Entomological Classics – The Beating Tray or Japanese Umbrella

Southwood writing in 1966 in Ecological Methods, somewhat disparagingly refers to the beating of insects as “This is a collector’s method and originally the tree was hit sharply with a stick and the insects collected in an umbrella held upside down under the stick.” Unfortunately, he committed the cardinal sin of not supplying a supporting reference for his statement – tut, tut!  This of course set me off on one of my procrastinatory quests 🙂 Despite the fact that a certain type of beating tray is sold commercially as a Japanese umbrella I was unable to find any mention to the term in the older entomological literature.

Japanese Umbrella available from Insecta.Pro http://store.insecta.pro/catalog/2041 Also described as Clap Net (Japanese Umbrella) by a Czech company EntoSphinx http://www.entosphinx.cz/en/47-sklepavadla

Mentions to umbrellas being used to collect insects, yes, and this rather nice colour image with an umbrella shown as an essential part of an entomologist’s equipment (Schaeffer, 1766), also yes; Japanese umbrella, no.

Entomological equipment in the 18th Century from Elementa Entomologia (1766) by Jacob Christian Schaeffer (1718-1790).

It seems that the modern beating tray is descended from two ancestors, the entomological umbrella, which judging by the earliest illustrations must have arisen sometime prior to 1766, and the clap net or clap-net, which was in use by

The entomological umbrella in use (Howard, 1910).  Note that the illustration is taken from a work by Ernest August Hellmuth von Kiesenwetter (1820-1880) which I have been unable to track down ☹

British entomologists from at least the same time (Wilkinson, 1978) and which fits in with the usage data from Collins English Dictionary.

Record of usage of the term clap-net (From Collins English Dictionary) Clap nets are used nowadays by ornithologists and bear very little resemblance to the entomological clap net but may explain the couple of more recent peaks in the usage data.

It is likely that the clap net was invented by Benjamin Wilkes possibly in the 1740s (Wilkinson, 1966) as he described how to make one.  It is interesting to see that although the clap net was used in a similar way in which we use butterfly nets today, Wilkes points out the need to have a stick with which to beat shrubs and trees to, as he puts it “wherewith to put the flies and moths on the wing

The clap net in butterfly net mode (Wilkinson, 1966)

Here Newman (1835) highlights the use of the clap net as a beating tray

The clap net (circled) and other entomological equipment, from Ingpen (1849). Note the resemblance to a beating tray.

Ingpen (1849) in his description of the use of the clap net specifically mentions its use as a beating tray “When beating into the net, it will be necessary to keep both sticks in the left hand*, at the same time keeping the head of the net as wide open as possible”.  This pretty much how I use my rathe superior(and expensive) beating tray 😊 We then get a mention of the entomological umbrella “In the absence of a clap-net, an open umbrella, will in general be found convenient for beating into; particularly if the inside be lined with white cotton and made to cover the whalebone”. It seems that the umbrella as a beating tray was in common use by the middle of the nineteenth century, for example, “these may be captured by beating the branches over a large net or umbrella” (Douglas & Scott, 1865).  This is not to be confused with the beating-net which was an early name for the sweep net (Packard, 1873), the history and use of which I have written about earlier.

So when do beating trays become recognised as beating trays? Banks (1909) refers to both the umbrella, incidentally also using the Keisenwetter illustration, but comments that “A substitute for the umbrella, and in many cases better than it, is the beating cloth. It consists of a piece of common unbleached cot- ton cloth, 1 yard square, to each corner of which a loop of stout twine is sewed, or a corner turned over. Upon reaching the woods, two straight sticks, each about 5 feet in length, and not too heavy, also not so small as to break or bend too easily, are cut from a convenient bush. The sticks are placed crosswise over the cloth and fastened to the loops at the four ends. This is easily and quickly done by making sliding loops of the simple loops. The cloth is thus kept spread out between the sticks. To the center of the sticks another stick may be fastened, so as to hold the cloth out under the branch.”  George Day in his 1916 Presidential address to the Entomological Society of British Columbia refers to umbrellas and beating trays in the same sentence “Another method is by beating the foliage of trees and shrubs over a beating tray or inverted umbrella” (Day, 1918). Given that the biologist and novelist, Elliot Grant Watson (1885-1970) refers, somewhat caustically, to beating trays in his essay published in The English Review  “Enthusiastic entomologists smashing the young buds from the bushes, holding out beating trays” (Watson, 1923), I am failry confident that the beating tray as we know it, had replaced umbrellas, entomologcial or otherwise, by about 1920. I have still to find out where the term “japanese umbrella” arose.  Let me know in the comments if you are able to help.

My modern beating tray – costs about twice as much as the Japanese Umbrella, modern clap net or collapsible beating tray.

Modern beating tray in use – more like the original entomological umbrella depicted by Howard (1910), albeit I am somewhat stouter than the entomologist in his illustration.

References

Banks, N. (1909) Directions for Collecting and Preserving Insects.  United States National Museum Bulletin 67, Smithsonian Institute, Washington.

Day, G.O. (1918) Larva rearing.  Journal of the Entomological Society of British Columbia, 8, 21-27.

Douglas, J.W. & Scott, J. (1865) The British Hemiptera, Volume 1, Hemiptera-Heteroptera. Ray Society, London.

Howard, L.O. (1910) The Insect Book. A popular account of the bees, wasps, ants, grasshoppers, flies and other North American insects exclusive of the butterflies, moths and beetles, with full life histories, tables and bibliographies. Doubleday, Page & Company, New York, xxvii + 429 pp.

Ingpen, A. (1849)  Manual for the Butterfly Collector or instructions for Collecting, Rearing and Preserving British and Foreign Insects. David Bogue, London.

Newman, E. (1835) The Grammar of Entomology. Frederick Westley & A. H. Davis, London

Packard, A.S. (1873) Directions for Collecting and Preserving Insects. Smithsonian Miscellaneous Collections 261, Washington.

Watson, E.L.G. (1923) The New Forest, The English Review (September), 318-320

Wilkinson, R.S. (1966) English entomological methods in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries II: Wilkes and Duffield. Entomologist’s Record and Journal of Variation, 78, 285-292.

Wilkinson, R.S. (1978) The history of the entomological clap-net in Great Britain. Entomologist’s Record and Journal of Variation, 90, 127-132.

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1 Comment

Filed under Entomological classics

One response to “Entomological Classics – The Beating Tray or Japanese Umbrella

  1. I, and anyone it was obvious I knew and associated with, got banned from a FB nature group because I mentioned I would be using a beating tray with a group of kids on a nature outing. The word ‘beating’ was obviously a trigger.

    Liked by 1 person

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