Best jar to capture and photograph an insect?

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…)


For the clearest images I’ve used a 10mm Standard Glass Cuvette - 3.5ml, made out of optical glass. They cost about $17 for one. I push a foam earplug in to keep the bugs inside during photography. Here’s a bee being photographed in one:


I also do something similar with ziplocs. They are flexible so great for catching in difficult spaces, and quick to close as well (just fold over). I also sometimes use old medicine/pill bottles to catch, but that’s a bit trickier, IMO.

With a “fresh” ziploc, it may be good enough for picture taking depending on lighting. They won’t win any awards, but you can press the insect to mostly immobilize for picture taking, like a squeezebox for vertebrates. However, I reuse ziplocs as much as I can, and they get scratched/foggy pretty quickly. It’s also quite easy to transfer from a ziploc to another container for pictures without losing a specimen. Recycled baby food jars can be pretty good for pictures, but with some distortion.

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Personally, I use any type of container, large or small. Medicine bottles, Nalgene bottles. I take them home, stick them in the fridge for several hours, photograph them and then let them go. Now, I don’t wander too far from home, so anything I bring home is not hundreds of Km away from where I found it. Less than 5. If I was a longer way from home, I would want to change my methods. However, a cooler with ice packs (or ice) would probably work well. The smaller the better, though - they chill down faster in a small container than a large one.
I have found that I can often take decent photos of small things with a 55-250 lens. They are not stellar, but usually enough for an ID. You don’t need to get too close!
BTW, is a ‘pooter’ an aspirator? I used to use them back in the 1980’s, mainly for flea beetles. We made them from scratch, but at a Research Station we had all the stuff! There is not need to inhale much - just use a mouth suck. Works like a charm. The smaller the aperture, the better.

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i don’t really catch insects, but back in the day, i had a lot of success catching insects in acrylic magnifying boxes like this: i would occasionally go out into various gardens and use a dozen or so of these to capture different insects in the garden to show the insect diversity in those gardens. in just a few minutes, i could easily capture enough lady beetles, ants, honeybees, wasps, bumblebees, etc. to fill all the containers. i even caught a squash vine borer once.

one side has a magnifying lens, and the opposite side is just flat acrylic. so you could pick whichever side works best to observe your particular insect. the lids were usually fairly secure, but i could put a little clear tape around the edge temporarily to prevent kids from opening ones containing bees and such, if needed, and even though there were no air holes, i could always release all the insects unharmed after a couple of hours. they stack nicely, and they’re small enough so they don’t take up too much space, although they wouldn’t be big enough to capture big butterflies or big grasshoppers or that sort of thing.

i’ve swallowed an insect using a DIY pooter, or at least i’ve ended up with insects in my mouth. it sucks.


I’ve been very curious about Joel Sartore’s setup. He normally does zoo animal photography but during lockdown he did a lot of just going out with a bugnet and shooting whatever he could find. The shots are amazing and it seems difficult imagine how he got such good results without distortion or reflections shooting bugs in jars:

he started out simple: catch a bug, put it into a jar, set it against backdrop, and photograph it. After its moment in the spotlight, release the bug back into the wild.

I just experimented with a ‘lens blower’ bulb and it took about four or five squeezes to reasonably inflate a standard ziplock sandwich bag. These bulbs are small, light, easy — and half the time I would have one in with my photo stuff anyhow.


This seems like a great idea. Thanks!

Ah, no, I use a net to catch the insect, then put the vial into the net to get the insect into it that way. It’s very efficient and the netting has minimal risk of escape if you can do it quick enough.


Here’s another idea – but I haven’t tried it, just to be clear.

What about plastic coin-cases? They might work well for smaller specimens.


Great idea!

This also look like a good idea. Thanks.