HOW TO COLLECT AND PRESERVE INSECTS
H. H. ROSS
With rather simple equipment, the amateur as well as the trained entomologist can make a worthwhile collection of insects.
The making of such a collection may have educational and recreational as well as scientific values. Developing this hobby is one of the finest ways for students, especially those in agricultural districts, to become acquainted with the large number of injurious and beneficial insects that they encounter about the home and in the fields. High school classes in biology find excellent laboratory material in the many insects available for rearing and study. Both old and young collectors find a great deal of pleasure in working with the showy and beautiful insects, such as beetles, moths, and butterflies; the satisfaction derived comes both from having relaxation from the day’s work and from making real contributions to scientific knowledge. Many entomological museums welcome the opportunity to examine carefully prepared and labeled collections. These collections supply distribution records for insect species, in addition to other information of value to technical entomologists. Also, the amateur collector profits from his contact with specialists who can help him identify his specimens and advise him at any stage of his work.
It is hoped that this circular will show how easy it is to make a start in insect collecting and will give the student helpful ideas on how and where to begin.
WHERE TO COLLECT
In late spring, in summer, and in early fall, insects are very abundant in fields and woods, and large numbers of them may be caught by sweeping through the grass and branches with a strong insect net. Flowers of all descriptions are favorite visiting places of many bees, flies, beetles, and other insects, and will afford good collecting. Woods along the banks of streams, open glades in deep woods, and brush along forest edges offer some of the best opportunities for collecting by the sweeping method.
In early spring, when insects can be taken only sparingly in the open, the collector frequently finds sheltered hollows where they may 2be caught in large numbers. A certain kind of insect may live only on a certain kind of plant, and to obtain the insect the collector must search or sweep the plant, called the host plant.
Many obscure places harbor insects seldom found elsewhere. Among these are leaf mold and debris on the surface of the soil, particularly in woods; rotten logs and stumps, which should be turned over to reveal insects that hide under or around them, and then carefully searched or torn apart for others that live inside; in, under, and around dead animals; under boards and stones.
Trees sometimes yield valuable specimens. If part of a tree, under which has been spread a large white sheet, is struck with a heavy, padded stick, many insects, such as weevils, will fall to the sheet and “play possum.” They can be picked off quite easily.
Lights attract large numbers of certain nocturnal insects, such as June beetles and many kinds of moths; at night these insects may be collected at street or porch lights, on windows and screens of lighted rooms, or at light traps put up especially to attract them. Swarms of aquatic insects come to street lights of towns along rivers, sometimes in such numbers as to pile up in a crawling mass under each light. Collecting at this source is best on warm, cloudy nights; wind or cold keeps most nocturnal insects fairly inactive. Different species of moths and beetles visit the lights in different seasons so that collecting by this method alone yields many kinds of insects.
Insects that live in the water may be collected with heavy dip nets swept through the water at various levels and through the mud and debris at the bottom. In shallow water, many insects will be found if stones and logs are turned over and leaf tufts pulled apart.
In winter, insect galls or cocoons may be gathered. If these are placed in jars with cheesecloth covers tied over them, kept in a warm room, but away from radiators and all intense heat, many insects will emerge from them before spring.
WHAT TO USE
For making even a fairly large insect collection, only a small amount of equipment is required. A net and killing bottle are essential, and good work may be done with these alone. A greater variety of insects may be collected and with better results if a few more items are added to the list. Here is an outfit that will be found very satisfactory in the field.
1. A strong beating net for general sweeping and an additional light net to be used for moths and butterflies.
2. Killing bottles, several small and one or two large ones.
3. A pair of flexible forceps, 10 to 12 centimeters (about 4 to 5 inches) long, with slender prongs.
4. One or two camel’s-hair brushes for picking up minute insects.
5. A few vials or small bottles containing fluid preservative.
6. Folded papers for butterflies.
7. A few small tins or boxes lined with cellucotton.
These items may be purchased from commercial supply houses such as those listed on page 71. Many items, however, may be made by the collector at nominal cost.