Poo, pooters and pitfall traps


On a sunny Wednesday morning, the entomologists in the Life Collections and the Museum Director, Professor Paul Smith, left the safety of the Museum and headed out into the great outdoors. The aim of the day was to study the huge variety of insect life that’s found in the area, and to do a bit of team bonding along the way.

Zoë and Darren putting up a malaise trap
Zoë and Darren putting up a malaise trap

This new territory was a beautiful farm in Ashbury, in the Vale of the White Horse, which belongs to our friend and fellow insect lover, Sally-Ann Spence. If you’ve ever taken part in live bug handling at the Museum, you may know Sally-Ann as the energetic face behind Minibeast Mayhem.

Molly and I were very proud of our attempt at a baited pitfall trap
Molly and I were very proud of our attempt at a baited pitfall trap

The day had been carefully planned out and consisted of putting up insect traps in the morning, leaving the afternoon free to play… in poo!

Head of Life Darren Mann taught us all how to put up a flight interception trap (FIT), a malaise trap and a dung-baited pitfall trap. Darren beautifully summed-up the purpose of the different traps, “The first two catch insects that are flying, and the dung trap catches ones that are attracted to poo.” We used sheep poo, in case you were wondering.

After washing our hands and enjoying a lovely lunch, it was time to head back out to a different part of the farm. More poo was involved. We spent a reasonable amount of time (way too long for some of you) playing in horse and cow poo looking for dung beetles – Darren’s favourites.

Clipboard, pooter and a cow pat!
Clipboard, pooter and a cow pat

Then came a short but heavy downpour of rain, followed by a chance to beat trees to coax out more insects, use pooters and swish nets around in a fancy manner. Darren talked us all through it, but essentially it was a ‘hit and hope’ method that resulted in plenty of us getting stung by nettles – all part of the great outdoors experience.

Pooters, in case you are wondering, are a vital piece of kit used to suck insects into a tube (pictured above on the clipboard) via plastic tubing – don’t worry there’s no chance of sucking one up by mistake as a little snack!

Having a good look at the goodies we found in the pond
Having a good look at the goodies we found in the pond

Once everyone had collected their insects, we headed back to the farm house to have a go at pond dipping, where we saw tadpoles, dragonfly larvae and water bugs. Sally-Ann had prepared a delicious supper and we all went home happy and full.

Amo Spooner and Molly Carter, Life Collections

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More than a Dodo

I'm Public Engagement Manager at Oxford University Museum of Natural History and I look after permanent displays and other interpretation. I do a bit of social media on the side, too.

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