Identification, Images, & Information
For Insects, Spiders & Their Kin
For the United States & Canada

Making a moth sheet

Hey all,

I'm wanting to make a proper moth/bug sheet so I can attract/see more species in my yard. I've been using a sheet just hanging on my front porch, but that's not ideal for several reasons. First off, my porch is tucked away so I feel like it's harder for insects to find it. And secondly, it's just in the way -- it makes it really hard to get in and out of my house.

Anyway, I was hoping to make a proper setup before this summer (the only time I really can do much moth-ing because I'm a student) but I've had trouble finding any instructions/tips as to how to make one. I've got a lot of pvc piping so I thought I could use that somehow, but does anybody have any tips? Being able to set it up in an open area would be great, but I also have areas with some trees/shrubs that I could use as supports. Or, of course, I could just use my house somehow. It would be nice to be able to take it other places, though.

Also, is there an ideal type of light? I was planning on getting a mercury vapor light, but maybe there's something even better? Or is that a good place to start?

Thanks for any advice! I'm eager to see more species so I can gain more experience with moths (and whatever else is attracted to the light!).

Quilt stand
Check out my mercury vapor black light set-up:

I started out just stringing cloths lines between two trees at the top and bottom, and clipping the sheet to it with large bulldog paper clips, but that constrained me to places with convenient trees. I now use a quilt stand secured to the ground with staked guy ropes (in case of wind). Crossbar clamps (available as an accessory) secure the sheet to the top, but bulldog clips may still be used to secure the sheet to the leg stabilizers.

There is nothing better than a 400W mercury vapor light to attract bugs, as my page describes. It's also helpful to provide extra illumination directed onto the sheet with clip-on directional shop lights attached to cheap tripods with CFL or LED light bulbs (to conserve limited power):

The main light brings the bugs in, and the directional lights tell them where to land and provide enough light for autofocus to work properly. You'll still need a good flash for exposure, though.

I'm assuming you need a special type of mount for a mercury vapor light? Do the smaller watt bulbs work with a regular light-bulb socket or do all mercury vapor bulbs need a special socket?

A large screw-in socket is needed, called a Mogul. The real trick, though, is that the socket must be supplied by a heavy ballast to control the current for a regular 400W mercury lamp like I use. It's a bit of a chore to adapt one for the field, but it doesn't need to be as elaborate as mine. The details of how I do it are in the first thumbnail linked page above.

There are self-ballasted mercury vapor lamps of lower efficiency and wattage that just use 115 VAC. I'm not familiar with any that use a regular socket. The bulbs tend to be too large for that because of all the plasma discharge hardware inside needed to make it work.

If you're content to work with less power still, then fluorescent blacklights are an option. Bioquip sells battery powered versions, so you won't need a generator. Less power = fewer bugs, though.

Here's a free standing one we made
Jane sewed the edges of the sheet into a tube so we can slide garden stakes through them. The stakes can just be pounded into the ground anywhere you have enough soil. I think we made it 6 feet square.

thank you
I'm thinking I'll do something like this but with PVC pipes.

PVC frame -
Carabid beetle expert Kip Will posted on his blog a few years ago about the PVC-frame setup he has for blacklighting in various habitats. It seems fairly easy to construct, here's the url:

I'll check it out!