Tag Archives: insect collecting

Entomological classics – The Malaise Trap

More years ago than I care to remember, my friends and I were playing the now, very non-PC game of Cowboys and Indians, when we saw through the trees, what we thought was a tent. On sneaking up to it we found that, if it was a tent, it wasn’t very watertight!  There were no sides, instead there was a central panel and the whole thing was made of netting.  What we had actually found, was of course a Malaise trap, although of course we did not know this at the time.  It was only later as an undergraduate that I realised what we had found all those years before.

So exactly what is a Malaise trap and how did it come into being? The Malaise Trap is a relatively new invention.  It was invented by the Swedish entomologist, Dr René Malaise in the 1930s (hence the name) and revealed to a more general entomological audience in 1937 (Malaise, 1937).  It was actually designed as a replacement for the traditional hand-held collecting net, which as Malaise states in the introduction to his paper ‘”Since the time of Linneaus, the technique of catching insects has not improved very much, and we are to-day using the same kind of net as then for our main instrument”.

I was amused, when reading on further, to find that my childhood gaffe of confusing a Malaise Trap with a net was fully justified. Malaise, later in the same paper writes, ”During my extensive travels I have repeatedly found that insects happened to enter my tent, and that they always accumulated at the ceiling-corners in vain efforts to escape at that place without paying any attention to the open tent door”. He then goes on to describe how he conjectured that “a trap made as invisible as possible and put up at a place where insect are wont to patrol back and forth, might catch them much better than any tent, and perhaps better than a man with a net, as a trap could catch them all the time, by night as by day, and never be forced to quit catching when it was best because dinner-time was at hand”.

He thus set about constructing a trap based on the idea of an open tent with a collecting device attached to the central end pole to take advantage of the fact that most insects when encountering an obstacle tend to fly upwards. On reaching the apex of the tent, the only way out is into the collecting device which is filled with a killing agent.  It is in effect, a flight intercept trap, but unlike window traps (subject of a later post), the insects instead of falling into a collecting device, head upwards and collect themselves. Malaise tested his first version of the trap on an expedition to Burma and found them to be a great success “every day’s catch from the traps grew larger and larger, and sorting it required more and more time”. He found the traps particularly good for Diptera and Hymenoptera but also very good for Coleoptera and Noctuid and Sphingid moths.  He also mentions catching Hemiptera.

In outward form, the Malaise Trap has remained fairly unchanged since its invention. The first versions were apparently fairly heavy, having a brass insect collecting cylinder and also only had one opening.  Malaise recognised the disadvantages of the single entrance version and suggested in the 1937 paper that a bilateral model would be more effective.  These followed in due course. Modified versions using plastic cylinders and different netting material were  invented in the 1960s (Gressit & Gressit, 1962; Townes, 1962; Butler, 1965).  Townes’s paper gives a very detailed description of the construction and use of modified Malaise traps (90 pages) in contrast to Butler’s three page description of a cheap and cheerful version made from a modified bed-net.

Nowadays, entomologists world-wide, particularly Dipterists and Hymenopterists, use Malaise traps of various designs and colours, and cost.  In the UK they are available from commercial outlets at prices ranging from £60 to £165. They are extremely effective and we use them to collect insects for our practical classes in the Entomology MSc based at Harper Adams University.

    Malaise traps

Malaise trap in operation, Harper Adams University, Shropshire, UK.



Butler, G.D. 91965) A modified Malaise insect trap. The Pan-Pacific Entomologist, 41, 51-53

Gressitt, J.L. & Gressitt, M.K. (1962) An improved Malaise Trap. Pacific Insects, 4, 87-90

Malaise, R. (1937) A new insect-trap.  Entomologisk Tidskrift, Stockholm, 58, 148-160

Townes, H. (1962) Design for a Malaise trap. Proceedings of the Entomological Society of  Washington, 64, 162-253


Post script

Malaise was not just an entomologist; he was an explorer and a passionate believer in the existence of Atlantis. A detailed biography of this extraordinary character can be found here, including a photograph of the original Malaise trap.


Post post script

I was amused to find in the 1949 edition of Instructions for Collectors No. 4a, Insects (Smart, 1949), this somewhat dismissive comment about the Malaise Trap “It is a very novel idea and captures large numbers of insects, but as at present designed is rather cumbersome, and since its design will probably be modified with experience it is not described here



Filed under Entomological classics, EntoNotes, Uncategorized

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