Basic kit (start collecting for under $25):
For the novice bug enthusiast interested in starting an insect collection the options and information available can be bewildering. Luckily, the hobby is easier (and cheaper) than it might seem. Here’s my two-cents worth on the best tools to get you started.
Insect pins (size 2) – you can’t have a collection if you can’t pin your insects
Insects pins come in a range of sizes, with the thickness of the pin increasing as the numbers increase. Thinner pins are less likely to damage small or delicate insects but are more likely to bend or be unable to pierce large or hard bodied insects. For very large insects a longer pin may also be necessary. Stainless steel pins will resist corrosion from long term exposure to humidity, but for most collectors the black enamel treated pins are probably sufficient. Cheaper pins tend to be blunter and more likely to damage insects, but may be useful for other purposes like spreading wings or stabilizing large insects in your collection box.
Pinning block – let’s get those bugs pinned and labeled!
Why use a pinning block? Because it allows you to get insects, labels and points onto a pin with minimal damage and bending. Trying to push a pin through an insect or a label with your fingers or on a soft surface such as styrofoam can create uneven pressure that does damage. A three step pinning block also provides a rough estimate of the height placement of the insect and labels and can help you standardize your collection.
Insect box – your collection’s home sweet home
A safe, secure place to store and display your insects is a must for any collector. BioQuip’s chipboard boxes are affordable, sturdy, and light-weight making them ideal for a variety of purposes. More expensive wooden Schmidt boxes and cabinet drawers can help to protect your collection from destructive pests like dermestids and ants which may feed on and damage specimens. As a cheaper alternative, periodically placing a collection box in the freezer can also be used to eliminate insect pests.
Spreading board – to make your pretties prettier
If you want to collect lepidopterans (butterflies and moths) or display the attractive or diagnostic wing patterns of any insect species, you’ll need a spreading board. Bioquip’s styrofoam spreading boards can simply and effectively accomodate wing spreading of a wide variety of insects for cheap, cheap, cheap. The only other supplies necessary are pins, strips of paper and patience.
Big jars, tupperware, ziploc bags, etc – grab those bugs!
Almost anything can serve as a collecting container in the field. Save old food containers, stick ziploc baggies in your pockets, or use a large flat tupperware to stack lepidopterans between sheets of wax paper.
Elmer’s glue, flashcards, scissors – ah, pointing, my old nemesis
Some insects are too small to pin. All the tools necessary for pointing can be found in most home offices. Just add pins!
Entomologists strive to standardize their collections so that preserved insects worldwide can be useful for future scientific studies. Preserved specimens are useful in studies of taxonomy, genetics, distribution and abundance. Knowing where to pin an insect, how to preserve it, and how to provide appropriate locality information is extremely important. Having well-pinned insects will not only improve the quality of your collection, it can make your specimens more tempting to other collectors or scientists who may be interested in trading specimens.
Finally, no insect collection would be complete without knowledge of the insects within. A good insect guide is a must. The Kaufman field guide is my personal favorite, as it includes useful and interesting life history information alongside the clear illustrations. BugGuide.net is among the best internet resources, with tons of pictures available and the option to submit a picture for ID help. For more detailed IDs investing in a book with a good set of taxonomic keys may eventually be worthwhile (I have mostly used Borror and Delong’s Study of Insects).
Beef up your collection kit with a some of these extremely useful items.
Net (Bag, Ring, Handle) – A good net is a bug collector’s best friend, and can be used for sweeping, catching flying or stinging insects, and even beating trees and skimming for aquatic insects in ponds.
Snap Cap Tubes – Cheap, versatile and great for holding a wide variety of bugs. Small enough to fit in a pocket and suitable for use with an aspirator (see below). I take dozens of these collecting and keep one in my purse for emergency insect-catching opportunities.
Adjustable spreading board – Adjustable spreading boards provide the maximum utility for the minimum price as you can fit them to spread everything from giant Polyphemus moths to tiny ant queens. The angled wood slats create lovely spread insects.
Kill jars – A few big kill jars suitable for field collecting allow you to combine your collected insects into a few containers without worrying about escapes, damage, or predation.
Glass vials – Preserve soft bodied insects and arachnids in vials of ethanol. Larger vials are also great for collecting.
Collecting Bag – pretty much the most amazing and useful field accessory ever, this bag says you are going collecting–guerilla style. Don’t forget to get the vials to go with it.
Back to the techniques section.
That’s it for now! Comments and suggestions are appreciated.