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It might have been wet, but we had a great time – British Ecological Society Undergraduate Summer School 2019 #BESUG19

 

The beginning of July was a busy time for me, first a week of my Crop Protection Summer School based at Harper Adams University and the following week saw me driving north to Scotland. This time I was heading for the Isle of Great Cumbrae and the Field Studies Council Centre at Millport.

My trusty, rusty car, safely on board the ferry to Millport, leaving grey Largs behind me. I had to drive as I didn’t think I could cope with the Vortis and other collecting equipment on the train 😊

This was the fifth time that I have had the privilege of being allowed to introduce the wonders of entomology to undergraduates aspiring to careers in ecology.  I first joined the BES undergraduate summer school team in 2015 at the inaugural event at Malham Tarn.  On that occasion I did it on my own but since 2016 the entomology team has been greatly strengthened by the very welcome addition of my former student Fran Sconce, now the Outreach Officer at the Royal Entomological Society.

When I arrived in the afternoon it wasn’t raining, although it was rather grey. Fran arrived shortly afterwards and we did the preliminary setting up, getting the lab ready, digging in pitfall traps and deploying the yellow pan traps.  I also gave Fran a quick tutorial in how to use the Vortis as next year, sadly, the Summer School clashes with the International Congress of Entomology which is where I will be instead.

Fran helping with preliminary setting up and learning (after all these years), how to use the Vortis suction sampler.

Yellow pan traps deployed in the hope that the rain forecasted for the night won’t make them overflow 😊

After we had got everything set up, we went for a drive round the island – it didn’t take very long but there was some spectacular scenery on offer, despite the grey skies.

 

View of Bute in the distance.

This must be fantastic when the sun shines.

We then joined the students for our evening meal; after a week of Harper Adams’s excellent catering, I can’t bring myself to call it dinner 😊  It was, however, a great chance to get to know some of the students ahead of our ‘Entomology Day’.  I also took the opportunity to go and listen to Natalia Pilakouta from the University of Glasgow who gave a very entertaining and informative talk about the effects of climate change on sociality.   A whole new concept to me; who would have thought that rising temperatures would affect how individuals interact.  What really made her talk memorable was that she interspersed human examples amounts the sticklebacks and dung beetles 😊 You can also find her on Twitter @NPilakouta

Chris Jeffs (another former student of mine) introducing Natalie Pilakouta for the first plenary of the course.

The bar finally opened at 9 pm where I hastily made my way to get a glass of red wine; after a lifetime of having wine with my evening meal, I was in sore need of this 😊.  It also gave me a chance to meet some more of the students and to get to know them a bit better.   Thence to bed hoping that the weather forecast for Tuesday was wrong.

Unfortunately the Meteorological Office got it right and the view from my bedroom window at 6 am was not quite what I had hoped to see.

The view from my window – Dawn Entomology Day!

Us entomologists are a hardy lot and despite the weather and the slight handicap it put on the use of sweep nets and other sampling devices we headed out to the field, but not before I had subjected the students to my introductory lecture extolling the virtues of insects and their extremely important roles in ecology.

A no-brainer really – if you are a zoologist/ecologist, insects are where it’s at 😊

Once out in the field, despite the rain we had a lovely time pooting, sweeping, beating and using the Vortis, all good fun and as my old games teacher used to say as he ushered us out into the rain to run a cross-country or play rugby, “Character building”.  More seriously though, it was a good introduction to ecological field work and the concept of environmental variability, the sun doesn’t shine all the time.

Sweeping, beating and sucking and perhaps contemplating a swim?

After forty minutes of running about in the rain we headed back to the lab for an hour of sorting and identification for everyone before we started the ‘expert’ session.  We were very pleased that 20% of the students stayed on for the extra hour of getting to grips with insect taxonomy.

Learning how to identify insects in the lab.

After the evening meal, it was time for the now, very traditional, glow in the dark insects and a lecture on moth trapping from Fran.

Using UV torches and fluorescent dust to track carabid beetles.

Fran lecturing on moth trapping and then with the early risers helping her and Chris Jeffs empty and identify the catch; one of which made a bid for freedom, necessitating a bit of ladder work 🙂

Despite the rain we did catch some moths, this Swallowtail for me at least, was the star of the show.

