Catching and Collecting

Collecting phasmids in the wild

Frank Hennemann collecting during night in Panama, 2018.
Frank Hennemann collecting during the night in Panama, 2018.

Whoever has worked with phasmids for some time, has observed that his interest in these bizarre insects is constantly increasing. So no wonder that one day the idea arises to find some phasmids out in their natural habitat ourselves. Maybe during a holiday trip or in one’s own garden. All too often such “collecting trips” are not less than successful, if not even frustrating. Inexperienced collectors do have the necessary background knowledge and experience with different collecting techniques. Most phasmids cannot be caught with a simple light trap, quite in contrast to many other insect groups. So collecting phasmids can quickly appear to be "difficult", especially when one intends to collect large numbers. And easily one gets the impression that "phasmids are rare and rarely found", while in fact they are probably often just overlooked. And with some information and experience, phasmids can be collected from habits and altitudes in very different vegetation zones, from tropical lowland rain forests up to mountain cloud forests.

Please note, that if one intends to take the collected phasmids out of the country it is a prerequisite in many countries to apply for a collecting and export permit before you enter the country. And please also keep in mind that it is our duty as human beings to save and preserve nature.

We strongly condemn collecting methods which apply pesticides ("smoking") in the canopy layers of the rain forests, in order to investigate their biodiversity. While such methods may appear to be productive, the damage caused is immense - and often non-reversible. If strong poisons or pesticides are applied, then it is obvious that not only phasmids will fall from that the tree …

The highest density of different phasmids species can be found in tropical regions, even though a few species also occur in cooler regions like in southern Europe or U.S.A. The yellow zone indicated the areas where phasmids can be found.

There is a variety of collecting techniques, and which technique (or combination of techniques) to apply depends on the available resources, the collecting site and the targeted species groups.

Essential equipment

Toyota Prado used as main vehicle for an expedition in Panama, 2018.
Toyota Prado used as the main vehicle for an expedition in Panama, 2018.

Vehicle: This allows you to invent the surroundings and search for suitable collecting sites independently. In some countries, a car with off-road abilities is needed which can be rented from an international car-rental or imported seaways. We have made the experience that large, international car-rentals such as Hertz, Budget, Avis, Europcar, Alamo or Dollar are more reliable and offer qualitatively better cars than do smaller, local car-rentals. We dissuade from the small Suzuki-, Daihatsu- or Hyundai-jeeps, especially if older than ten years. The usage of larger off-road cars such as the Mercedes G-Series, Toyota Land-cruiser, Nissan Patrol or Land-rover are more reliable and much more safe, which is an important factor in some countries which possess very high crash-rates.

Collecting equipment: High-quality collecting equipment can be obtained from e.g. Bioform or Maier (both Germany). An extendable handle (at least 3 meters) and a butterfly net with a diameter of 30-50 cm; different plastic containers with a volume of 0.5-5 litres; some large plastic bags or similar for stowing larger species; a pair of latex-glows for handling plants which have irritating bark or sap, etc.


  • Water and some food.
  • Some copies of the collecting permits to show the authorities in case they ask.
  • Stable but light-weight trekking-shoes (Gore-Tex) to prevent yourself from snake bites and other injuries.
  • A light-weight rain-coat.
  • A comfortable, medium-sized rucksack with as many flank-bags as possible.
  • A stable trekking-knife with a length of at least 20 cm and a pair of pruning-shears for cutting food plants for the collected insects.
  • A hand lamp and batteries.
  • A first-aid box (including insect repellent, disinfection spray, et.).
  • A good camera as well as a macro lens or different close-up lenses and a macro flash which is mounted on the camera lens. Batteries for lamps, camera, flash, etc.
  • If you are not very familiar with the area, good maps are also recommended, in paper and also via some apps for smartphones; some apps are useful to take coordinates as well.

Basic rules when collecting in the wild

  • Avoid over-collecting, do not remove more specimens from a habitat than required for scientific investigation.
  • Do not collect for profit.
  • Avoid causing harm to other animals or plants at all costs.
  • Respect the local people´s privacy (don’t collect on private properties without permission).
  • Make sure you have trustworthy companions when you go out for collecting in the forests, especially at night. In areas where collecting phasmid is productive, medical assistance is usually not available or even far away.
  • Wear strong shoes and long trousers, there could be poisonous snakes around and most probably you will encounter leeches, ticks, etc. One can trample loudly to shoo away snakes.
  • Before starting to search for phasmids, first take care of your own safety. For example, you may want to have a look at branches over or nearby your head (tree-living snakes, scorpions, spiders, wasp’s nests, etc.).
  • Inform yourself about necessary vaccinations before leaving for your collecting trip, and get those vaccinations you miss. A good insect repellent is a must!.