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Advanced Collecting Equipment

A supply of small plastic or glass containers or vials comes in handy, especially on long collecting trips. Empty pill bottles are good for this purpose. They serve as temporary storage, so that large numbers of specimens can be collected without crowding the killing jars. Soft tissue or cotton placed in these containers cushions delicate specimens and prevents breakage.

Advanced Collecting Equipment Envelope

Figure 8

After they have died, butterflies, moths, dragonflies, and other large-winged insects are protected best by removing them from the jars and carefully placing each specimen in an individual envelope or in a rectangular piece of paper folded to form a three-cornered envelope (Figure 8). Cut a regular piece of paper approximately twice as long as wide (3 in. X 6 in. is recommended for most butterflies and moths). Fold diagonally as on line (A), approximately 1/2 in. from the upper right to lower left corners. Fold the wings of butterflies and moths above their back to prevent scales from being rubbed off the upper surface of their wings and place inside envelope (B). Fold tabs to close off the open sides of the envelope. The envelope is then locked closed by folding over tabs (C). Write collecting data on the outside of the envelope.

funnel kill jar

Warm, cloudy, sultry nights in the summer offer the best conditions to collect moths, beetles, and other insects attracted to lights. Many aquatic insects also are attracted to lights near lakes and streams. Visiting porch, street, and landscape lights in the evening can yield many insects that are otherwise difficult to find. You can also use specialized portable lights to attract insects. For example, a gas- or battery-powered camp lantern placed in the middle of a white bed sheet may attract a large number of insects at night. Commercially constructed light traps are available from entomological supply houses, but effective traps also can be made at home (Figure 9). Lights afford good collecting throughout the spring, summer, and fall because various species occur at different times during the season.

Kill Jar

Figure 10

Some insects are attracted to various food sources. Some can be collected from sweetened baits; others come to protein-based foods. Decaying meat attracts many beetles that can be trapped if the bait is placed in a glass jar or funnel trap (Figure 10) sunk into the soil with the opening flush to the ground surface.

Collecting aquatic insects can be very exciting and productive. First-time aquatic insect collectors are amazed by the number of insects in aquatic systems. Many insects are found by turning over logs and stones on the bottoms of shallow ponds and streams. To collect fast-swimming specimens, it is usually necessary to use some type of net. You can buy specialized aquatic nets, but a large tea strainer is adequate for collecting along the shallow margins of both ponds and streams. For collecting in faster waters of rivers and streams, a specially constructed device called a kick screen (Figure 11A) is the standard piece of equipment. The screen is placed in the current. Rocks immediately upstream from the net are then turned over, and the dislodged insects drift into and are caught on the screen. Commercially constructed, heavy-duty dip nets (Figure 11B) with long, sturdy handles are useful for collecting from deeper waters of lakes and ponds. Never use your aerial or sweep net to collect in the water, as it is easily ruined.

sweep net

Figure 11

Careful attention is needed to collect insects from leaf litter and soil debris, because some of the specimens are very small and easily overlooked. Some collectors place soil litter on a white cloth or paper to make them easier to see and collect the insects as they attempt to crawl away.

Small trees and shrubs may be jarred or shaken, and the insects collected as they fall into an inverted umbrella or a light-colored beat sheet held under a branch or tree. This method is especially effective for collecting insects that “play possum” when disturbed. Figure 12 provides general guidelines of how to build your own beat sheet.

beat sheet

Figure 12

Every insect collector needs a good pocketknife. Pocket knives have a myriad of uses, such as removing bark from trees or borers from fallen logs or stumps; cutting off twigs; opening seeds, galls, fruits and vegetables; or even cutting into sod or soil. A trowel comes in handy to dig in the ground or leaf litter for larvae, pupae, and adult insects living there.

Last but not least, the collector should always carry a pencil and notebook for jotting down the place, date, collector’s name and other important facts about the specimens collected. These data are important to include with any insect in a collection.

Many collectors prefer to carry field equipment, such as killing jars, note pads, vials, forceps, and brushes, in a backpack.