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A Simple Insect Collecting Device for Identifying Garden and Tree Pests

Timothy Boyer Ph.D.'s picture
Rolled cardboard tubes make excellent insect collecting devices

Here’s an easy way to monitor your potential insect problems with a simple insect collecting device used by scientists.


Common Ground Between Gardeners and Scientists

One of the biggest problems with having a garden or growing new trees in your backyard is having to deal with pests that damage the leaves and/or bark. While a cursory examination might reveal the culprit, there might actually be more than one insect on your plant or you just might not be at the right place at the right time and miss seeing what is there. In addition, the bug observed could be garden-friendly, but you need time to look it up for accurate identification.

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As it turns out, scientists who study insects and other small arthropods like spiders, know that collecting samples in the wild is a time-consuming, laborious and expensive process. Furthermore, data collection in the field requires multiple visits for creating a baseline of numbers and species, followed by periodic return visits to see how populations of insects studied decline and boom from season to season and year to year.

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In a recent paper published in the Journal of Insect Science, researchers report that they have come upon a simple solution for the bug-catching problem—using rolled-up corrugated cardboard as an insect collecting device that they can leave in the wild and return at their leisure to reap the rewards.

The lead author of the study—Ibrahim Salmam, a Ph.D. student at Ben-Gurion University of the Negev in Israel—stated that previous methods such as beating or shaking the plants or vacuuming for sample collection, “…are destructive (to the plants and the specimen collected), time consuming and often not feasible.”

The Insect Collection Method Study

When corrugated cardboard was rolled into tubes and strapped to trees to act as insect traps, it was discovered that the small tunnels within the corrugated paper performed more like safe havens of refuge for many insects as opposed to an actual trap. The authors then deemed the cardboard tubes to be more accurately referred to a “refugia” rather than “traps.” One of the benefits of these refugia is that they became breeding and feeding sites that revealed much about an insect specie’s life.

According to the study, in just one week using 12 corrugated cardboard tubes the researchers collected 133 Dermaptera (earwigs), 12 Araneae (true spiders), and a handful of other arthropods.

Furthermore, at another site, using three different tube designs, the researchers found that like human homeowners shopping for a new home, arthropods have their personal habitat preferences as well—Blattaria (cockroaches) dominated one tube type, Araneae (true spiders) another, and Hymenoptera (wasps, bees, ants, and sawflies) the third.

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Trunk Refugia Have Numerous Benefits

• Inexpensive to build, easy to deploy and pick up.
• Adapted to select for particular insect groups.
• The refugia collect live arthropods specimens that can be used for rearing or behavioral studies.
• The ease and low cost allow multiple sampling events per year to monitor for reproduction time or seasonal changes in abundance.

Cardboard Refugia are Useful to Gardeners and Children as Well

In the Entomology Today news site, the lead author also points out that their rolled cardboard tube insect collection method is applicable for citizen scientists and children’s science projects.

“These refugia would be a great way to introduce school children to a diversity of arthropods, as well as to concepts such as arthropod refuges and breeding sites. They can be used anywhere, and even on artificial substrates such as garden walls!” says Ibrahim Salmam.

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If you have a creative way to capture or collect insects in the garden, please send us your recommendation in the Comments section below.

Timothy Boyer has a Ph.D. in Molecular and Cellular Biology from the University of Arizona. For 20+ years he has been employed as a freelance health and science writer. Today, with a background in farming and an avid home gardener, Timothy continues writing about science with a focus on the connection between plant biology and gardening for healthy living. For continual updates about plants and health, you can also follow Timothy on Twitter at TimBoyerWrites.

Images: Photos by Jakob Guebel and courtesy of Oxford University Press via Creative Commons Attribution License.


Rolled Cardboard Makes a Handy Insect-Sampling Tool” by Paige Embry for Entomology Today news, April 2020.

Trunk Refugia: A Simple, Inexpensive Method for Sampling Tree Trunk Arthropods” Ibrahim N A Salman, Marco Ferrante, Daniella M Möller, Efrat Gavish-Regev, Yael Lubin; Journal of Insect Science, Volume 20, Issue 2, March 2020.