aerial-net

Insect Collecting Field Kit

What tools should every Collector have in their insect Collecting Kit?

I have been collecting insect since I was about 9 years old. There is nothing more exciting than when I happen across a new and really cool bug. I have also noticed that it is equally disappointing when I realize that I do not have the proper tools to collect that cool new insect discovery. I try to make due with whatever tools I have at hand often with poor results. I have learned that it is far better to have a complete insect collecting tool kit. Here is a list of what every insect collector should have in their insect collecting field kit. Following the list is a description of each item and links to where the item might be obtained.

  1. Insect collecting jars
  2. Insect collecting jar fluid
  3. Forceps
  4. Tiny paint brush
  5. Aerial-net
  6. Sweep-net
  7. Gallon size zip lock bags w/cotton balls
  8. Plastic ware sealable container
  9. Insect aspirator
  10. Letter-size envelopes
  11. Syringe 1cm with needle
  12. Snap-to plastic vials
Insect Collecting Jars

Insect collecting jars come in many different sizes. They can be made of glass or plastic. They can have a screw-top lid, a pop-top lid, a rubber stopper lid or even a cork-top lid. They can have a ceramic and sawdust base inside or just a cotton ball. They can be charged with cyanide, chloroform, ethyl acetate or nail polish remover. The possibilities seem to be both endless and confusing. One complaint that I have is most books that explain how to make a collecting jar are peddling far outdated information. Most books will say to use a glass jar with cyanide, Carbon tetrachloride or chloroform. These substances are deadly if not handled properly and very difficult to obtain. Your average hobbyist would have no business using such dangerous materials especially when there are much safer and effective alternatives.

collecting jar
This collecting jar is made with an empty peanut butter jar.

Here is what I recommend for a collecting jar.  Use a plastic 10oz Jiff peanut butter jar, a cotton ball and some ethyl acetate. Of course it doesn’t have to be Jif Peanut Butter but choosy mothers choose Jiff! Empty and clean the plastic peanut butter jar. Douse the cotton ball with ethyl acetate and place it in the jar. It is important to note that the cotton ball should not be dripping wet with the Ethyl acetate or it will mat up some of your more furry catches.  In the absence of ethyl acetate nail polish remover may be used. I like ethyl acetate because it kills much faster than nail polish remover reducing damage.

Forceps, tiny brushes and other small handling tools

Some Insects are tiny, some are delicate and some insects bite or sting. It is at times a good idea to pick up or maneuver some tiny crawlers with forceps

or a brush rather than your fingers. I also like to have in my bag a claw tool to tear into rotting wood or stumps. Many cool critters like the Betsy Beetle can be found in stumps and rotting wood.

Aerial-net
Tracin using his aerial-net to catch a butterfly
Tracin using his aerial-net to catch a butterfly

A long handled aerial-net is good to have if you are planning to catch butterflies or dragonflies. The net should be about 30 inches deep and at least 15 inches in diameter. A good rule of thumb is that the net bag should be about twice as deep as the diameter of the hoop. It is good to be able to flip the net over the hoop after catching something in it. This prevents the insect from flying out before you can get it into a jar or envelope. On the other hand, if the net is too deep it becomes difficult to reach to the bottom of the net to get the insect into your jar or envelope. Another factor to consider is that the net should be easy to see through.

Sweep-net
Sweep-net for collecting insects
This sweep-net is made to take more of a beating than an aerial-net

A sturdy sweep-net is important to have with you. I use my sweep-net more than any other tool in my insect collecting kit. A sweep-net should have a sturdy handle. The handle is shorter than an aerial net. My sweep-net handle is only about 24 inches long. The hoop is about 12 inches in diameter and made of a thicker gauge steel.  The net is a thicker material and less see through. Again the depth of the bag should be about 2 to 2 ½ times the diameter of the hoop. If the bag is not able to flip over the hoop by several inches then the bag is too short.

A sweep-net bag should be made to take a beating. Constantly swinging through weed, sticks, bushes and thorns would quickly destroy an aerial-net. I make sure that I have several 1 gallon size zip lock plastic bags with a cotton ball in them wetted with ethyl acetate. After sweeping through a fields of tall weeds I empty the content of the net into the zip lock bag. The hundreds of insects caught in the sweep-net quickly die in the ethyl acetate fumes.

Aspirator
insect aspirator is used for tiny insects like termites.
insect aspirator is used for tiny insects like termites.

An insect aspirator can be useful when trying to collect tiny insects that would easily crush between your fingers.  I use an aspirator when collecting ants, termites and other tiny insects.  A bug vacuum could be considered another type of aspirator. I use a bug vacuum to collect tiny insects around porch light. Insects like mosquitoes, midges, gnats and lacewings are easily sucked up in a bug vacuum. I then quickly transfer the content of its detachable container into a freezer.

Letter size envelopes

I use letter size envelopes to store butterflies and dragonflies while in the field. The envelope holds the specimen still until which time I can transfer it to a freezer. I carry with me several envelopes. Each envelope can hold more than 1 butterfly or dragonfly depending on the size.

Syringe 1cm with needle

There are times when I need to kill a specimen very quickly to prevent damage. An example is a Giant Silkworm Moth or a Tiger Swallowtail. These insects have scales that can easily rub off and I would need minimal movement to prevent damage. In cases such as these I use a 1cm syringe and some acetone. I inject the thorax of the insect with acetone. They die instantly and I transfer them to an envelope.

Snap-top Plastic Vials

Snap-top plastic vials are handy to have for a live capture. I may find a caterpillar, a cocoon or a gall that I want to keep alive and use the adult stage for my collection.  This way I get to see several stages of the insect’s life cycle.