Bean Bugs

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In this outdoor biology and math activity, learners estimate the size of a population of organisms too numerous to count. In a process similar to that used by real field biologists, learners count all the "organisms" (beans) scattered in a small, measured area known as a quadrat, then use that count as the basis for estimating the total population in the whole study site. Learners also examine sources of error while using this estimation technique.

Quick Guide

Preparation Time:
45 to 60 minutes

Learning Time:
45 to 60 minutes

Estimated Materials Cost:
$10 - $20 per group of students

Age Range:
Ages 8 - 14

Resource Types:
Activity, Lesson/Lesson Plan, Simulation


Materials List (per group of students)

  • wire squares, 10 cm X 10 cm
  • index cards
  • pencils
  • data board or large drawing pad
  • marking pen
  • 1 pound of bean bugs (mung beans, split peas, lentils)
  • masking tape
  • wire cutters and pliers
  • 2 meter sticks or meter tapes
  • 1 ball of string
  • 4 large nails


  • Life Sciences
    • Diversity of Life
      • Plants
      • Animals
    • Ecology
      • Populations
  • Mathematics
    • Data Analysis and Probability
      • Data Analysis
      • Data Collection
      • Data Representation
    • Geometry
      • Plane Geometry
    • Measurement
      • Units of Measurement
      • Size and Scale
      • Rate
    • Number and Operations
      • Multiples and Factors
    • Reasoning and Proof
    • Representation
  • The Nature of Science
    • The Scientific Process
      • Asking Questions
      • Conducting Investigations
      • Gathering Data
      • Formulating Explanations
      • Communicating Results

Informal Categories

  • Animals
  • Nature and Environment
  • Outdoor Activity
  • Physical Activity


To use this activity, learners need to:

  • see
  • read
  • be mobile
  • touch

Learning styles supported:

  • Involves teamwork and communication skills
  • Involves hands-on or lab activities


This resource is part of:

Access Rights:

  • Free access



  • All rights reserved, The Regents of the University of California, 1982