Where, when and how to look for invertebrates

29/10/2014 14:38

Written by Daniel Austin and Nick Garbutt

The wonderful thing about invertebrates is that you can find them everywhere. You do not need to visit a national park or reserve, and even a brief stroll around a local roadside will reveal something special. Keep a sharp eye out wherever you find yourself.

Expect huge variation in invertebrates as you move from one habitat to another. Rainforests will yield totally different species from the spiny bush, and you will be surprised how much you find even in the towns and cities.

Where and when

Milkweed locust Madagascar Africa by Daniel AustonPonds and rivers are great places to start – you should see many dragonflies and their slower-flying relatives, damselflies.
Look around lights at night, especially in the national parks. Hang a white shirt or sheet next to the light to make it more visible. Particularly rewarding are moths, especially the large and spectacular emperor moths (family Saturniidae) with false eye spots on the wings. Different insects emerge at different times of night, so if you’re up at 04.00 check the lights to see what’s there. Lift rocks and logs (slowly, and away from you) to find scorpions, beetles, flatworms, millipedes, spiders and other delights. Carefully replace the log or rock after looking.

Find a tree that is in flower or has ripe fruit. You are likely to see butterflies, beetles and numerous other glorious invertebrates, not to mention the many birds that come to eat them. Look underneath leaves and on tree trunks to make further discoveries. It is almost certain that any rainforest tree will be home to several invertebrates you have not seen. . . yet.

On sunny days, the tops of small hills are great places to see insects. Many species congregate there to display, meet and mate. Dragonflies, chafer beetles (family Cetoniidae) and Butterflies particularly like ‘hilltopping’. Sunny patches in forests are rich ‘super bowls’ which have heat, stillness, moisture and food – the perfect environment for invertebrates.

Simple tools

A magnifying glass and paper plate are useful. Use the plate to put your finds on and study them closer with the magnifying glass. Release them where you found them once you have finished looking. A handy trick is to hold the paper plate under a leafy branch, then shake it and see what lands on the plate. But be cautious about doing this in protected areas; removing animals from reserves is forbidden and you risk arrest if mistaken for a collector.

A head torch is great at night, and much more effective than a hand-held one. The eyes of many invertebrates reflect straight back to the light source on your head, so you will see them glinting like tiny lights.

For more information, see our Madagascar Wildlife guide.

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