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Insects and other arthropods

Catching insects

Young girl hunting butterflies
Photo: Espace pour la vie
Young girl hunting butterflies
  • Young girl hunting butterflies
  • Material required for observing insects.

As you hunt for insects for your collection, you’ll learn more about their habits and discover some unexpected species. There are all kinds of different ways to attract and catch insects.

Some simple tips

You can catch lots of insects with just your fingers. Plastic containers with lids are useful, as are Ziploc-type plastic bags. A pair of tweezers is another inexpensive tool. A soft brush is good for collecting larvae.

Butterfly net

This type of net is used mainly to catch flying insects. There are two techniques: you can either catch the insect in flight by swinging the net sideways, or you can lower the net over the insect to trap it.

Sweep net

This kind of net is good for collecting insects in high grass and shrubs. You swing it quickly back and forth through the vegetation to take insects by surprise.

Aquatic net

This kind of net is used to catch aquatic insects, by sweeping it quickly back and forth in the water. It can also be held facing upstream at the bottom of a shallow stream, to catch insects as they are carried along by the current.


This method involves beating low branches to shake off any insects. First place something underneath the branches to catch the falling insects.

Pitfall trap

This is basically a container buried in the ground. Insects tumble in and become trapped. You can leave it empty or add some kind of bait (honey, bread, oatmeal) or fill the bottom with liquid to drown any insects that fall in.

Light trap

Prepare this nighttime trap by placing a source of light in front of a white surface, like a sheet strung between two trees. The trap doesn’t actually catch any insects – you have to do that yourself.


This odd instrument is used to collect small insects without damaging them. Most models are a transparent cylinder with two tubes. You place the flexible suction tube in your mouth and use the other, rigid tube to draw the insect up into the chamber.

Killing insects

There are different ways of killing insects. Each one has its advantages and disadvantages, but we recommand freezing.


This is a simple and efficient method that does not require any chemicals. In fact it is the best one to use whenever possible. Just put the specimen in the freezer for at least three days. Ideally, you should use one container for each insect. Include your collection notes, and place a piece of paper towel in the container to prevent condensation.

It is better to keep insects in the freezer longer than to get an unpleasant surprise if the insect you are pinning starts moving. This is especially important for bumble bees and wasps caught in the spring; they have spent the winter as adults and can better tolerate the cold.

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