An extendable handle for insect nets

For many years, my standard insect collecting gear has been a beating sheet and a short-handled aerial net (see small photo at right in “The Author” or the full-sized version under About). From the deciduous forests of the Ozark Highlands to the tropical bushveld of South Africa, these two pieces of equipment have been all that I’ve needed to collect the woodboring beetles that have dominated my interests. The beating sheet is, of course, an absolute necessity for anyone interested in jewel beetles (family Buprestidae), longhorned beetles (family Cerambycidae), and the many other insects that tend to be found on tree branches. Woodboring beetles are most frequently, but not exclusively, found on dead branches of their host trees, but regardless of whether the branches are alive or dead, the concept for collecting beetles off of them is the same – a beating sheet is held underneath the branch, and the branch is given a decisive whack with a stick of some kind. This dislodges any beetles that may be foraging or resting on the branch and causes them to drop onto the sheet, where they can be spotted easily and picked off before (hopefully) they escape. For my “stick” I like to use the handle of an aerial net, as the net itself is quite handy to have in case I stumble upon some of the many flower-feeding species or for more general collecting (my inability to focus exclusively on any one taxon is by now well documented). Using a net handle as a beating stick, unfortunately, forces one to compromise on the length of the handle – the handle must be relatively short (no more than 3′ long) to be effective as a beating stick, but such a short handle severely limits reach when the net is being used.  This problem has become even more apparent during the past few years as I have become increasingly interested in tiger beetles (family Cicindelidae).  There is no way around it – you need a long-handled net to have any hope of collecting tiger beetles, and the longer the better (ideally about 6′).  Thus my quandary – I needed a short-handled net to best collect woodboring beetles, but a long-handled net to best collect tiger beetles.

Enter the extendable handle for insect nets, available from BioQuip Products.  This ingenious net handle consists of two telescoping aluminum tubes with a clutch-lock device.  When fully collapsed the handle measures only 36″ in length – perfect for use as a beating stick and when extra length is not needed.  When a longer net handle is needed, however, a quick turn of the clutch-lock frees the inner section, allowing the handle to be extended to nearly 6′ in length – perfect for those fast-moving tiger beetles. Once extended, another quick twist of the clutch-lock secures the handle in place, and that Cicindela is mine!  To cap it all off, the handle is fully compatible with standard insect net rings and bags, including the red “T” knob for ring attachment. It was almost as if the handle had been designed specifically for my purposes.

I purchased mine at the beginning of the last field season. While the design seemed a perfect solution for my short handle-long handle quandary, I wasn’t convinced it would be able to withstand the rigors of field use. Specifically, I questioned whether the inner section would remain firmly seated within the outer section after a few slams of the net against the ground with the handle fully extended (for example, when using the ‘slap’ method for those tiger beetles I hadn’t yet figured out). I expected that repeated flexing of the handle would eventually cause the joint to fail and the handle to lose its rigidity. I also wondered how quickly and easily the handle would extend – especially after seeing some wear and tear. Any difficulty in this regard would quickly negate the convenience offered by an extendable handle.

I was immediately impressed with this handle upon its very first use, and after one full season of heavy use, it appears my concerns about its durability were unfounded. Weighing only 12 oz, it is extremely lightweight and easy to carry, and I am also pleased at how easily the handle extends and collapses – the clutch-lock disengages completely with a single twist, and the inner section slides into and out of the outer section smoothly and quickly. The true test of its durability, however, came during last year’s annual fall tiger beetle trip – a test that it passed with flying colors. I really put the net handle to hard use, and despite repeatedly slapping the net ring against the ground with the handle fully extended, the joint remained solid and rigid. I was able to swing the net with just as much assertion at the end of the trip as at the beginning.

Even during those times when I wasn’t carrying a beating sheet, I found myself routinely preferring to carry the extendable handled-net rather than the long-handled net. It was easier to carry and use when a short handle was sufficient, yet it could be extended quickly and easily when the extra length was needed. At $22.95, I consider its cost to be rather modest compared to the convenience and versatility it offers. For those of you who need a long-handled net but don’t want to wield a long handle all the time (and for the one or two other people in the world who use their net handle as a beating stick), this is the handle for you.

Copyright © Ted C. MacRae 2009

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17 thoughts on “An extendable handle for insect nets

  1. I have a collapsible handle on one net I use, I find that the darn thing won’t stay tucked away nicely inside the outer handle as it is supposed to. It picks the darndest times to come flying out, exactly when I don’t need it to. And away goes the bug, and the many times the net too! I may have to try this one from bioquip.

