Lights, Action, Bugs

Crawling through the poison oak here in California to tie off a line has lost its charm for me. I wanted a light sheet that I can set up without using trees to tie to. Well, I like building stuff and like many of my fellow entomologists I like to make various traps and other collecting paraphernalia. Last year I made a prototype of a light-sheet system to suit to my needs and keep me out of the poison oak a little. After testing it last season, I made some improvements this year. I encounter similar sorts of systems while in Arizona with Carl Olson and also in Australia with Geoff Monteith. I discuss the details of mine here. Here is an image of it assembled so you can match the detailed components shown in the images below.

Here is what it looks like set up in my exotic location, i.e. backyard. Set up time is less than 10 minutes, easy. Take down less. The two panels are rip-stop fabric with pockets sewn top and bottom and hemmed all the way around. I haven’t used it in strong wind yet so it may start to bunch in gusty conditions. If so I will add some Velcro stays on the sides.

Here is what it looks like set up in my exotic location, i.e. backyard. Set up time is less than 10 minutes, easy. Take down less. The two panels are rip-stop fabric with pockets sewn top and bottom and hemmed all the way around. I haven’t used it in strong wind yet so it may start to bunch in gusty conditions. If so I will add some Velcro stays on the sides.

As I said, this particular system was built because I wanted to be able to set up anywhere and not have to try and find two trees to tie a line to. Inevitably the best location for a light is not also a good place to tie off and one can waste a bunch of time, especially in the dark, trying to get set up.  Any design must also have a few other features.

I wanted to be able to break it down so it is compact, small enough to fit in a standard duffel bag, which you can then check on a plane flight.  It must be able to withstand some wind and materials need to be durable (I tried once with shock-cord tent poles, and I broke it right away). Material should be replaceable or repairable pretty much anyway I go. And, like most entos, I’m cheap, so I don’t want the components to be too expensive.  The latter criterion sent me to the shed to look for stuff I can re-use.

The basic items needed (you can use whatever suitable substitutes you have in your shed):

  1. PVC pipe. I used a bunch that was recovered from a sprinkler system that had been torn out. Every hardware store, in many countries, has it and it is pretty tough. I did have to buy the joints and some PVC pipe glue. You can cut the length of the pipe to suit you and make the system as small or large as you like.
  2. Left over scraps of copper pipe and flat metal strips
  3. 2 bolts and nuts
  4. Two zip-ties
  5. Nylon cord
  6. 4 old tent stakes
  7. A peg-board hook
  8. 3-4 yards of rip-stop material (this was the most costly bit for me)
  9. A bit of standard cotton sheet for the ground cloth

You need a drill, wrench, hacksaw, PVC glue and sewing machine (my  sewing machine broke so I had to take the sheets to the dry cleaners for sewing and that wasn’t so cheap).

This is the frame laid out, disarticulated. You can see where I glued the joints. All the segments are about the same size.

This is the frame laid out, disarticulated. You can see where I glued the joints. All the segments are about the same size.

This is one of the stakes with a copper pipe that is just the right size for the PVC to slip in it. One bolt runs through copper pipe to act as a stop for the PVC. Zip-ties hold the top.  You can also buy stakes like this at stores that sell those decorative “lawn torches”, but they are overpriced.

This is one of the stakes with a copper pipe that is just the right size for the PVC to slip in it. One bolt runs through copper pipe to act as a stop for the PVC. Zip-ties hold the top. You can also buy stakes like this at stores that sell those decorative “lawn torches”, but they are overpriced.

I drilled a hole and tie in my nylon cord stay-lines through the corner. I wrap the lines around the pole for storage.

I drilled a hole and tie in my nylon cord stay-lines through the corner. I wrap the lines around the pole for storage.

This is a standard peg-board (one you hang tools on) hook. I drilled two holes for it to fit in. I put it at a slight angle from the center so I can hang my light in a way that the pole doesn’t block much of the light (or I use two lights, one on each side of the sheet).

This is a standard peg-board hook (one you hang tools on). I drilled two holes for it to fit in. I put it at a slight angle from the center so I can hang my light in a way that the pole doesn’t block much of the light (or I use two lights, one on each side of the sheet).

I hate searching for rocks to keep the ground sheet down. Here I had an old sheet with pockets sewn in the ends. I have these moderately heavy long pieces of metal (some sort of aluminum allow I scavenged from scrap). I cut everything the same length as the frame poles so it can all roll up together.

I hate searching for rocks to keep the ground sheet down. Here I had an old sheet with pockets sewn in the ends. I have these moderately heavy, long pieces of metal (some sort of aluminum alloy I scavenged from scrap). I cut everything the same length as the frame poles so it can all roll up together.

The whole system is not ultralight for backpacking, but it is only a few pounds and packs down much smaller than a typical Malaise trap. Being able to set up anywhere, trees or no trees, as long as I can drive in the pins, makes it convenient for me. This is customized and suits my own peculiar situation, and I know there are all sorts of myths, legends and even some facts about better, more attractive lights for insects. Maybe you have a special light or trap you have made? I would like to hear about such systems, tweaks and ideas others have tried (those that work or not), so if you have a blog post on traps and/or lights let me know.

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About Kip Will

I'm an insect systematist with expertise in carabid beetles, who is always happiest in the bush.
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One Response to Lights, Action, Bugs

  1. John Cebula says:

    I looked at this and realized I have most of what I need sitting in the garage. Thanks for a great design; sorry about your sewing machine.

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