Wild-caught insects and other invertebrates are valuable, and often essential, additions to the diets of many captive reptiles and amphibians. During the warmer months, I have utilized them for 50-100% of the diets of many animals in my own collection, and for those under my care in zoos.
Beating the Bushes for Insects
One of the simplest and most effective collecting techniques was developed by entomologists (insect scientists) who needed to sample large habitats quickly. Here it is: a white, un-patterned sheet is spread below a bush or tree, and the foliage is then beaten with a stick. That’s it!
An incredible assortment of caterpillars, beetles, ants, tree crickets, katydids, spiders and other tasty morsels will rain down upon the sheet, where they can be easily collected. The majority will be arboreal species – healthful additions to the diets of tree frogs, flying geckos, smooth green snakes and other tree-dwelling creatures, and to all other insectivorous herps.
Identifying Potentially Troublesome Species
Do not collect fireflies, “hairy” caterpillars (please see photo), and brightly colored insects that you cannot identify (due to possible toxicity). Unless you are well-acquainted with local spiders, it is best to avoid them as well…harvestmen, or “daddy long-legs”, however, are harmless.
Use our plastic tongs to handle any specimens that may bite or sting. A Peterson or Audubon Society field guide will help you to learn about the innumerable interesting creatures that you will encounter.
A World of Possibilities
You’ll have quite a selection to choose from, wherever you live. Over 2,000 types of insects live right within New York City, and it is estimated that 30 million species inhabit the planet. A single tree in Panama has yielded 130 species of beetle, 100 of which were new to science!
Last summer I was pleasantly surprised to find the spectacular eyed click beetle (Alaus oculatus) pictured below in my haul (this fellow was released).
Insect Traps and Canned Insects
An amusing story involving the “bush beating” technique is given in fabulous book To the Zoo in a Plastic Box (Newmark, 1965; Random House). A hilarious and informative account of two brothers’ adventures collecting insects and herps for the London Zoo, the book is a true gem…please read it if possible.