Frustration and mild nervousness plague me. It’s chilly and rainy. Most of the Spring has been cooler than usual. I’ve hardly mowed and April nears its end while I usually start mowing in March. Beginning on the 10th with three more in May, I’ve got several programs scheduled, and I had some late off-season programs last year and already two early-season events this Spring. I’m very low on bugs to share, and they’ve not yet emerged in collectible quantities! I’m frustrated and a bit nervous about having enough to support the programs. I figured while I ponder catching bugs, I might as well write about it, too.
If the rain lets up tomorrow, I think I’ll head to the woods and try to get some stinkbugs, crane fly larvae, earthworms and other worms that hide under the leaves. It’s a good method of collection before the bugs really come out for the season. A rake, collection bottle and a big cold drink are all that’s needed for a peaceful, but potentially strenuous, afternoon of collecting.
It doesn’t take long to learn to spot little edible invertebrates. It’s almost like mushroom hunting where you look and look and finally spot one and everything slips into focus and they’re suddenly everywhere. Gently rake a long stroke, down to dirt. Don’t rake too hard, or you’ll pile up the bugs behind you in the leaves. Scan the ground. I’ve got photos of an earlier raking session posted at the Facebook group, “Missouri Entomophagy”. Soon you’ll be finding lots of bugs which were taking shelter under those leaves. Pick them up and put them in your collection jar. I usually use a coffee creamer bottle for a collection jar, as it has a convenient little flip top to open, allowing minimal escape opportunity for prisoners. This assumes you know what kinds you’re looking for, and have an idea what other kinds are edible and inedible.
Before your in-depth Spring cleaning, dig under those little patches of leaves that collect around stuff on porches, garage doors and along fences. They quite often harbor edible critters. A little patch about the area of a dinner plate can harbor way more than a little handful of earthworms, crane fly larvae, cutworms, wood lice, roaches, click beetle larvae and more. If you’re not sure about something’s edibility, collect it anyway and look it up. You can always drop by a website like Missouri Entomophagy on Facebook, and ask. But always make sure it’s edible before you cook them with other edibles.
This time of year, on warm building sides, bugs sometimes gather. Box elder bugs, shield bugs and others are easy to collect with a funnel-trap bottle made from a plastic soda bottle. Cut off the top, where it widens out to bottle-size and invert it into the bottle. I like to put a couple pieces of tape on the edges so the top doesn’t slip inside and release all my captives while I’m in mid-hunt. Funnel trap variations are fun to use. I built a trap using a battery-powered trouble-light to draw the insects to drop into a funnel around two feet in diameter. At the bottom of that funnel, I’ve got a funnel-trap made from a 2-liter soda bottle. This one’s pictured at Missouri Entomophagy, too.
I built traps for Japanese beetles. They’re still unused. They’re based on commercial traps. They have yellow plastic vanes on top to steer the beetles into funnel traps below. I’m hesitant to try them because they can bring Japanese beetles into an area that didn’t originally have trouble. I also have all the parts I need to build a vacuum trap. I’ve got a Craftsman C3 battery-powered vacuum (about dust-buster-size), and the hoses, etc. I plan to use that on woodlice and other critters that like to hide in loose ground litter and under logs and rocks and such.
One collection method I plan to try as soon as I find a big ant mound is the folded tarp. Lay a small tarp near an ant mound, and create a fold in the edge of it. Shovel parts of the mound onto the tarp near the fold. The ants will scurry to hide their pupae/eggs under the nearest cover –conveniently, the fold in the tarp. They’ll collect and almost completely clean your prey for you. I think the hardest part will be to pick the tarp up to pour it into your funnel trap. I hope this works. It makes sense.
Another tool is the ever-popular net. Nets from science supply stores are pretty durable, but they’re also pricy. Most easily-found nets are butterfly nets in department store toy sections. I much prefer to make my own nets over the store-bought ones for price, design and durability reasons. No, I guess it’s not really a preference. I won’t use one of those department store nets. Two swipes and they’ve got a tear in them. Nets are fairly easy to make. Obtain a stout handle, then stiff, yet flexible material for the hoop. To attach the hoop to the handle, look at some commercial nets for ideas and go from there. Since the net is for function and not beauty contests (at least mine aren’t), don’t even be afraid to try stuff like hose clamps and duct tape. Have fun with it. For the netting material, avoid the sewing department. Go right to curtains and get some sheers. That material is a whole lot tougher than the stuff often sold as insect netting and it’s lightweight enough that it won’t damage your bugs if you’re after them for display purposes. Although it makes for a small net, an old metal badminton or tennis racket can form the frame for a tough net that’ll handle lots of brush-whacking.
Another good thing about making a net from curtain material rather than toy-quality insect netting is you can use it in water, too. If your net is strong enough, or if you make a net or two specifically designed for water-use, you can easily collect fairly large quantities of edible aquatic bugs. As a kid, I used to make double-handled scoops with a wood frame and metal screen for catching weed and mud-born water-critters. As with any collecting, be respectful of the ecosystems. Don’t wipe out your population of dragonflies or damselflies, then fuss later about the mosquito problem.
Night is an excellent time to gather bugs. As mentioned above, a light-baited funnel trap is easy, but collecting off window screen and foliage is very effective as well. Cicadas climb up trees, bushes, toys, buildings, fences and weeds to emerge from their nymph stage. If your timing’s right, you can get lots of them. June beetles like to eat young foliage at night, too. I surprised myself at how many I could catch that weren't on the window screens. On cooler or damp drizzly nights or later in Summer and into the Fall, when the nights start getting consistently cooler, grasshoppers pick almost like berries. I like a tiny LED flashlight. They’re bright, and you can hold them in your mouth or mount them on a hat, leafing your hands free for collection.
While looking at Google images of bugs the other day, I spotted another method for collection I’d not yet tried. There was a neat picture of a bunch of green June beetles (fairly large, and great for sharing!) munching on a thin slice of watermelon. I’ve never been all that excited about watermelon, but my wife and her parents love it (the in-laws live next door). I’ll take a couple thin slices for bait and give them the rest. The rinds should work, too. I think I’m going to try that when it warms up some.
Well, I started this article yesterday, and it’s still cool and drizzly today. My frustration is still here, but I guess I oughtta get to some honey-do items instead of pouting that I can’t get bugs today. So when the time is right, enjoy your bug-catching!