This display showcases the tools entomologists use to collect insects in different habitats and explains why we collect insects and related arthropods.

Insects and their relatives—including spiders, centipedes, scorpions, and other animals with hard exoskeletons—are called "arthropods". These organisms are extremely common and live in almost every habitat. Entomologists use different tools to collect arthropods, depending on their habitat and behavior:

Malaise trap - This tent-like structure is usually placed where insects like to fly. Malaise traps catch a large diversity of insects, especially flies and wasps. The insects fly into the netting and instinctively crawl upwards where the netting is positioned to funnel them into a jar of preservative.

Beat sheet - Many arthropods play dead when disturbed. This behavior, called thanatosis, allows them to escape detection by predators. Entomologists exploit this reaction by striking a plant and catching the falling arthropods on a sheet. Those that play dead can be picked up with relative ease.

Fogging - To capture insects in places that are difficult to reach, like the canopy of tall trees, entomologists use insecticidal fogs. The fog knocks down many kinds of insects, which are collected on blankets or tarps.

Large light trap - Stuart Frost experimented with many different light trap designs and light frequencies. He named this trap "Big Bertha".

Flea/Louse comb - Entomologists use specialized combs and forceps to collect parasitic arthropods, like lice, fleas, ticks, and mites, which hide in fur and feathers.

Killing jar - Captured insects must be quickly euthanized to preserve important characteristics. Sometimes this process requires a jar that contains poison.

Aerial net - This net is light and can be swung quickly. It is used to catch insects in flight, especially butterflies and dragonflies.

D-net - This net is shaped like the letter D and is useful for catching insects that live in water. The net’s contents are dumped into a white pan so that insects can be easily seen swimming and removed.

Light trap - Former Penn State professor Stuart Frost was a pioneer in the use of ultraviolet light to attract and catch night-flying insects. This metal device, called a Pennsylvania light trap, is one of his original designs. How do you think it works?

Yellow bowls - Insects are attracted to the color of these bowls. Each bowl is partially filled with soapy water, which traps the insects. How do you think soap helps trap the insects?

Litter extractor - Entomologists use many different devices for extracting insects from leaf litter and soil. These techniques usually work by drying the substrate, which drives the arthropods out.

Aspirator - This tool is useful for collecting many kinds of arthropods. Aspirators work by placing one of the tubes in your mouth and the other tube near the insect. Sucking air through the mouth tube will pull the arthropod into the vial. A small filter in the vial prevents accidental inhalation.

Hester-Dendy artificial substrate sampler - This tool is used to sample aquatic arthropods. Entomologists secure the artificial substrate under water, and when arthropods take up residence between the plates, the sampler is withdrawn and placed in a container to catch inhabitants.

Pitfall trap - Insects that run across the ground are easy to collect just by digging a hole for them to fall in. These traps are usually filled with a preservative and covered to keep the rain out.

Lindgren funnel - Entomologists often use bait or pheromone lures to attract insects. This tool is an example of a baited trap that is used to collect beetles, especially forest pests. The beetles fly to the lure and get trapped in the funnels.

Vane trap - These traps come in various colors and work in the same way that yellow bowls do. Different insects are attracted to different colors, and after flying into the vanes they fall into a preservative. These traps work very well for bees and other pollinators. Which colors do you work best to collect insects?

Mosquito larvae dipper - Mosquito larvae typically live in still bodies of water. This cup, when dipped into an inhabited pond or puddle, will reveal how many larvae are present per volume of water.

The Frost Entomological Museum


160 Curtin Rd.
State College, PA 16802

Hours: Monday-Friday 10am-4pm