Insect Collecting




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by Frank E. Lutz   

Although a great deal of profitable entertainment may be had by simply watching insects, many of us wish to collect and preserve examples of the species that interest us most. This can easily be done, and we may rest assured that, the way we kill them, we give the creatures little or no more pain than we do to a plant when we pick a flower. Furthermore, there is little danger that our activities will injure Nature, sunless we destroy too many insect homes by forgetting to put back the logs and stones we have turned over, or by similar thoughtlessness.

The classic way to catch butterflies and similar creatures is with a fine net fastened to a hoop-like affair on the end of a stick. A much better way, if you have the time and patience, is to rear the adults from eggs, larvae, or pupae; this is better because it gives you fresh specimens and especially because, in addition to specimens, it gives you a knowledge of the life history of the species.

A "butterfly net" may be bought, or it may be home-made. If bought, I would advise the sort in which the hoop folds flat. Or you can buy a fisherman's landing net, preferably a folding one, and replace the coarse net that comes with it  by a bag of bobbinet or of "mosquito netting." Make the depth of the bag at least 50 per cent. greater than the diameter of the hoop. I started my entomological activities with a contraption that I rigged up out of mosquito netting, hay wire, and a broom handle. The hay wire was too wobbly; so I substituted a hoop off a butter tub. Later on I used the butt of a bamboo fishing pole in place of a broom handle, and that was my standby for years. The bag should be deeper than it is wide, so that, when you have an insect in the bottom of the bag, you can, by a twist of the wrist, fold the bag against the hoop and imprison your captive in the bottom of the net.

Having caught an insect, the best way to kill it is usually with the fumes given off by cyanide of potassium. This is a deadly poison if taken into the mouth, so be careful how you handle it. A killing bottle may be of almost any size or shape. An empty olive bottle is very good, but it should have a tight-fitting cork; screw tops are not convenient. If you use cyanide, put in a layer of the poison broken up into pieces no larger than a small hickory nut; cover this with a layer of dry sawdust or torn blotting paper; and, finally, pour in just enough plaster of Paris to cover the absorbing material and hold everything in place. Leave the bottle uncorked for a few hours after making it up, but after that keep it closed except to put in and take out specimens. Loose strips of newspaper or toilet paper should be put in the bottle to keep the specimens from rattling around and also to absorb excess moisture. A "sweaty" bottle should never be used, as it will spoil the specimens.

Those who are afraid of cyanide or are not on good enough terms with a druggist to be able to buy it have used chloroform or ether. These, especially chloroform, tend to stiffen the specimens. The patent liquid, Carbona, now advertised as a cleaning agent, is said to be a very good substitute for these. Whatever the fluid, it is used by pouring it on cotton that is kept in place at the bottom of the bottle by a disk of blotting paper. All beetles and dragon-flies may be killed in alcohol, and also brown, hairless insects; but butterflies, bees and flies should not be wet, and alcohol extracts the green of grasshoppers. Insect larvae and also spiders, which, by the way, are not insects, should be killed and kept in alcohol.

Of course, there is much more to the subject than is told here, but these hints ought to be enough to start with.

The Birch Bark Roll 






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Last modified: October 15, 2016.