Ode to My Bug Nets

me at Los Fresnos

Me at Los Fresnos in Sonora, Mexico, with my aquatic net.

Every entomologist, amateur or professional, should have a bug net.  Collecting insects is an important and informative part of the experience of being an entomologist and you need a net to do most of it.  Plus, if you’re going to be an entomologist, it seems only proper that you have that big symbolic icon of our science.  I mean, who’s heard of an entomologist without a bug net?  It’s just unnatural!

I bought my first bug net in 2005.  It’s one of those fancy compact jobbies that fold up for easy storage and travel.  I got the swanky red plastic handle to go onto the end of the pole for easy gripping.  I got an extension pole so my net is about 4 feet long, long enough to snag a dragonfly from the shore of a pond.  I love my net!  It makes me feel good to own it, happy to use it.  It’s a great day whenever I get to haul my net out of my closet and chase some unlucky insect down.  I’m always a little sad when I fold it back up and hide it back in that corner of the closet.  I swing my net HARD, like a softball bat, so I have to be careful to pay attention to where people are around me when I collect.  But that’s okay.  Unless I’m out collecting with other entomologists, people give me a WIDE berth when I use my net.  It’s obvious from the way they carefully avoid me that most people think no sane adult runs around public parks with a bug net.

Even though I didn’t BUY a net until 2005 I’ve had a net far longer than that.  My first net was a homemade one that I built myself in the 9th grade.  Remember how I mentioned that I did all the girlie 4-H projects in my post about insect cakes?  Well, sewing was one of them.  I made rather non-traditional clothes, but I also put my mad seamstress skills to use in other areas: bug net making!  If there’s anything that makes sewing decidedly ungirlie, I think it’s making nets for catching insects.

My first bug net was a simple contraption I designed that cost less than $2 to make.*  The materials were simple: a wooden dowel, a wire coat hanger, duct tape, a needle and thread, a rubber band, and 1 yard of cheap white nylon netting (tulle – the stuff they use in wedding dresses and other formal women’s attire) from the fabric shop.  Making the net was incredibly easy!  All I did was fold the netting in half the long way and stitched up the side.  I wrapped the rubber band tightly around one end to form a nylon net sack.  I straightened the hook part of the coat hanger and formed the rest into a circle, then duct taped the straightened hook to the dowel tightly so that the circle stuck off the end.  Then it was a simple matter of folding the open edge of the nylon netting sack I’d made over the wire coat hanger and stitching it into place.  Very easy!  My nets took less than 15 minutes to make.

I used these nets for a good 12 years before I finally broke down and bought a professional net.  Why spend $30 on a net when I could spend $2?   I did the entomology project in 4-H for 4 years in high school and used these nets to capture nearly every insect in my collection.  I started teaching other people how to make them.  When my mom moved away and started to look out for insects for me, she made herself a net using my design.  It’s simple, cheap, and it works.  In fact, it was so simple, that I was able to make nets for outreach events on several occasions.  I worked as an intern at my county’s extension office throughout college and we did a lot of day camps and outreach events in the summer.  Because I helped plan, they often had insect themes or activities.  I took huge groups of kids out into Colorado’s high prairie to collect insects using those cheap little nets.  Someone loses one?  Who cares?  One get broken or ripped? Nothing a little duct tape and some thread can’t cure!  I could make enough nets for a whole group of kids for less than $50, which worked perfectly with the small budgets we had for these events, and the kids had a great time collecting.  It made me so happy to put my skills to good use.

Want to know why I eventually bought a professional net rather than continue using my homemade ones?  When I first moved to Arizona for grad school, my car was stolen.  I got it back 5 weeks later, but the thieves had taken everything in my car – my bike, my radio’s faceplate (but not the radio – who DOES that?), and all my bug collecting gear, including my nets.  I didn’t really care that they had taken my bike.  Annoying, but I bought a better one the day my car went missing.  I had to buy a new radio faceplate.  Whatever!  But my bug nets?  That was a major loss!  I was more angry that they’d stolen my bug nets, those stupid little cheap things I made that were completely worthless to anyone but me, than my car.  Those nets and I had some good times and I was sorry to see them go.  I didn’t really have the heart to make more, so I borrowed nets for a while, then finally broke down and bought my own.

