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University of Kentucky Department of Entomology

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C. Ware 1998

Tools of the Trade

By Lana Unger,
Extension Entomology Specialist

During the late winter and early spring, it is often hard to locate insects in nature, but this is a great time to prepare collecting equipment and collection boxes for spring and summer collecting trips. Collecting equipment can be purchased from biological supply houses and in some nature-related catalogs, but most of the equipment used to collect insects can be very expensive and can be made much more economically with common supplies found around the home for little or no cost.

Collecting nets

There are several different types of collecting nets. Some nets, called sweep nets, are very strong and sturdy. They are usually made out of canvas or other heavy duty material. They are used to sweep plants, grasses and trees. When the net hits the plants, the insects are flung into the net.

Another common net is called an aerial or butterfly net. This net is much lighter weight and more delicate than the sweep net. The material used to make this net is usually a light weight net or other fine, loosely woven material. These nets are used to capture flying insects such as butterflies, in flight as the name suggests. For directions on how to make a net, see Kentucky 4-H Entomology Unit I.

A third type of net is the aquatic net. It is used to collect insects that live underwater. What really sets this net apart from the others is the shape of the net's rim. The aquatic net has a D-shaped ring whereas the other nets usually have circular rims. The D shape allows you to rest the flat side of the net against the bottom of a stream and collect insects that flow through the net. These types of nets are used to collect in muddy-bottom streams and streams that do not have rocky bottoms.

A kick seine can be used to collect in riffle streams, that is, streams with rocky bottoms. The kick seine is a two-handled net that usually requires two people to use. There are two parallel handles with a mesh net stretched between. The net is securely placed in the stream with one person firmly pressing each handle directly into the stream bed. Sometimes rocks can be placed along the bottom of the net so that nothing goes underneath. Next, the rocks and soil are disturbed directly upstream from the net and any creatures that may be hiding on the stream's bottom will be trapped in the net. Next the net is carefully lifted out of the water and examined.

Make a Kick Seine

You will need:

  • 6 ft by 3 ft nylon screening (1/16" mesh)
  • 2/3 yd heavy canvas (at least 36" wide)
  • 2 broom handles or dowel sticks
  • sewing machine and thread
  • iron and ironing board
  • nails and hammer

Fold the nylon in half to make a 3 foot by 3 foot net. Cut the canvas into four 6 inch by 36 inch strips. To form a 2 inch binding, use the iron to press under inch on either long side of the strips. Next fold in half lengthwise. Sew two strips on the top and bottom of the net. Sew the two remaining strips on either side of the net to make the casings to hold the handles. Insert the handles into the casings and nail along each handle to keep the net in place.


Aspirators are valuable collecting tools that are used to collect very small or delicate insects. They are very similar to a small vacuum. Aspirators are especially useful when collecting small flies, wasps, and beetles.

Make An Aspirator

You will need:

  • empty film canister
  • 2 bendable drinking straws
  • 1" X 1" piece of pantyhose
  • small rubberband
Ask an adult to use an ice pick or sharp knife to make two small holes in the lid of the film canister. Stick the short ends of the bendable straws into the holes in the lid. The short ends should be inside the canister when the lid is put back on the canister. Use the pantyhose and rubberband to cover the short end of one of the straws. Finally, put the lid back on the canister and the aspirator is complete. When you see a small insect that you want to collect, suck on the straw that has the pantyhose filter on it while you hold the end of the other straw next to the insect. The vacuum force you create as you suck on one straw will quickly suck the insect into the canister. The piece of pantyhose that covers the straw prevents you from sucking the insect into your mouth. After collecting the insect, carefully transfer it to your killing jar.

Killing Jars

A killing jar is a container into which you place recently captured insects. The killing jar contains some type of poison that will kill the insect quickly. Some killing jars contain ether or cyanide, but rubbing alcohol or fingernail polish remover works fine, especially for young collectors.

Make A Killing Jar

You will need:

  • wide-mouthed jar
  • several pieces of newspaper or paper towel
  • rubbing alcohol or fingernail polish remover

To make a killing jar, take a wide-mouthed jar (like a mayonnaise or peanut butter jar) and place a pile of newspaper or paper towel 1/2" deep that has been cut to fit the bottom of the jar. Pour enough alcohol or fingernail polish remover into the jar to saturate the paper but not pool in the bottom of the jar. Pour any excess out. Next, take a few dry, crumpled tissues or strips of paper towel and place into the jar. This gives the insect something to climb on and hide in. Make sure the lid is tight fitting. When you catch an insect, place it in the jar and screw the lid on tight. Usually the insect will die within a few minutes. With large insects it may be necessary to leave the insect in the jar longer.

Insects All Year and Bug cartoons courtesy of C. Ware, copyright 1998

Last updated: 22 January 1999

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