  2. What a fascinating post… and not just for the recommendation on the net handle. I find myself intrigued by the idea of hunting for tree-branch beetles. How easy is this? Are they common, or do you have to beat a few dozen trees before finding anything? When should you look for these guys?

    • Hi Seabrooke – spring is definitely the best time in the eastern deciduous forests, right when the leaves become fully expanded and for a few weeks afterwards. Once you get into the heat of the summer activity drops off. Beating is not for the easily discouraged, especially if you’re looking for a specific group of beetles – it’s not often that branches are ‘dripping’ with beetles. However, for the general collector willing to put in the time, it’s a great way to find a variety of small (and occasionally big) insects that are not normally encountered by other means. The nice thing about beating is the association with hosts that is not gained by other means such as lighting, trapping, or even general sweeping. Chrysomelids, weevils, scarabs, clerids, and elaterids are some of the more commonly encountered groups, and buprestids and cerambycids can be found if you focus on recently dead branches. Other orders also can be found, especially hemipterans – stink bugs, assassin bugs, treehoppers. The diversity of things you find will be increased by increasing the diversity of tree species you sample, but in general I’ve found oaks and hickories to be favored by a large variety of insects. It can be frustrating and take some practice to prevent insects from escaping as soon as they land on the sheet before you have a chance to grab them – time and experience are the only solutions.

      • Thanks for the detailed response, Ted! I’m excited to give this a try once the trees leaf out here. It’s good to know in advance that some persistence is required. I’m finding insects to be a fascinating, incredibly varied group that I’d like to investigate more, and I love learning about these methods and places to look for things that I didn’t know before (even though, I suppose, with a bit of thought it should be reasonably easy to figure out). Thanks for the tips, and you can be sure to see the results up on the blog in the future!

  3. An aerial net and a beating sheet. Ok, now I know what they are and have an idea of how they are used – I had wondered. That’s handy. Though I can’t see myself carrying either when out photographing bugs. The camera and bits tend to occupy the hands. That extending pole could also double as a monopod – I currently use a polished stick that doubles as a cutter to the many spider webs I find across the largely disused bush tracks I walk.

    Here in Aus the summer has just ended and though it is called autumn it is more like an English spring with the fluctuating temperatures and intermittent rain, cloud and sun. There isn’t the profusion of insect life but it seems some bugs and flowers have waited for the hot summer to end before putting energy into reproduction. But generally the bugs are definitely dying off and hibernating, and whatever else they do.

    So I might take a white sheet into the bush with me sometime to see if it helps me locate what bugs are left as the winter closes in. Good idea, that beating sheet.

    • Hi Mark. Things could be different in Australia, but in my experience the best time to use a beating sheet is when the trees have new foliage from seasonal rains. Many of the beetles I collect on branches by beating are there feeding on the tender, young foliage to mature their eggs. Once the foliage toughens and the weather dries up there doesn’t seem to be near as much insect activity on the branches.

      Choosing what equipment to carry is always a quandary – there always seems to be one more item than the number of hands we have 🙂

      I’m going to try carrying beating sheet, aerial net, and camera this season – we’ll see how that works.

  4. Hello Ted, I understand spring/wet is the best time and here there is no shortage of subjects then, but it’s not just beetles I’m after. The coming winter there won’t be so many bugs of any kind and a beating (old bed) sheet may be one way of locating some of what is there. I wouldn’t expect much insect activity in our/any winter but a sheet may reveal some surprises.

    I have been coming across a diversity of creatures recently that are all but invisible against their natural background until they move – or are moved – and once located are then difficult to visually seperate from that background, so far. There are hundreds of kinds of ants (and other exotica) here in Aus and once located they can be slowed with a little sugar-water long enough to get a few shots.

    We can get a fair amount of rain in winter – and the seasonal changes have been unpredictable – and it never gets very cold at Brisbane’s latitude and altitude where there are still local rainforest remnants and much coastal wetlands.

    A sheet on the ground also serves another purpose. Lying on it to get a shot at least I know I am not ‘in’ an ant nest. It’s not possible to lie on the ground for long here before a biting ant comes along, and they can be painful, I’m sure you know.

    • Excellent points, all! It sounds like you have a pretty good idea of what to expect and have found a new way to exploit that knowledge. I’ll be anxious to hear/see what you come up with.

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