Naturalistsí Kit


Have you got a bug for a pet?  If not, hereís how to get stuck inÖ.


This article is for beginner entomologists, so that people know what you need to collect bugs successfully.  I wrote it in case people who are interested in bugs, and perhaps donít have their own, can still learn about them.  If there is a star (*) next to one of the objects listed, you can make this yourself.  You need a strong bag to put all of this in: one with pockets is ideal.  It is also better if you have zip pockets as things can easily fall out if not.


The complete kit




A pooter is a pot with two tubes coming out.  One has a filter attached to the end.  You suck though this tube when the other tube is over a bug.  The bug is vacuumed up into the pot but cannot go any further because of the filter over the non-sucking end of the other tube.  It can be used for collecting small spiders, greenfly, ants and many other small bugs.





                        Sweep net*

A sweep net has a stiff rim and fairly tough material so that if it is dragged through a bramble is wonít tear to shreds.

                        Butterfly net*

A lighter material net that inside is very smooth so that butterflies cannot be hurt in the creases.  If you hold the net so that the rim is facing towards you there should always be a loop of spare netting dangling underneath it.  This is so that when you have captured an insect you can quickly twist the net round and catch it in this section and hold it so that the weight of the net is pulling it across the opening of the net. 

Butterfly net


We went to a woodland with a pond nearby and lots of small red dragonflies kept landing on the path.  I used my butterfly net from behind them to catch them and I caught three or four.  Dragonflies are hard to catch so if you ever try donít be too surprised if you miss the first few.  But if you do catch them it really is great fun.

                        Pond nets*

Pond nets are again fairly tough material which dries fairly quickly so that the whole place doesnít get soaking wet after it has been used.  The netting needs to be fine though, if you are going to try to catch small pond life such as freshwater shrimp.  We went to a ford with lots of tree roots sticking out from the sides and there must have been thousands of loach swimming in between them.  We caught a fair few of them with the pond nets because we found out that they like swimming under the roots instead of more in between them. In the end we caught something like 30-40 of them.

A ford in Worcestershire


                        Snare net*

A snare net is like a pond net but used in streams or some kind of flowing water and is attached to a string and tied around something like a tree.  Set it up so that the water flows through the net so that if anything gets swept downstream, it will go into it.  You need a stone to weight the bottom down so that the rim is facing towards the current, otherwise the rim will slip back, everything will flow underneath and you will end up with nothing.  It is not a hand-held net and after a fairly long wait you can come back and see if there is anything in there.  Once I set up my snare net in a river and went upstream quite a long way, then waded back downstream to scare as much into the net as possible.  I ended up with quite a lot of freshwater shrimp and nothing much else.  Looking at the bugs and catching them was fun as well as being able to wade down the stream, making as much splashing as I wanted to!

Bug boxes

Bug boxes are described below, under Ďobservingí, but you can also use them for catching, so that you just drop it over an insect.



Magnifying glasses

I have magnifying glasses for larger insects.  The magnifying glasses are much cheaper than a hand lens so at first you can just use a magnifying glass.  But now that I have got a hand lens, I use that instead of my magnifying glasses.

Bug boxes with magnifiers

These are very useful for a beginner as you can have the insect safely inside a pot and not have to bother with holding a hand lens and they cover the whole of the pot.

Bug box with Magnifier


Hand lens

At home, I looked at some of my cockroaches using this hand lens.  You could see the individual tiny hairs on the antennae, especially on the males.  Outside, I found demoiselles hovering over a pond.  We caught a few and had a careful look at them as well.  It had lots of delicate veins in the wings and the eyes were made up of thousands of lenses.  Mine is a Triplet 10x lens.  You can get different magnifications but this is one of the best for insects.

