Tom Turpin
Professor of
Purdue University







Insects Are Captured in the Net

Mention the net today, and most people think of the Internet. The net was made possible by a fellow named Vint Cerf, who with a colleague developed the computer software that makes the net work. Their software makes it possible to communicate by typing words on a computer and sending them to someone else's computer. So rapidly has use of the net caught on, that not being on it is akin to being without a telephone only a few decades ago.

Long before the communications net was capturing our keyboarded words, naturalists were using another type of net to capture insects. Such a net, commonly called a butterfly net, is a widely recognizable piece of equipment. Most people can identify an insect net when they see one.

As a general rule, insect nets are associated with entomologists. Such an association is partially justified since entomologists are known to use nets to capture the insects they need for study and identification. The widespread association of the insect net and the study of entomology is partially due to cartoonists. These wizards of political satire and the comic strip have made the pith helmet and the insect net synonymous with the entomologist.

Some professional entomologists deplore the depiction of their discipline in such a stereotypical fashion. To them, such a symbol is simplistic and degrading. Other entomologists, however, are thankful that such a readily recognized symbol exists. Used properly, such a symbol is a wonderful marketing tool for the study of insects.

No one really knows when insect nets first came into existence, but they certainly have been around for some time. One Japanese illustration from 2,000 years ago depicts a young boy with a long-handled net capturing dragonflies.

All early textbooks dealing with the study of insects discuss the net as an important insect-collecting tool. One of the early teachers of entomology, J.H. Comstock of Cornell University, talks about using the net in his 1897 book "Insect Life.” Comstock describes construction of a net: "The ring is of No. 3 galvanized iron wire, and is one foot in diameter. It is securely fitted into a light wooden handle, which is three feet and six inches in length. The ring is covered with a piece of strong cloth - ordinary sheeting - to which a bag of cheesecloth is sewed.”

Even in these early days of the study of entomology, several companies were manufacturing nets for capturing insects. L.O. Howard, in "The Insect Book,” in 1901 discusses three types of nets, the light butterfly net, the sweeping net and the aquatic dipping net and suggests they can be purchased from at least six dealers, which he listed in the book.

Almost any description of a good insect net suggests that it must be twice as long as it is wide. This allows the user to flip the net and trap the insects inside - a very important consideration since the net is designed for the purpose of capturing insects!

While today the mention of a net immediately brings to mind the Internet, many people will still be reminded of an insect net. And the insect net will suggest some entomologist or small child pursuing a butterfly across a flower-strewn meadow. Such an idyllic thought is worth sharing with a friend, using the electronic net, of course!  


Writer: Tom Turpin
Editor: Andrea McCann