Best jar to capture and photograph an insect?

Can anyone recommend reusable small jars or similar items that work well to capture small insects or other arthropods that are stationary on a plant, but for which the container is transparent enough that one can photograph the insect quite well through the jar?

It seems that the container might need to be glass rather than plastic, which scratches up rather easily.

Thanks for your suggestions.


I would recommend 10mL glass or clear plastic insect vials. Plastic vials are incredibly cheap and they don’t scratch up easily in my experience. If you aren’t using a flash, then glass vials might work, but I prefer plastic as the material doesn’t produce glare when using the flash.


The best one I have came with one of the kid’s bug-collecting kits but I think they’re a fairly common type of insect pot. It has a 5mm cross hatch drawn on the base to give scale to the insect in the photo and my macro lens is large enough to block the opening. This type of thing

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The problem with a 10 ml vial is that it is not easy to capture an insect in a container with such a small opening.


For smaller (or flatter) things, I’d suggest 60 mm petri dishes to avoid curved surfaces which distort the pictures. Plus you can get top and bottom shots of cooperative subjects. If using a flash, tilt it until it doesn’t reflect back to the camera. May have to hold it in the shade also to prevent seeing clouds or overhead trees and stuff. Keep it in a cloth pouch to reduce scratching–and replace as needed with a new one.


I have used plastic petri dishes a lot, and sometimes they work quite well especially for somewhat larger insects, but for smaller insects or other arthropods the critter tends to run over to the edges, which are all corner, and then it is very difficult to photograph.

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Yep. I don’t have a solution for them not sitting still on bottom rather than running along the sides–whether jar or dish–other than patience, luck, or a refridgerator.

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These look very good in terms of design, but the ones pictured on that Amazon page are bigger than I was hoping for as ideal.

Ah, true, I guess I tend to go for the smaller things anyway, so it works perfectly for me.

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If I am trying to capture a small insect or other arthropod that is perched on a leaf, I prefer not to startle it by having the edges of the lip of the container descend right next to it.

But @zdanko, you probably have more expert techniques than I do!

Do you often use a vial with an opening that small to try to catch a small insect that is on a leaf?

And do you have any technique hints to share, other than learning to move as slowly and gradually as possible?

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Yes, a refrigerator works great. I have wondered about the idea of bringing a freezer gel pack out in the field with me in a insulated bag, in order to use it to chill insects.


I was recommended zip lock style bags for Ichneumonidae… they can be really useful for limiting space arthropod can move to, transparency of sleeve and ability to capture underside.

But let me ask you: do you catch the creature using the bag itself, or do you use a net or pooter and then transfer the bug to the bag?

I have been experimenting with square plastic containers so that I can take photos without distortion. The ones advertised as “display containers” for food or jewelry are very transparent, have low-glare, and you can get them in packs.

I am also trying to find what works best for one-handed captures since I usually am retrieving the butterfly or insect out of a net. Some containers have “hinged tops”. I found one clear plastic “drawer” container that slides open at the local dollar store. You can cut white paper, or another color for more contrast and put it on the bottom

Here is one example

Here is another with a hinged top for one-handed use


I like the hinged top boxes - I use them for storing small shells. But for getting a small live insect from a net into a container, sometimes having a separate lid can be an advantage.


Someone recently showed me the ziplock bag technique as well for butterflies! @susanhewitt we caught them in a net and then used the inflated ziplock. The only problem was that the bag fogs up easily when inflating it with our breath and makes it hard to see/photograph. sbushes any tricks for that problem?

I don’t use pooters - not keen on idea of inhaling things like eggs! ( even if it is an urban myth of sorts)

I’ve used nets but not keen on them either to be totally honest.
I tend to pot/bag directly from flower/leaf/substrate if I can. My main recent use of bags for this was with small millipedes which weren’t fast moving and easy enough to transfer via twig.

But when possible I also find if I approach slowly enough and without casting shadow, many pollinators will just sit still whilst I grasp underside of flower and rotate/bend flower to get range of angles. Sometimes they’ll walk on to my finger following this which is also practical for getting different angles and stepping into the light. This really depends on creature of course, and entails a large degree of luck. Surprising how one can do this with quite a range of taxa though, I do regularly with various flies but have also had damselflies, wasps, butterflies and crickets walk on to me… creatures which are usually fairly flighty. In general I prefer not to pot above all else, as it’s the least invasive…but of course not always practical to get diagnostic features.


Inflating the bag is not something I’ve done… difficult to imagine getting a butterfly in a bag without potentially damaging it tbh - are they small butterflies or large bags?

A wide mouth vacuum insulated tumbler might work well as a portable 'fridge alternative.

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For portable options like this I’ve experimented with CO2 cannisters for bikes to knock insects out - this was one of my setups :

I found it a bit hit and miss with Diptera as they seem too fragile and I fear they won’t recover wholly… but with Hymenoptera there seemed to be no visible side-effects (of course one never knows with refrigeration, CO2 or trapping in general what long term impact will be on lifespan though…)