For many years, my standard insect collecting gear has been a beating sheet and a short-handled aerial net (see small photo at right in “The Author” or the full-sized version under About). From the deciduous forests of the Ozark Highlands to the tropical bushveld of South Africa, these two pieces of equipment have been all that I’ve needed to collect the woodboring beetles that have dominated my interests. The beating sheet is, of course, an absolute necessity for anyone interested in jewel beetles (family Buprestidae), longhorned beetles (family Cerambycidae), and the many other insects that tend to be found on tree branches. Woodboring beetles are most frequently, but not exclusively, found on dead branches of their host trees, but regardless of whether the branches are alive or dead, the concept for collecting beetles off of them is the same – a beating sheet is held underneath the branch, and the branch is given a decisive whack with a stick of some kind. This dislodges any beetles that may be foraging or resting on the branch and causes them to drop onto the sheet, where they can be spotted easily and picked off before (hopefully) they escape. For my “stick” I like to use the handle of an aerial net, as the net itself is quite handy to have in case I stumble upon some of the many flower-feeding species or for more general collecting (my inability to focus exclusively on any one taxon is by now well documented). Using a net handle as a beating stick, unfortunately, forces one to compromise on the length of the handle – the handle must be relatively short (no more than 3′ long) to be effective as a beating stick, but such a short handle severely limits reach when the net is being used. This problem has become even more apparent during the past few years as I have become increasingly interested in tiger beetles (family Cicindelidae). There is no way around it – you need a long-handled net to have any hope of collecting tiger beetles, and the longer the better (ideally about 6′). Thus my quandary – I needed a short-handled net to best collect woodboring beetles, but a long-handled net to best collect tiger beetles.
Enter the extendable handle for insect nets, available from BioQuip Products. This ingenious net handle consists of two telescoping aluminum tubes with a clutch-lock device. When fully collapsed the handle measures only 36″ in length – perfect for use as a beating stick and when extra length is not needed. When a longer net handle is needed, however, a quick turn of the clutch-lock frees the inner section, allowing the handle to be extended to nearly 6′ in length – perfect for those fast-moving tiger beetles. Once extended, another quick twist of the clutch-lock secures the handle in place, and that Cicindela is mine! To cap it all off, the handle is fully compatible with standard insect net rings and bags, including the red “T” knob for ring attachment. It was almost as if the handle had been designed specifically for my purposes.
I purchased mine at the beginning of the last field season. While the design seemed a perfect solution for my short handle-long handle quandary, I wasn’t convinced it would be able to withstand the rigors of field use. Specifically, I questioned whether the inner section would remain firmly seated within the outer section after a few slams of the net against the ground with the handle fully extended (for example, when using the ‘slap’ method for those tiger beetles I hadn’t yet figured out). I expected that repeated flexing of the handle would eventually cause the joint to fail and the handle to lose its rigidity. I also wondered how quickly and easily the handle would extend – especially after seeing some wear and tear. Any difficulty in this regard would quickly negate the convenience offered by an extendable handle.
I was immediately impressed with this handle upon its very first use, and after one full season of heavy use, it appears my concerns about its durability were unfounded. Weighing only 12 oz, it is extremely lightweight and easy to carry, and I am also pleased at how easily the handle extends and collapses – the clutch-lock disengages completely with a single twist, and the inner section slides into and out of the outer section smoothly and quickly. The true test of its durability, however, came during last year’s annual fall tiger beetle trip – a test that it passed with flying colors. I really put the net handle to hard use, and despite repeatedly slapping the net ring against the ground with the handle fully extended, the joint remained solid and rigid. I was able to swing the net with just as much assertion at the end of the trip as at the beginning.
Even during those times when I wasn’t carrying a beating sheet, I found myself routinely preferring to carry the extendable handled-net rather than the long-handled net. It was easier to carry and use when a short handle was sufficient, yet it could be extended quickly and easily when the extra length was needed. At $22.95, I consider its cost to be rather modest compared to the convenience and versatility it offers. For those of you who need a long-handled net but don’t want to wield a long handle all the time (and for the one or two other people in the world who use their net handle as a beating stick), this is the handle for you.
Copyright © Ted C. MacRae 2009