Peppermint Beetle


Peppermint Beetle (Adapted from Project Learning Tree): In this activity, students will explore their sense of smell and discover why smell is important to animals


  • Small bottle of concentrated flavoring (lemon, peppermint, vanilla, wintergreen, etc.) – if you do not have any concentrated flavors, perfume or cologne, or any scented spray will do
  • Cotton balls
  • Yarn or string 
  • Flagging materials, clothes, rags (something to mark boundaries)
  • Science journal

Preparation for adults or students not doing the activity

  • Flag or mark boundaries in an area with trees
  • When students are near ready to do the activity, head outside and ‘scentmark’ some of the trees in the area (wet your cotton ball with the scent and wipe it on the tree)
  • You can use more than one scent to mark different trees

Doing the Activity:

  • Think about how your sense of smell is important to you. Think about a time when you could not smell as well as usual, how did this affect you?
  • Take out your science journal and reflect on how animals use their sense of smell in order to survive. What purpose does smell serve for these animals?
  • Head outside with some yarn and go to the activity site, you are going to be locating a type of beetle that has left a very strong smell on some of the trees. 
  • Explore the trees in the boundary by smelling them. You are searching for a scent that was left behind. If you think you have found a tree that has been marked, tie some string around a branch.
  • Keep exploring the area to find all the trees that have been scentmarked!
  • When you believe you have found all the trees, walk the scent trail that the “beetle” left behind. Take out your science journal and reflect on the activity with the following questions:
    • Why did the animal mark those trees?
    • Where might this animal’s trail be headed?
    • How does scent benefit animals? How might it hinder them?
    • If an animal could not leave a scent, how else might they make their presence known?

Continue smelling!

  • You can make “Mystery scent” canister to see how well you and your family can recognize smells. Put a was of cotton into different film canister or yougurt containers (any container that you can poke a hole in will do). 
  • Put different smelly substances into separate containers (vanilla, perfume, garlic, food flavorings) and poke a hole in the top of the container. 
  • Test your sense of smell and see how many scents you are able to distinguish!

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