Tag Archives: beating tray

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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Being inspired by the BES

This week (20th July) I have had the privilege of being able to interact with 50 undergraduates (mainly just finished their first year) under the auspices of the British Ecological Society’s new undergraduate summer school held at the Field Studies Council’s Malham Tarn Centre. The scheme enables aspiring ecologists to have “an opportunity to enhance their existing knowledge with plenary lectures from senior ecologists, fieldwork, workshops, careers mentoring and more at a week-long residential course” This was especially pleasurable for me because as a school boy and student I spent several enjoyable camping holidays at Malham and it gave me an opportunity to take part in a field course again, something I have missed since leaving Silwood Park where I ran the now defunct annual two-week long Biodiversity & Conservation field course. The programme included two ecological luminaries and old friends of mine, Sue Hartley from the University of York and plant scientist and author, Ken Thompson formerly of Sheffield University and also Clare Trinder from the University of Aberdeen.  Also in the programme was conservation biologist, Stephanie Januchowski-Hartley,  and additional input from the Chartered Institute of Ecology & Environmental Management (CIEEM), microbial ecologist, Dr Rob Griffiths from CEH and ecologist Dr Peter Welsh of the National Trust.

I arrived mid-morning of the Tuesday, having driven up from Shropshire to Yorkshire the night before, having taken the opportunity to stay in the old family home in Kirk Hammerton before it is put up for sale. Whilst there I also set a few pitfall traps to collect some insects that we might not catch otherwise. As it happened they were a dismal failure, returning mainly spiders, harvestmen and woodlice, plus one nice carabid beetle, more of which later. The weather didn’t look all that promising for an insect sampling session but I kept my fingers crossed and hoped that it wouldn’t rain as much as it did almost 40 years ago when my best friend from school and I aborted our camping holiday at nearby Malham Cove after three days of solid rain 😉

Malham Tarn

Malham Tarn – not quite raining

  I was greatly amused on arriving to be greeted by a very large arachnid lurking on an outhouse.

Malham spider

We breed them big in Yorkshire!

Malham Tarn FSC

Malham Tarn Field Studies Centre

After checking my equipment and locating suitable sampling sites I joined the students, Karen Devine, the BES External Affairs manager and some of the PhD mentors for lunch. After lunch it was my slot, a chance to infect (sorry, inspire), fifty ecologically included undergraduates with a love of insects. After being introduced by Karen I launched into my talk to a very full room of students.

Karen Devine

Karen instilling order and attention 😉

Ready to be inspired

Ready and waiting to be inspired

The undergraduates came from thirty different UK universities with a strong female bias, 34:16. Exeter University had four representatives, with Reading, Liverpool John Moores, UCL and Bristol with three each. I was sorry to see that there were no students from my Alma mater Leeds, or from my former institution, Imperial College, once regarded as the Ecological Centre of the UK, although UEA where I did my PhD, had two representatives.  There was also one representative from my current place of work, Harper Adams University. Incidentally one of the students turned out to have gone to the same school that I did in Hong Kong, King George V School, albeit almost fifty years apart; a small world indeed.

I set the scene by highlighting how many insect species there are, especially when compared with vertebrates.

The importance of insects

The importance of insects and plants

Number of animal species

Or to put it another way

After a quick dash through the characteristics of insects and the problems with identifying them, exacerbated by the shortage of entomologists compared with the number of people working on charismatic mega-fauna and primates, I posed the question whether it is a sound policy to base conservation decisions on information gained from such a small proportion of the world’s macro-biota.

Then we were of into the field, although not sunny, at least it was not raining so I was able to demonstrate a variety of sampling techniques; sweep netting with the obligatory head in the bag plus Pooter technique, butterfly netting, tree beating and, as a special treat, motorized suction sampling, in this instance a Vortis.

Sampling

With aid of the PhD mentors and Hazel Leeper from the Linnaen Society, the students were soon cacthing interesting things (not all insects) and using the Pooters like experts.

Students sampling

Getting close up with the insects

I also let some of the students experience the joy of the Vortis, suitably ear-protected of course. All good things come to an end and it was then time to hit the microscopes, wash bottles, mounted pins and insect keys.

In teh lab

Getting stuck in – picture courtesy Amy Leedale

Down the microscope

What’s this?

I was very impressed with how well the students did at getting specimens down to orders and families and have every confidence that there are a number of future entomologists among them. After the evening meal, Kate Harrison and Simon Hoggart from the BES Publications Team introduced the students to the tactics of paper writing and publishing which I think they found something of an eye-opener. The students, after a rapid descent on the bar, enjoyed a Pub Quiz whilst I relaxed with a glass of wine until it was dark enough for me to demonstrate the wonders of using fluorescent dust to track our solitary carabid beetle using my UV torch before heading off to bed.

Fluorescent carabid Eloise Wells

Glow in the dark carabid beetle – the bright lights of Malham Tarn – photo courtesy of Eloise Wells

I was sorry to have to leave the next morning, it would have been great fun to have stayed the full week, but next year I do hope to be able to be there for at least two days and nights so that we can do pitfall trapping and light trapping and of course, have more fun with fluorescent insects.

I hope the students found the whole week inspirational and useful, I was certainly inspired by their obvious enjoyment and interest and will be surprised I if do not come across some of them professionally in the future.

Well done BES and congratulations to Karen and her team for providing such a great opportunity for the students. I am really looking forward to next year and being able to see great Yorkshire features like this in the sunshine 😉

Yorkshire grit

 

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