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Collecting Insects as Reptile and Amphibian Food – Traps and Tips


CICADAS ON SHIRTAlthough it’s below freezing here in NY, my thoughts are straying to a favorite warm-weather activity – collecting insects for my herp collection.  Invariably, I find species that are new to me, and others that I wind up keeping alive in small terrariums.  Drawing on a lifetime of collecting for my pets and the animals under my care at the Bronx Zoo, I’ve written articles on capturing, using, and breeding many invertebrates, including sap beetles, leaf litter dwellers, “meadow plankton”, earwigs, sow bugs, grasshoppers, and many others.  In this article, I’ll summarize my favorite collection techniques and traps.  Links to articles containing further information are also included.  As I and other herp-keepers have barely scratched the surface of this topic, please be sure to post your own thoughts and experiences below.


The Best Method, Bar None

The best collecting tip I can provide is that you team up with a small child.  As you can see from my photos, their enthusiasm cannot be out into words, and it is contagious.  What’s more, a child’s curiosity, size and sharp eyesight will increase your catch – and your enjoyment of the experience – immensely.  My little collecting partner has found invertebrates that I’ve never seen before, even in areas I’ve explored for decades!


t239545The Zoo Med Bug Napper Insect Trap

The Zoo Med Bug Napper is a scaled-down version of the traps I used to collect food for the Bronx Zoo’s reptiles, amphibians, and birds. It is very effective at snaring moths, beetles, midges, and other flying insects.  Along with field sweeping (see below), this trap has the potential to yield the greatest numbers and varieties of insects.  Checking it each morning is a thrilling experience, and finding a species new to you – or even to science – is a real possibility.


VICTORY DANCEMeadow Plankton

This term is used by entomologists to describe the astonishing variety of invertebrates that can be collected by simply sweeping a net through tall grass.  The accompanying photo was taken after collecting in a tiny, overgrown field in the middle of a busy park.  Twenty minutes of “work” yielded 30-40 species, including spiders, leafhoppers, aphids, grasshoppers, mantids, bee flies, caterpillars and many others…and my nephew later spent hours poring over his books trying to identify our prizes.


Leaf Litter Invertebrates

A single acre of fallen leaves can be home to 3 tons (yes, tons!) of springtails, ants, beetles, spiders, millipedes and other invertebrates.  Many are tiny, and readily accepted by Poison Frogs and other small herps that must generally make do with only 2-3 food items.


To sample what’s out there, simply place a handful of leaf litter into a funnel, suspend the funnel over a jar and position a 100 watt bulb about 6 inches above the leaves.  Creatures seeking to escape the heat will move down the funnel and into the jar.  A damp paper towel placed at the bottom of the collecting jar will assure they survive until removed. More information.



Termites feature heavily in the diets of animals ranging from tiny toads to huge monitor lizards.  To make a termite trap, simply take a small plastic storage box and cut several holes of 2-3 inches in diameter into the 4 sides.  Stuff the box with damp cardboard (a termite delicacy, it seems) and you’re all set.  Search for termite nests beneath rotting logs, and place your trap about a foot away, buried so that the top of the box is flush with the surface.  The termites will establish feeding tunnels to the box, and can be removed as needed (leave the box in place so as not to disturb the tunnels).  More information.


Pitfall Traps

A bewildering assortment of creatures will stumble into a jar or can buried flush with the ground, but you can increase your catch by adding bait. A bit of ripe fruit, molasses, honey and some tropical fish flakes will lure beetles, snails, sow bugs and other invertebrates.  Be sure to keep some dead leaves in the trap to provide hiding places, and cover the opening with a board that is slightly elevated by small stones, to keep out rain.  More information.


Bush Beating

This simple yet effective collecting technique was developed by entomologists.  To collect insects in this manner, place a white, un-patterned sheet below a bush or tree, and beat the foliage with a stick.  That’s it!

For me, the biggest drawback to bush beating is the distraction factor – I just can’t resist closely checking the incredible assortment of caterpillars, beetles, ants, tree crickets, katydids, spiders and other tasty morsels that rain down.  Your catch will consist largely of arboreal species, which are especially-relished by tree frogs, flying and day geckos, smooth green snakes and other tree-dwelling herps.  More information.

Random Searching

By keeping a jar and net in my yard and near outdoor lights, I can easily add variety to my pets’ diets by collecting as time permits.  I also turn over rocks, look among flowers and weeds, scatter cover boards about, smear honey on trees and try anything else that comes to mind – some invertebrate will show up.

To explore other possibilities, please see my articles on collecting sap beetles, earwigs, sow bugs, grasshoppers, houseflies, mantis egg cases, cicadas and aquatic isopods.


Be careful when examining your catch, as potentially dangerous (to you and your pets) spiders, scorpions, hornets and other such creatures may be present.  Have a good field guide on hand if you are unfamiliar with local species, and use feeding tongs to handle animals if in doubt.


Do not use fireflies, “hairy” caterpillars, or any brightly-colored insects that you cannot identify.  Unless you are well-acquainted with local spiders, it is best to avoid them as well…harvestmen, or “daddy long-legs”, however, are harmless (and judging by my pets’ reactions, quite tasty!).


Please also see the articles linked below for information concerning possible pesticides and parasites.




Further Reading

Collecting Insects for Reptile Food: Pesticide Concerns

Wild Caught Insects as Herp Food: Dangerous Species



  1. avatar

    Hi Frank,

    I know it’s the dead of winter so maybe not the best time to bring up the subject of wild caught bugs but I was wondering if you are aware that the Zoomed Bug Napper is no longer being made or at least unavailable on Amazon. Do you know of any alternative contraptions that can aid one in catching and having a steady supply of wild insects for their reptiles/amphibians? Thanks!

    • avatar

      Hi Malik,

      I wouldn’t mind seeing insects now…more snow on way here near NYC!

      Thanks…I hadn’t realized; I checked with manufacturer and found it is discontinued. maybe EBay?
      This site has a number of traps…most on 1st page are large, expensive – for field surveys etc. But there are smaller types that can be baited, and leaf litter sifters, on second page. See also the home page – bug attracting bulbs can be placed behind a sheet – moths land on sheet and can be picked off. Let me know how it goes, here’s hoping groundhog day brings good news, frank

  2. avatar

    Hi, on my way to my front door in freezing cold weather I spotted a small snake on the sidewalk nearly frozen to death. I carefully palmed him and brought him in to get warm I would love to house him at least until it gets warm out but he is so small I’m not sure what to feed. He is only about 4-5″ long. Any tips on bedding, and feeding would be greatly appreciated.

About Frank Indiviglio

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Being born with a deep interest in animals might seem unfortunate for a native Bronxite , but my family encouraged my interest and the menagerie that sprung from it. Jobs with pet stores and importers had me caring for a fantastic assortment of reptiles and amphibians. After a detour as a lawyer, I was hired as a Bronx Zoo animal keeper and was soon caring for gharials, goliath frogs, king cobras and everything in-between. Research has taken me in pursuit of anacondas, Orinoco crocodiles and other animals in locales ranging from Venezuela’s llanos to Tortuguero’s beaches. Now, after 20+ years with the Bronx Zoo, I am a consultant for several zoos and museums. I have spent time in Japan, and often exchange ideas with zoologists there. I have written books on salamanders, geckos and other “herps”, discussed reptile-keeping on television and presented papers at conferences. A Master’s Degree in biology has led to teaching opportunities. My work puts me in contact with thousands of hobbyists keeping an array of pets. Without fail, I have learned much from them and hope, dear readers, that you will be generous in sharing your thoughts on this blog and web site. For a complete biography of my experience click here.
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