Syringe observer*

At the Preseliís we found lots of froghoppers and because they hop, we couldnít get close enough to look at them with the hand lens.  So, we used our syringe observer to hold them still while we looked at them.  You can make them by sawing the top off a syringe and then covering the end with cling-film, holding it in place with a rubber band.  The syringe is one without a needle, one of the measuring sort.  You can get them from chemists. You put the insect into the syringe with the plunger out and then put it in until the insect is up against the cling film.  The cling film should stretch so that the insect is held still but not damaged.  I was taught how to make these by Peter Brown through the Darwin Festival in Pembrokeshire.



The more general naturalist would use these for observing birds.  I donít use them very often.


We have one powerful torch for going out at night and another underwater torch for peering in between under-water rocks.  A UV (ultra violet) torch is very useful for going out night-hunting especially if you are looking for something that doesnít like light: it may not be able to see ultra-violet light.

Tuning fork

These are very useful for attracting spiders to come out on their webs.  If you make the fork vibrate and then touch it gently to the web, the spider should come running out because it thinks the vibration is a fly beating one of its wings against the web. 



It is nice to know what you have caught, but some identification guides arenít very good.  They can be just hard to find things in or simply donít have enough.  The ones that we like to use are good because they are quick and easy to identify things with and I donít think that we have ever not been able to find something in them:


Specialist guides

FSC laminated fold out guides are great because they are small and cover specific area that might interest you.  See http://www.field-studies-council.org/publications/index.aspx


            General guide

We use Chinery, M (1976) A Field Guide to the insects of Britain and Northern Europe Collins, London



Rough notebook

We record most of what we catch in our rough notebook and in there thereís all kinds of rough notes that donít have to look very smart.

Smart notebook

This is where I keep lots of the information about what I have been catching and how much and where I caught it.  I do this once we have got back at home so that I can make it as neat as possible, leaning on a table.  It is very helpful to have a layout where you have one page without any lines and then the next is lined, so that if you want to you can put a picture by lots of writing.

Pens and pencils

            Fairly obvious!



Boxes of all sorts

Bags and ties

We were near a beach, mainly short grass with a few hedges but we found a patch that had lots of thistles in and very long grass.  I held a bag open and found a cricket, mainly by using the sound that it makes to work out roughly where it was and then looking very carefully to see its exact position.  Once I had found it, I positioned myself behind it and then crept up to it and quickly plopped the bag over it and grabbed it shut and tied it.  It was like a bubble of air, so that the cricket would not be in any danger of suffocation and there were less creases for it to get stuck in.  We caught loads, about ten in a few minutes. You can also catch many other insects, but not butterflies and moths as they flap about too much and loose too many of their delicate wing scales.  There are lots of other minibeasts that can be collected such as woodlice and sometimes a few ants.

Mini tank

We found a small steam in the Preseli Hills and with our long handled nets we fished in the stream and found lots of fish as well as living caddis flies as well as just their cases, as well as lots of damsel and dragonfly larvae.  Although it became a bit cramped after a while the tank was very useful for keeping them in as it was larger than all the other pots and they might feel as if they had a bit more space as well as depth because all of our other pots were very shallow and small.


It is very important that tanks are water-tight and it is useful if it has a lid that can be either sealed or not, but that isnít necessary.  Itís only necessary if you want to take something from place to place in a car journey or something like that.  Once I had the tank on my lap because we wanted to take some newt tadpoles home to keep there.  I got very wet when this happened!



Odds and Ends


Is good for tying odds and ends together.

Plastic bags

Keeping insects in for a short period of time.

Disposable gloves

For messy things like stroking slugs: if you stroke a slug head to tail several times, it sways from side to side in a strange kind of dance.  

Dextrose tablets

Very useful for long walks to give energy.


Useful to find the way back home.  Wood ants always build their nests on the South side of trees so if you have no compass and get lost, and thereís a nest nearby youíll know which direction is which.  If you have got a compass, you can check that the ants got it right!


Fairly obvious.


Good for telling each other ĎIím lostí.



I hope you will be wanting to go out and look at bugs in fields more often now.  You donít need all of this.  As technology moves on and you get more and more advanced pieces of equipment, you may want to change the contents of your naturalistsí bag and you can put any spare items on ebay or something else like that.