Moths identified it was time for breakfast and getting the car packed; luckily the nets had all dried out overnight and heading for the ferry and the long trip back to Shropshire. It was a great couple of days and I really enjoyed it and am incredibly sad that I will not be able to take part next year. The whole event is a great initiative by the BES, and I am glad that it and the allied summer school for ‘A’ Level students are now a firmly established part of the ecological calendar.   I have only described entomology part of the week, other things were happening; for an excellent account of the whole week I recommend this blog post by one of the students, and not just because she gave me a good report 😊  You can follow her on Twitter too @ecology_student and track down the other comments about the week by using #BESUG19

Although it rained quite hard at times we never had to use this 😊

In terms of hard-core entomology,  this was actually my second collecting insects in the rain experience of the year – you may remember it rained in Bristol!

I am very grateful to the British Ecological Society for inviting me to participate in the first ever Summer School and to keep on inviting me back.  Special thanks to Fran and Chris and also to Christina Ravinet (whom I also taught) from the BES for keeping things running so smoothly.

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Entomological classics – the Light Trap

I think that even those of us who are not entomologists are familiar with the attraction that insects, particularly moths, have for light. The great Sufi philosopher Bahauddin Valad (1152-1231) wrote the following lines

a candle has been lit

inside me,

for which

the sun

is a moth.

 

In Shakespeare’s The Merchant of Venice (1596), Portia famously declaims “Thus hath the candle singed the moath.”

Moths and flame

It may thus come as a bit of surprise to realise that ‘modern’ entomologists were quite slow to develop bespoke traps that took advantage of this aspect of insect behaviour. That said, according to Beavis (1995) the Roman author Columella (Lucius Junius Moderatus, 4-7 AD), describes a light trap to be used to protect bee hives from wax moth attacks. A pretty much identical trap was still being used in 1565 (Gardiner, 1995) although he erroneously calls it the first light-trap. As far as I can tell the early ‘modern’ Lepidopterists used the white sheet technique, still used today, where a light source such as a paraffin lamp (nowadays an electric light or powerful torch) was suspended above or behind a white sheet, from which the intrepid entomologist collected specimens of interest that come to rest on the sheet. This can be very efficient but does require the entomologist to be ‘on duty’ throughout the trapping

White sheet

The white sheet technique.

period, although on a fine night, with good companionship and an ample supply of beer, or other alcoholic beverage, it can be a very pleasant way to spend a long evening 😉

The earliest published reference to a modern bespoke light trap that I have been able to find is a patent from 1847 for a modified beehive which includes a light trap to lure wax moths away from the main part of the hive (Oliver Reynolds, 184, US Patent5211; http://www.google.com/patents/US5211).

Reynolds beehive 3

The modified Reynolds Beehive incorporating moth trap.

The second published reference to a bespoke light trap is again one designed to control wax moths and is described in a patent application by J M Heard dated 1860. In this case as far as I can make out the lamp is actually glass coated with a phosphorescent material rather than using a candle or oil flame.

Figure 4

“The basin A, is supplied with a requisite quantity of molasses or other suitable substance to serve as a bait, and the inner sides of the glass plates c, of the lamp C, are covered with a mixture of phosphorus and oil or phosphorus combined with any suitable substance to form a cement, or a stick E, may be coated with the cement, said stick being passed through the tube e, into the lamp, as shown plainly in Fig. 1. The insects decoyed by the light and attracted by the bait, strike against the inclined glass plates c, and fall into the basin A. By having the plates c, inclined the insects are made to fall through the opening b, into the basin and said opening is permitted to be comparatively small and the cover a, of the basin in connection with the cover D, of lamp protect perfectly the bait from sun and rain, thereby protecting an unnecessary waste of the same. During the day the phosphorus of course is not needed unless it be cloudy, but the device is chiefly efficacious at night as the visits of the insects are mostly nocturnal.”

So whilst beekeepers and agriculturalists were busy using traps to attract moths to kill them what were the lepidopterists doing? It appears that they were using whole rooms as light traps as described here by H T Stainton in 1848.

Figure 5

 

A later Victorian entomological ‘how to’ book, added instructions of how to use gas and paraffin lamps outside, with the lepidopterist standing ready with his net (Greene, 1880).

The 20th Century was however, when we see the birth of the light traps as we know them today. First on the scene was the Rothamsted Trap, developed by the great C B Williams, which was

 

Rothamsted electric 6

The electric ‘fixed’ Rothamsted Trap.

Rothamsted portable 7

The ‘portable’ Rothamsted Trap – Williams (1948)

developed from earlier versions that he used in the 1920s and 1930s, in Egypt and England (Williams, 1924, 1935).

Rothamsted colour 8

Rothamsted trap in action

 

Apparently the first electrical light trap to use an ultra-violet light was made in 1938 (Barratt, 1989) and used in the 1940s (Fry & Waring, 2001) but it was not until 1950 that the first commercially available version was produced (Robinson & Robinson, 1950).