That first net purchase led to other net purchases.  I use a soup strainer for most of my aquatic insect collecting, but I bought a good aquatic net eventually.  That’s it up there in the photo.  I bought a few other pro nets that don’t collapse because they’re a little more sturdy.  I’ve made some really fancy nets for aquatic research.  But it doesn’t matter which net I use.  Taking any of them out means I’m going to have a great day, one spent outdoors doing something I love. My nets make me all nostalgic, reminding me of long summers spent working on my insect collection nearly every moment of every day and chasing a western tiger swallowtail for THREE HOURS because I was too stubborn to let it go.  Ah, those were the days!

So here’s to my bug nets!  $2 or $100, my nets have been among my most treasured possessions for years.  I can’t imagine that changing any time soon – and I honestly don’t want it to.  After all, what kind of entomologist would I be without my net?


* If anyone happens to be interested in my net design, I could be persuaded to post a tutorial.  It should be pretty easy to figure out from the description above, but it’s nice to have pictures sometimes.


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14 thoughts on “Ode to My Bug Nets

  1. Not only are bug nets a lot of fun for their intended purpose, anybody who has read The Cat in the Hat knows that they are useful for catching other things, too. Last summer, I used my sweep net a number of times to catch guinea fowl chicks, for example.

  2. I’ve never used a bug net, but have been very tempted to obtain one. So far, I’ve tried to make as little impact as possible while out and about. But as my interest and curiousity grows, I see the need. Thanks for this great post. Perhaps I will try my hand at making one!! ~karen

  3. Loved the story about the net – thank you. This comment has nothing to do with nets but I thought you might be interested anyway. Way back in December or so you blogged about the scarcity of insects in winter. I recalled that blog while I was hiking on the weekend here in S. Ontario when, as evening closed in, I came across a small green caterpillar lying motionless on the frozen snow. How it got there. at edge of that bleak field, I don’t know, but despite the cold temperatures (-3C and a biting wind) it had been sunny for most of the day. We have had a particularly warm and snow-free winter here this year, and on any other day I might not have been too surprised to see it. On the other hand I know from the heat trapped by our west-facing patio door that there’s still a lot of radiation coming from the sun, even in February.

    I also recalled a similar February day in 2009 when I found a caterpillar (gypsy moth? – see photo at link in details) making its way across a frozen pond. Another lay a few inches away half frozen in the ice – perhaps its dark coat had absorbed a little too much heat!

    It also occurred to me that there’s a lot of insect life to be found, even in winter, by looking in the right places. It may be dormant, or very slow, but it’s there. For example, there’s the goldenrod gall fly larva. Now that’s a fascinating story, one that involves gall wasps and chickadees, amongst others.

  4. Thanks for the informative post, Dragonfly Woman. I’ve wanted a bug net for years – you’ve now encouraged me to make one. Does the color of the netting make a difference? I remember reading once that a dark colored net might be better because it’s less visible.

    • A lot of dragonfly people swear by green netting, but I’ve always used white. I don’t think it’s going to make that much of a difference in the long run though. After all, what are the bugs more likely to see: the netting, or the giant at the other end of the net flailing its arms about? :)

    • I am definitely not opposed to taking a fly swatter to the occasional insect, and I massacre every clothes moth I find flitting about my house. I don’t like those bug rackets for a completely different reason though. I’ve been electrocuted more than once (not ever severely enough to send me to the emergency room, but I’ve gotten a nasty, very painful jolt each time) and I have developed a rather hefty fear of electricity as a result. Those bug rackets freak me out! Bare electrical wires – THAT’S my worst nightmare! Literally my worst nightmare actually…

  5. Pingback: On Catching Dragonflies and Softballs | The Dragonfly Woman

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