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Jim McClarin, beetle hunter

Jim McClarin, beetle hunter
Mt. Washington, Coos County, New Hampshire, USA
June 8, 2007
I asked Tom Murray to snap a couple shots of me decked out in my beetle-hunting garb and gear during an impromtu visit to the summit of Mt. Washington. We were searching for the extremely rare Pyt*ho stric*tus below the timberline, but it was a nice day so we drove up to the summit for a look-see. (Good thing we did; we were amazed to find the summit swarming with insects. See my forum article about this phenomenon).

All my outer clothes plus hat and the top portion of my socks are treated with permethrin spray (Repel Permanone for clothing & gear) as protection against ticks, mosquitos, and other biting pests. Treatments are said to last two weeks and continue to be effective after clothes washing. My belt pouch contains a small pump sprayer of 100% Deet to apply sparingly to skin. I have never been bitten here or in the tropics using this kind of protection.

You can't see them in this photo but I'm also wearing pull-on rubber boots. Besides alowing me to walk through shallow water and mud they tend to protect my lower shins from scrapes as I barge through thickets and clamber over boulders and criss-crossed log piles. After a nasty bout of pre-patellar bursitis (very sore knee) last summer I am a more faithful user of knee pads when collecting.

The thing around my neck is a homemade "pooter" for collecting insects by mouth-applied suction. It is fastened with a length of cord as a lanyard around my neck so I can have it ready to use while employing both hands in climbing, bark stripping, rock turning, etc. I will post a series on its design and construction sometime soon. Suffice it to say that it's a very quick and handy way to collect live insects although you might want to avoid those that would release defensive chemicals in the pooter receptacle.

There is a downside to collecting everything into one receptacle. Many specimens can be injured or killed by others in the container. Emptying the receptacle frequently into a larger container in a cooler would avoid some of the mayhem (by cooling down the hotheads ;-) but it is often unrealistic to carry an ice chest with you as you collect.

For special specimens I have adopted the use of plastic pill sorters that I carry in the main compartment of my belt pouch. After fumbling with a half-dozen loose pill sorters I switched to the one-week kind that has a separate 4-or-5-compartment sorter for each day of the week. These snap into a plastic frame, making it easier to keep track of which ones are full and which are empty. I can carry three of these plus a couple individual sorters (over 100 specimen compartments) in my pouch.

Often I find conks and other fungus samples I want to investigate at home, or decide to bring home bark for larva rearing attempts. After trying to use plastic bags for this and suffering bag rips and specimen loss on too many occasions I finally decided to employ nylon stuff sacks for the purpose. I cinch them up tight, stuff the excess drawcord down into the bag so it doesn't get caught in the brush, and hook them into a clip on my belt pouch.

Fastened to the belt of my pouch is a hatchet scabbard (I see I misspelled that word in my image above). Bark stripping is fast and easy with a sharp hatchet, and various wood boring larvae can be accessed as well. The blunt end of the hatchet head has its uses too, such as "conk bonking," a method I've discovered for collecting assorted beetles hanging onto the undersides of conks. No need to pry off the fungal fruiting body, just hold your hand or net or container under the conk and give the top a jarring bonk. The beetles will become alarmed and drop to the ground, only their fall will be interrupted by your hand or whatever.

One pouch item is a very lightweight plastic throw-away poncho for sudden unexpected downpours. They take up very little space. I bought several for less than a buck each.

Another pouch item is a small plastic 15x loupe for examining specimens in the field. It comes in handy for keying out Py*tho larvae in the field.

If I think I might get disoriented while collecting I take several precautions. I take a cell phone in my pouch and warm clothing and an led headlamp in a small rucksack. I also mark the way I have gone with bright, night-reflective plastic flagging that I carry in a roll that feeds out an opening in the top of my belt pouch. I just tear off a length and tie it onto something in line of sight with my last marker, allowing me to retrace my steps, even at night by light of the headlamp.

I will probably move this image to the equipment section when I add photos of individual components such as the pooter.

Images of this individual: tag all
Jim McClarin, beetle hunter Jim McClarin, beetle hunter - male

Treated with Permethrin
Cool photo of you on close to the summit of Mt. Washington. While Permethin is a powerful insectide/repellent, it is also a neurotoxin to mammals. What concentration of Permethin do you use for treating your gear? I'm wondering is there some point where you risk percutaneous absorption?

0.5% Permethrin
is the concentration in the Repel product. The label advises against spraying your skin or your clothes while you are wearing them. I let the clothing dry thoroughly before wearing it. It has a very faint odor that I find not at all disagreeable.

Permethrin is not a long-lasting chemical, which is why it has seen popular use as a knockdown fog in tropical canopy sampling. In such collecting operations one or more tree canopies are misted with a fogger and insects drop in large number from leaves, blooms, fruits, and branches, often into an array of large collection funnels. In a few weeks no toxicity remains.

Knockdown Fog
Hmmm, sounds like a mass collecting operation indeed. Are knocked-down insects permanently affected? Because, if there is survivorship among the insects, then I see the technique working for population counts and allowing access to rare or secretive species. I guess I'm just curious to know, what impact does the fogging have on the local insect populations?

I'm not sure but I think it kills them dead.
And if the Permethrin doesn't kill them, the collectors do. Presumably a fogged tree is repopulated in fairly short order.

Bees have special sensitivity Permethrin
Here is the link to the Material Safety Data Sheet:
You don't want to dive into rivers, lakes, or streams while wearing clothes treating in Permethrin since it is extremely toxic to aquatic invertebrates and fish. You want to avoid flower blooms since it is highly toxic to bees.

Thank you, Sylvia.
I'll stay out of the bloomin river :-) Nice to know I'm a walking lethal dose.

Well, I guess in a rainforest that is swarming with
insects, repopulation of a small fogged area isn't that difficult. To me, the idea just sounded like a bit of an overkill - many more insects killed than the collectors can handle. I've read that even for beetles alone, a single tropical tree can host several dozen species. In all respect, though, it does sound to be an undoubtedly efficient collecting method.

Wow, you sure have an impressive assortment of beetle catching gear ... very informative descriptions too. I especially like your "conk bonking" idea ;-) I've done some bush-beating and kicked the occasional tree trunk, but never thought of finding conk-dwellers with a hatchet bonk! I should try that with my hatchet sometime.
Good to see you posting again, Jim. Beetle posts were definitely in the lows while you were away ... I look forward to seeing your new finds!

Ha ha,
I haven't been away. I've been too busy collecting and shooting to post much. (Always the case with me.) I've been adding to my tens of thousands of unposted images that I'll be lucky to post 100 of before the next glut of live specimens comes along.

Jim, what is a conk?
Another thing, I just don't see any camera/s...

Conk = shelf or bracket fungus
I didn't need a camera. Tom had his :-)

Actually I seldom use a camera in the field anymore. It's easy to damage a camera if you're wielding a hatchet, clawing your way through wiry thickets, etc., especially if it has a long lens on it. I usually take my older camera (Fuji FinePix) in the car with me just in case there is something I want to document.

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