Tag Archives: entomological equipment

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.


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.



Filed under Entomological classics

Entomological Classics – The Pooter or Insect Aspirator

I’m sure that we can all remember our first encounter with that wonderful entomological device, The Pooter and were probably all told to remember to  “suck don’t blow” and also to remember to suck from the right tube.  Despite this sage advice I am also sure that most, if not all of us, have somehow managed to end up with a mouthful of small insects 😉

pooter classic


The Pooter as I came across it first as a student – inherently simple but incredibly breakable http://svalbardinsects.net/index.php?id=33

So exactly what is a Pooter and when was it invented?  I of course knew the answer to the first bit but had forgotten the answer to second (if I ever knew it).  I decided to see what Google would reveal.  A quick Google search led me to this simple definition from http://brainsofsteel.co.uk/post.php?id=Looking-for-Life-in-Your-own-Back-Yard

  “The pooter (sic – pedantically as it is named after a person so should be capitalised) is said to get it’s wonderful name from William Poos an American entomologist active in the 1930s, it consists of a small transparent airtight vial with two tubes protruding.  One tube is put in your mouth and the other acts as a vacuum that will suck up bugs safely without damaging them.  There is an inherent risk of sucking a bug into your mouth but that is half the fun.”

and this one here from http://www.oxforddictionaries.com/definition/english/pooter

Pooter definition

and from A Dictionary of Entomology,  Gordon Gordh & David Headrick  CABI 2011 Second Edition.

Pooter noun

So it definitely seemed to appear that the Pooter was a relatively recent invention.  Was this true or was it the entomological equivalent of an urban myth? I started with finding out a bit more about the putative inventor of the Pooter, F.W.  Poos and found this also in the same source

Poos obit short


and after tracking down the obituary by T E Wallenmaier was rewarded with a photograph of the great man.

Poss Picture

Next I got hold of Poos’s 1929 paper in which he described the insect aspirator and sure enough there was a diagram of a Pooter pretty much as we know it today but with a cigarette holder as the mouthpiece.

Poo's Pooter

In his paper Poos notes that his design is a modified version of the aspirators used by Kunkel (1926) and Severin & Swezy (1928). So how modified was his design and should the Pooter really be called the Pooter?  In the Severin and Swezy paper we are lucky enough to have a photograph of the insect aspirator in action and it is very obviously a straight line system as opposed to the two tubes going in at the top and the text explains that  once caught the catch is tapped into another tube or vial.

Severin Swezy picture

So what about the earlier Kunkel paper?  In this case the photograph clearly shows a sucking tube and another tube in which the

Kunkel Pooter

catch is placed by blowing it out of the collecting tube; the Poos version is clearly a more efficient device as you suck and catch and can store your catches until a convenient moment arises for transfer to either your killing jar or observation  chamber.  As an undergraduate I briefly trialed a Pooter containing cherry laurel  (Prunus laurocerasus) to make a combined catching and killing device; needless to say I very quickly decided that it was not a good idea.

So the Pooter is distinct from the other devices in that the catch does not have to be transferred immediately to another container and that it has the sucking and catching ends coming out of the same aperture.  Interestingly enough I did find an earlier description of an insect aspirator that had the same properties as the Pooter but was a straight line system (Buxton, 1928).  So is the criterion


Buxton Pooter


for a Pooter the two tubes emanating from the same source?  Apparently not as I have found these all described as pooters (sic).



Despite all my searching and a resort to Twitter, the earliest reference to an insect aspirator that I could find (many thanks to Richard Jones also known as @Bugmanjones) was 1868 and is basically the same device as that described by Severin and Swezy in 1929.

Precursor Pooter

So if we accept that the Pooter is the classic two tube sucker-storage version then yes, Poos invented the Pooter.  If we contend that the Pooter is any old insect aspirator then it seems that Ormerod got there first and we should perhaps only be calling it a pooter  because of the noise we make when aspirating an insect 😉


Gibb, T.J. & Oseto, C.Y. (2006) Arthropod Collection and Identification: Laboratory and Field Techniques.  Academic Press , New York

Kunkel, L.O. (1926) Studies on Aster Yellows.  American Journal of Botany, 13, 646-705

Poos, F.W. (1929) Leaf hopper injury to legumes.  Journal of Economic Entomology, 22, 146-153

Severin, H.P. & Swezy, O. 91928) Filtration experiments on curly top of sugar beets.  Phytopathology, 18, 681-691

Wallenmaier, T.E. (1989) Poos, Frederick, William-1891-1987-Obiturary. Proceedings of the Entomological Society of Washington , 91, 298-301


Post script

I knew I would regret throwing out my old copies of Antenna when I moved to Harper Adams.  During my research I came across a reference to some correspondence in Antenna in 1982.

Obit excerpt


Luckily, Val McAtear, the Librarian at the Royal Entomological Society, very kindly scanned in the relevant pages for me.  To my chagrin, I found that I would have saved myself a lot of time if I had remembered this article (Fergusson, N.D.M. (1982)  Pooter Post. Antenna,  282-284).  On the plus side, I had, however, found several references to insect aspirators that he had not.  His additional references are shown below in case anyone wants to track them down.

Baden, E.B. (1951)  Collecting beetles associated with stored food products.  Amateur Entomologist Leaflet 6, 1-9

Cogan, B.H. & Smith, K.G.V. (1974) Instructions for Collectors.  British Museum (Natural History).

Colyer, C.N. & HJammond, C.O. (1951) Flies of the British Isles, Frederick Warne & Co. Ltd.

Hurd, P.D. (1954) ‘Myiases’ resulting from the use of the Aspirator method in the collection of insects.  Science, 119, 814-815

Lewis, D.J.  (1933)  Observations on Aedes aegypti L. (Dipt., Culic.) under controlled atmospheric conditions.  Bulletin of Entomological Research, 24, 363-372

Myers, E.H. (1933) A mouth pipette and containers for smaller organisms.  Science, 77, 609-610

Oldroyd, H. (1958) Collecting, Preserving and Studying Insects.  Hutchinson, London.

O’Rourke, F.J. (1939) Ant collecting.  Amateur Entomologist, 4, 33-34

Perkins, J.F. (1943) The collecting trip, in the Hymenopterist’s Handbook.  Amateur Entomologist, 7, 140-147

Philip, C.B. (1931) Two new species of Uranotaenia (Culicidae) from Nigeria, with notes ion the genus in the  Ethiopian region.  Bulletin of Entomological Research, 22, 183-193

Psota, F.J. (1916) A suction-pump collector.  Entomological News, 27, 22-23

Wishart, G. (1930) Some devices for handling insects.  Journal of Economic Entomology, 23, 234-237


Post  post script

Two curiosities that I came across in my foray into the depths of insect aspirator history was a patent filed in 1938 by a Clyde Barnhart for an aspirator designed to reduce wear and tear on the operator

Pooter patent

And a mechanical aspirator powered by a car engine (Moore, H,.W. (1943)  A mechanical aspirator of sorting and collecting insects in the field.  Canadian Entomologist, 75, 162).

And finally

It appears that in the USA poot is analogous to fart!

Pooter tooter

And now sadly, available in the UK for a mere £12.99 – http://www.thepooter.co.uk/

Pooter tooter UK

But the good news is that you can get a real Pooter (albeit plastic) for much less , £1.79 to be precise 😉

Pooter Invicta





Filed under Entomological classics, EntoNotes