A butterfly net is an indispensable piece of beekeeping equipment. If such things were up to me, I would include a butterfly net in every beginner kit.
I know what you’re thinking: legions of beekeepers have gone decades without a butterfly net. But I’m the practical type, so if some vexing problem can be solved easily and cheaply, why not?
Logical uses for a butterfly net
Why is a butterfly net so important for a beekeeper, you wonder. Well, here is a list of ways I use them.
- For catching honey bees that cling to my clothes and end up in the house, garage, shed, or even my car. Instead of shooing, chasing, and opening all the doors and windows (which admits even more) I just scoop them up with my net.
- For catching queens. More than once I’ve lost a queen during her release from a queen cage. And more than once I’ve caught my $40 queen with my nifty $5 butterfly net.
- For catching small swarms in trees or other hard-to-reach places. You can come up under a small swarm and use a hive tool to sever the cluster from a branch or swing set. Or you can use an extension handle and just jiggle the cluster into the net.
- To snag hornet or yellowjacket queens in the spring. You can spot queen wasps early in the spring by their immense size. Snare these in your net and squish. Killing wasp queens early in the year can prevent enormous nests of predators in the fall.
- For taking a closer look at insect predators. Sometimes you just want to know what’s hanging around your hives so you can assess the problem. Snatch it in your net for an up-close inspection.
- Similarly, I use a butterfly net for bee identifications. I like to photograph a native bee on a flower, then net it just long enough for identification. Catch-and-release works great.
- For bee time-outs. If a nasty bee follows me, head-butting or circling, I just catch her in a net and let her cool her heels in a shady spot under a tree. Later, I let her go.
- To save drowning bees. Bees stuck in pools, puddles, or ponds can be easily lifted out of the water and released on the ground.
- I’ve also used a butterfly net to catch a mouse as it left my top-bar hive. I knew it was in there, so I banged on the hive top and caught the mouse as it raced from the hive entrance. Gotcha. (Unfortunately, what to do next is problematic.)
- Don’t laugh, but in a pinch, I’ve worn a butterfly net over my head as a makeshift bee veil. For quick jobs, it works.
Nets come in all sizes and prices
Insect nets, like most tools, come in a wide variety of shapes and sizes. Some are expensive, and some are cheap. I have one that I’ve used for years that was less than $3. I use it for catching and stepping on wasps. It gets gross after a while, and then I just wash the net part and reattach it.
I also have one with extension handles of various lengths; it’s good for swarms and skylight bees. And my favorite net, known as a National Park Special, folds up into a tiny package that fits in a backpack. The metal ring folds into thirds and holds a green (camouflage) net that is unlikely to be seen from a distance.
Don’t worry, I don’t capture rare butterflies or bees. But after I photograph an insect, I often snag it for closer examination before letting it go. The camouflage net avoids unnecessary explanations, so I keep it handy in my camera bag.
Buy a butterfly net with the right features
The net you buy should have a deep bag. A shallow bag like the ones for crabs or small fish, won’t hold an insect captive. Once you catch a bug, you want to be able to turn the net over with a flick of your wrist. This “locks” the creature inside but doesn’t harm it.
Traditionally, the very best place to buy nets and extensions was BioQuip, but they recently went out of business. Amazon carries quite a few varieties, so you can probably find something there that will work for you. If you’re going to use a net for hunting wasp queens, I highly recommend having a “looking” net (for bees) and a “squishing” net (for wasps) because the squishing nets get goopy. But it’s not necessary. For years I used only one.
The net itself should be closely woven in fine mesh. For identifying bees, the net must be able to confine something as small as a gnat. Plus, you usually don’t want to injure whatever you caught, so small holes are best for delicate limbs and wings. If the net is just for predatory wasps, the mesh can be a bit bigger.
Learn how to swing a butterfly net
Please let me know if you have any other ingenious tips for using a butterfly net in your apiary. Ideas are always welcome.