and national education standards.

14. 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.

15. How can I access Caterpillars Count! data?

Caterpillars Count! data are made available under a Creative Commons CCZero 1.0 License, and are accessible from our Data Download page. Data underlying visualizations on the Maps and Graphs page are also available by clicking the "Download" button associated with each graph.

16. Can you formulate a research question that this project will help answer in the form of a haiku?

Leaves flush, insects wake,

Birds return from distant lands

Right on cue. Or not?