How to Collect Insects with a Cheap Blacklight

Southern Arizona is known for many things, including the spectacular diversity of insects and the quality of the bug hunting. I decided to go a bit further than my usual haunts around Tucson, so I went to down to the Santa Rita mountains for an evening of bug-hunting fun!

The way it works is quite simple. You hang up a white sheet and put a blacklight in front of it. The cheapo lights from Lowe’s work just fine. Some people build huge frames to mount their sheets, and bring generators and super-bright lights. I used two dorm-room blacklights in the cheapest shoplight fixture I could buy, hung my sheet from the van doors, and ran the light off of the car engine.

1-Setting Up

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Within a few minutes of the lights coming on, the first insects started arriving. Specifically, a genus of scarab beetles called Chrysina came in in huge numbers. They are shiny green, and I found all three local species this night.

2-First Bugs

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They fly overhead, but their aim appears to be rather bad. At times it was like walking in a hailstorm of beetles, as they zoomed down from the sky to the light. Here’s one of the larges species:


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She’s still a bit dazed from the impact with the sheet, but she soon recovered. This is Chrysina beyeri, recognizable by its purple legs. It’s hard to say why they are attracted by the ultraviolet light, but once there were about 50 of them around, they started doing this:


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Cheap insect pornography, complete with crappy overexposure for that “high art” feel. This was going on all around me. It makes me glad I wash the sheet between trips.


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This is an antlion. You know those doodlebugs? This is what they change into when they grow up.



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Ace got into is for a while too. Sphinx moths were landing all over us, and she quickly made a friend. Never thought I’d get her to play with bugs!


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As the night progressed, more and more insects came to the sheet. The larges moths were about two to three inches long! More moths landed in the bushes around us, so naturally I had to go exploring.


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Mostly, we saw white-lined sphinx moths, Hyles lineata. They are one of the most common large moths in the United States, and can bee seen during the day as well as at night. They are often mistaken for hummingbirds, since they can hover in front of a flower as they drink their fill of nectar.


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I saved the best for last: The ox beetle, Strategus aloeus, is a species of rhinoceros beetle, possibly the heaviest beetle in our area. The females look fairly plain, but the males have enormous protrusions on their heads like a triceratops.


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They are completely harmless, and fun to play with. The one thing to watch out for is the little hooks on their feet, which can pinch a little as the beetle tries to hold on to your hand. The horns can’t hurt you, they are used by the males to fight for females, and apparently also for digging. The healthier the beetle, the larger the horn!

We had a wonderful night, and I saw a ton of cool insects. I’ve been doing this for the last few weeks, and this was by far the coolest excursion so far. The best thing is that you can do it relatively inexpensively, and it gets you a close look at things you would otherwise never see. The people blacklighting down the road brought young children, and when I went over to say hello, the kids took me over all excited and showed me everything they had found. Really a cool experience and a way to show children that bugs aren’t all gross.

~The Homesteading Hippy




6 thoughts on “How to Collect Insects with a Cheap Blacklight

  1. Dave Benson

    I was going to ask if you found scorpions with the black light, but I see you’ve got that covered. Love the bug pictures!

  2. Pingback: Bug-hunting Part 2: Hercules Beetle | The Homesteading Hippy

  3. Pingback: Gila Monster | The Homesteading Hippy

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