Now that we know what entomology is and how to identify insects, and we have all of the equipment we need to get started, it’s time to collect our insects! Today is all about Best Practices for Collecting Insects- how to collect and preserve all sorts of insects.
Collecting Terrestrial Insects
You can find specimens flying through the air or crawling on the ground. How do you catch the insects- especially the dangerous ones?
- Use an Aerial Net- To catch insects which fly, take an aerial net and “sweep” it over tall grasses in a meadow. It’s best to do this in the heat of the day when the flying insects are most active.
- Clasp the Net- So that the insects which have gone in have to stay and usually you can work them to the opening you create while you have the killing jar at the ready.
- Use Your Killing Jar- Make sure your jar is “charged” with ethyl alcohol and open it. Around here, it’s a two person job. One has the net and the other is ready with the jar. You can even do this with bees and yellow jackets, but you must be right there with the jar. This is my new go to in the house- rather than swatting, I arm myself with a container!
- Use any jar or container- Once you have the insect inside, take the container to the freezer. This is a great idea when your killing jar isn’t charged and you aren’t in the field.
- Be ready with a glassine envelope- Moths and butterflies either need to be paralyzed (which we really haven’t gotten the hang of yet, but requires you to hold it between the wings and squeeze enough to paralyze but not squish) or they can be placed in an envelope and taken directly to the freezer. The trick with these guys is not allowing them to struggle. Once they flap their wings too hard, they will lose scales and it won’t show as well once it’s pinned.
Collecting Aquatic & Soft Bodied Insects
Soft bodies insects are those without an exoskeleton like caterpillars, thrips, silverfish, etc. Aquatic species are larval forms of mayflies, caddisflies, stoneflies, etc.
Both are different from terrestrial species because they get collected and stored in alcohol.
- Jar of Isopropyl alcohol- Bring along a jar (just a normal kitchen variety) 2/3 full of 70% rubbing alcohol. When it’s time to catch and collect these insects, you just grab them with some forceps and drop them into the jar.
- Use a pan- To dump the water and critters from the bottom of the creek. From here you and your kids can investigate what came up with the aquatic net for collection.
- Bring along collecting tubes- Sometimes it’s easier just to bring a few collecting tubes rather than a whole jar of alcohol. They are lighter and easier to carry if you are in a pinch.
Storing Collected Insects
Once you have the insects in your killing jar and alcohol jar, you have to take of them once you arrive home. It’s important to pin the terrestrial insects before long so they don’t dry out on you. Pinning a dried out insect is difficult and leads to breakage.
- Remove insects from the killing jar- and put them into individual air tight storage in your freezer.
- Decant the aquatic/soft bodied insects- Pour out most of the alcohol and add new alcohol to the jar. Once the insects die in the alcohol, the water inside of them will diffuse out and dilute the alcohol. You want to avoid that for long because a diluted solution will not preserve the insect. I like to decant and add 90% isopropyl. Decant the solution twice to be safe.
- Separate the insects into vials- Ultimately, they will need to be in their own container. This will save you time when it comes to preparing your collection for evaluation.
- Keep them in glass- as opposed to plastic for long term storage so they don’t dry out.
Keeping a Record of Your Collected Insects
You’ll want accurate records of your insect collection as you go along. If you are turning in your collection for judging, a written record is required. Also, you’ll need the collection information on all those tiny labels that go under the pinned specimen. Keeping the information as you go, will save time in the end. Even if you think your collection isn’t large. Here is a sampling of the information to keep:
- Location of collection- both the place (address, name, and town with county) and the exact habitat it was collection from (pond, meadow, etc)
- Date Collected- Month, day, and year for each specimen
- Name of the Collector- You are permitted to have others collect for you, but make sure you note who it is.
- Name of the Insect- First year entomologists are required to ID to the order only. In the second year, they add common names to the record keeping.
Most of all have FUN! Collecting insects is a challenge which can be very entertaining in its pursuit. As you gather specimens, things get exciting as you find new varieties and add things to your collection. The next step is pinning your insects. Join me!
Don’t forget to visit other iHN bloggers as they share a series this week for Summer 2014 Hopscotch.