Robinson 9

The Robinson Trap – very popular and ideal for use in gardens where there is easy access to a mains supply.

 

Strangely, considering that the Americans had been first on the scene with patented light traps it was not until 1957 that the Pennsylvanian and Texas traps appeared on the scene (Frost, 1957) closely followed by the Texas traps (Hollingsworth et al., 1963). These traps used fluorescent tubes instead of bulbs and were particularly good at catching beetles, moths and ants. The Texas trap and the Pennsylvania trap were essentially the same, the main difference being that the Pennsylvania trap has a circular roof to prevent train entering the killing bottle. As Southwood (1966) somewhat tongue in cheek says, this may reflect the differences in the climate of the two states 😉

Pennyslvania 10

The Pennsylvanian Light Trap.

In the 1960s the Heath Trap appeared on the scene (Heath, 1965). This was billed as being extremely portable, being able to be carried in a back pack and also able to be run either from a mains supply or from a 12 volt battery.

Heath 11

The Heath Light trap.

Less expensive and more portable is the Skinner trap, (designed by Bernard Skinner in as far as I can make out in the early 1980s, please let me know if you know exactly) which comes in wooden and aluminium versions and is collapsible, so that if needed, several can be transported at once. It comes in both mains and battery versions.

Skinner elctric 12   Skinner portable 13

The Skinner light trap – relatively inexpensive and very portable.

An interesting combination of light and odour being used to attract and trap insects, in this case to ‘control’ them, is the Strube Stink bug trap. This is an American invention and is used to protect US householders against the the Brown Marmorated Stink Bug, Halyomorpha halys, an invasive species from Asia which appears to have developed a propensity to overwinter in people’s houses. I remember a few years ago that we in the UK were warned that it might cross the channel from France; this resulted in lurid headlines in the ‘Red Top’ newspapers with wording like ‘stench spraying insect’ being used 😉

Straub 14

Strube Stink Bug Trap

 

This appears to be a very effective trap; all the reviews I have read praise it highly, so if the Brown Marmorated Stink Bug does make it to the UK, the Strube trap will be the one to buy!

 

References

Frost, S.W. (1957) The Pennsylvanian light trap. Journal of Economic Entomology, 50, 287-292.

Fry, R. & Waring, P. (2001) A Guide to Moth Traps and their Use. Amateur Entomologist, Orpington, Kent.

Gardiner, B.O.C. (1995) The very first light-trap, 1565? Entomologist’s Record and Journal of Variation, 107, 45-46

Greene, J. (1880) The Insect Hunter’s Companion. W. Swan Sonnenschein & Allen, London.

Heath, J. (1965) A genuinely portable MV light trap. Entomologist’s Record and Journal of Variation, 77, 236-238.

Hollingsworth, J.P., Hartstock, J.G. & Stanley, J.M. (1963) Electrical insect traps for survey purposes. U.S.D.A. Agricultural Research Service 42-3-1, 10 pp.

Robinson, H.S. & Robinson, P.J.M. (1950) Some notes on the observed behaviour of Lepidoptera in the vicinity of light sources together with a description of a light trap designed to take entomological samples. Entomologist’s Gazette, 1, 3-20

Southwood, T.R.E. (1966) Ecological Methods. Chapman & Hall, London

Stainton, H.T. (1848) On the method of attracting Lepidoptera by light. The Zoologist, 6, 2030-2031

Williams, C.B. (1924) An improved light trap for insects. Bulletin of Entomological Research, 15, 57-60.

Williams, C.B. (1935) The times of activity of certain nocturnal insects, chiefly Lepidoptera, as indicate by a light-trap. Transactions of the Royal Entomological Society of London B, 83, 523-555.

Williams, C.B. (1948) The Rothamsted light trap.   Proceedings of the Royal Entomological Society of London A, 23, 80-85.

 

Post script

There are of course more light traps out there, many being variations of those described above, or for specific insect groups such as mosquitoes or aquatic traps for Cladocera (water fleas). Many ‘home made’ traps also exist, such as the ‘portable’ one I made for use on the field course that I used to run at Silwood Park.

Leather 15

The Leather Light Trap

I used a rechargeable battery lantern, but other light sources would also work. In retrospect I should have painted the Perspex black so that only the ‘entrance’ funnels emitted light. There was a tendency for insects to sit on the outside of the trap rather than enter it.

A useful link for those wishing to make their own traps can be found here http://www.theskepticalmoth.com/techniques/light-traps/ and Fry & Waring (2001) also has some very useful hints and tips.

 

 

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Filed under Entomological classics, EntoNotes