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Handling insects

Technical information

Collecting, handling and conditioning of insectsThe planthoppers of which the vibration signals are to be recorded usually first have to be collected in the field. To keep them alive and healthy the insects need to be transferred to a small cage or glass vial with fresh parts of their natural foodplant. The cage or vial should be kept covered against the sun and some fresh air should be able to enter whithout leading to wilting of the foodplant material. Usually in this way planthoppers can be kept in good condition for several days.A more elaborate way to keep the planthoppers alive is to prepare in advance a cage with a potted foodplant of the species concerned, in which case there also remains the possibility that the insects will oviposit and reproduce, and a next generation will become available for recording. The best way of handling individual insects is by means of a simple suction tube. Such a tube consists of two parts of which the first is a 15 to 25 cm piece of glass tube with an inner diameter of ca 5 mm. One end of the glass tube remains open (to suck in the insects), whereas the other end is covered with a piece of fine nylon mesh. The nylon mesh is kept in place by the second part consisting of a piece of flexible tube that fits tightly over the mesh-covered end of the glass tube. The flexible tube should be long enough to enable easy sucking up of individual planthoppers from net or containing device.Before transferring planthoppers to the ‘recording studio’ it may be useful to isolate the insects individually (e.g. 30 to 60 minutes) in small glass vials containing a fresh piece of their foodplant, and to let them adapt to the light and temperature conditions of the ‘studio’ setting. This also may help to ‘neutralize’ their behavioural condition after a possible stressful stay in the container in which they were kept together after being collected in the field. The actual transfer of a planthopper from its individual vial to the recording substrate should be executed with some care and gentleness. An insect sucked up too roughly may not be willing to produce any signals for several hours. To develop the required handling skills may take some time and practice.Practical experience during recording of many Dutch planthoppers has learned that most field collected species will readily produce acoustic signals if handled properly as described above. Despite all possible care taken, some species may prove to be extremely unwilling to produce recordable signals under the described procedure. This might have to do with their specific mating biology in which possibly other factors are involved (such as special daylength, or adult overwintering).

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