Naturalist’s Notebook: Black Lighting: Luring Fantastic Creatures at Night

The other night I decided to meet a few of the neighbors in my yard that work the night shift. It was time to set up my black light!

Black light is another term for an ultraviolet light. You may have seen this type of light around Halloween. They have a blue glow and make other colors look really bright and strange. Turns out this type light is very attractive to insects that are active at night.

I was introduced to black lighting a few years ago when I went to an invertebrate conference in the Sonoran Desert in southeast Arizona. We went out into the desert at night and set up black lights. The lights attracted incredible insects!

As soon as I returned home, I ordered a portable black light set-up from BioQuip, a company that specializes in everything INSECT. My black light hooks up to your car battery, so you can carry it with you and set it up anywhere your car can go.

Here is how it all works, step by step:

Step 1: Tie a strong string or small rope between your car’s hood and a nearby tree or other handy object. It should be at least 4 or 5 feet off the ground where the black light will be hooked up.

Step 2: Drape an old white sheet over the string. (It must be white.) Use 4 or 5 clothes pins and clip the sheet onto the string to make sure it stays put. 

Step 3: Place the black light, which is on a long cord, in the middle of the sheet and use a clothes pin to hold the light’s electric cord where you want it. (See photo).

Step 4: The light covers more of the sheet if it hangs a few inches in front of the sheet. I use a small bungee cord attached to the light and anchored to a heavy object. 

Step 5: Attach small clips on your black light cord to the positive (red) and negative (black) posts on your car battery. Your light should come on. (See photo of clips on battery.).

Step 6: Wait for darkness and insects!

I was pleasantly surprised when I had 10 or 15 small beetles on the sheet within 10 minutes of turning the light on.

Here is a helpful tip – plug your ears with a cotton ball or toilet paper. You don’t want a beetle or other insect crawling into your ear!

After 30 minutes, hundreds of small insects, including lots of moths, covered my sheet. I’ve supplied a few photos that I took with my cell phone and flash. 

I came inside every 15 minutes, edited photos, and then went back out to check for new insects to photograph. I finished the night with over 40 great insect pictures for my photographic insect collection. This is a great way to collect insects without ever killing a single one.

If you don’t have a black light and want to meet your nighttime neighbors, you can do what I did when I was a kid. Turn on your porch light at night. Check every now and then once it gets dark. Look all around for any insects that might have arrived. You may be surprised at what fantastic creatures you see.

Have fun!

Mr. Bill

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