Blacklighting beginner questions

Over the past few years I've joined quite a few people in blacklighting for nocturnal bugs. I've seen quite a few different setups and have seen the pros and cons of each, and as Arizona begins to get hotter and more buggy I can't help but think that blacklighting is something that I'd like to get into myself, without having to rely on anybody else (furthermore, I don't actually know anyone else out here that is doing it). However, while getting a blacklight from bioquip is easy enough, I am still a bit in the dark on some of the specifics, so I was hoping to get some help there.

Power source
What is the best way to power my blacklight? What, specifically, does everyone else use? What is the lifespan of these batteries for this use, and can they be recharged and if so, how, and for how much? Where is the best place to obtain said batteries?

Where do I blacklight? Where can I blacklight? Where should I blacklight? Where shouldn't I blacklight? Are there are laws I should be aware of, specifically in the state of Arizona? For setup, I think I am most drawn to @finatic , @jaykeller , and @gcwarbler 's model of securing the sheet directly on the side of the car to avoid the wind factor as opposed to using a collapsible frame, so any location I choose to set up at would have to be a place where I can directly park. but just parking on the side of a remote highway is probably less desirable than parking somewhere a bit more secluded? But again, I would love to learn the tricks of the trade here. Are there certain rules and regulations to follow when blacklighting at say a state park? Would I need to call ahead to make sure that the activity is allowed in a particular spot? I live in an apartment complex so blacklighting at home is not a viable option.

Here's the part where I'm going to obnoxiously tag in everybody I can think of on iNaturalist with their own portable blacklighting setup
@finatic @jaykeller @gcwarbler @bugsoundsjc @naturalista66 @berkshirenaturalist @cedric_lee @kimberlietx @sambiology
Any advice would be appreciated ! :)

Publicado el abril 20, 2018 07:09 TARDE por psyllidhipster psyllidhipster


Here's one of the best set-ups that I know of from @damontighe :

Now for state parks, it depends on where you go -- in Texas, I think it's good to ask for permission (although, you're only doing digital vouchers and not physical specimens), but a few parks have dark-sky requirements... Like in Big Bend National Parks, it was a super rare exception that we were able to blacklight one night... Permits were required, apparently.

Publicado por sambiology hace alrededor de 6 años

Ah yes, I remember this setup! I'd love to give it a try. But it looks like the blacklight used in that one is out of stock on amazon right now:
Are there any viable alternatives? Or, other places to get this light? @damontighe

Publicado por psyllidhipster hace alrededor de 6 años

My setup is not ideal for personal blacklighting; for that I would suggest Damon's setup too. You can't beat lightweight, portable, and inexpensive! At home, I just plug the UV light in my outside socket and see what shows up around midnight. When we do events, I take the PVC frame setup, but you can certainly see the drawbacks of that on windy nights. Unfortunately, I haven't found very many places that I could pull my car up to the ideal spot. (Can't park on the grass, and the parking lot has bright security lights, for example.) I've taken a white sheet and thumbtacked it to a wooden fence, or wrapped it around a large tree trunk. Anytime you can get the sheet against something solid, do it!

Tricks that come to mind: Hang the light away from the sheet so the sheet can "reflect" it, any time around a new moon is better for moths , after a rain, and on a calm night. Try different locations: park, edge of woods, near ponds, etc. If you pack it in by 11pm you are missing the BEST bugs. Wait until at least midnight.

My gear for events:
2 Bioquip 15w UV lights 450nm (#2806 I'd suggest closer to 490nm though;
100 ft extension cord with 3 way splitter for multiple outlets
Portable battery (PowerStation PSX-1004IN, $75 Costco that we already had)
1.5" PVC frame with flexibility for different arrangements
White ripstop material pinned or sewn to fit the PVC pipes (Note, I would stick with a cheap flat cotton bedsheet instead of ripstop fabric. The ripstop is good for having the squares for size reference, but it gives a bit of shine I have come to dislike in images.)
bricks to hold it steady.

Publicado por kimberlietx hace alrededor de 6 años

I use the traditional UV lights available from Bioquip domestically and have had great success, powered by a car battery jump-starter like the one linked below (but available in a lot of places):

Ones with good output last all night and probably two or more. Charge them in the hotel room during the day. If there are two of you, each with a battery, alternate them nightly if you are doing multiple nights, etc. I like these because they are silent (unlike generators) and are useful since they often include other features like an air compressor to pump up tires if needed, emergency lights, etc. That said, there are some really nice and much smaller/lighter lithium batteries out there that are just as powerful and more suited to travel.

I would NOT trust the Bioquip black lights for international travel since they DO NOT reliably work with the 220 power networks most other countries operate under. I learned the hard way that they don't work even with power converters for some reason - expensive $120 lesson. That said, those lights will work fine when plugged into any car's standard lighter plug, if it has one.

One night in Madera Canyon a couple of years ago, folks were using UV lights of a different wavelength (more purple in color) vs. the Bioquip bulb and were having more success than we. They basically just bought the bulbs from Home Depot and hooked them up to a ramshackle ballast and plugged them in. Whatever works... A white light somewhere off in the distance is not a bad idea either, as different insects are attracted to different wavelengths.

Sometimes when I travel by plane and don't have a lot of luggage space, I have simply shined a 50 LED black light flashlight on a white t-shirt and it has worked, which I did recently in the Everglades.

With a 4WD vehicle I have not had issues getting to good places to black light so I can hang the sheet off the side (and not have to lug all of the equipment somewhere). Maybe I am lazy, but easy access to food, coolers, all the vials, flashlights, chairs, cameras, etc is a must, so I never set up away from the vehicle. I also tend to move to different locations throughout the night, especially if cooling mountain temps force one lower, so that's a plus to maximize diversity and efficiency. Plus, insects are known to fly quite far to show up at a light, so I don't see the benefit of setting up in some remote spot.

The biggest determinants of success depend on a few key factors:

1) Temps and wind - Warm temps are typically a must for large numbers, and wind is an absolute killer since bugs tend not to fly then. Elevation species are more tolerant of cooler temps than lower species. I've had success in the mountains into the low 50s, but low 50s in lower areas is typically a bust. Rain can be a real damper, but I've had success in rain a few times.
2) Ambient light - go to the darkest place you can find on moonless nights. Even lights in a town a few miles away will impact things at your light, though check those gas stations and parking lots on the way home since things show up there too! The moon is the biggest killer - probably because the brightness makes insects wary to fly due to the increased chance of predation. We've tested dark forests with a canopy on bright moon nights with some success though.
3) A good clear view - setting up a light in areas that are open can be key, which simply allows the light to be seen by more individual insects flying around.
4) Habitat is important too, but try black lighting anywhere the three above factors are considered. You never know what might turn up, and few have probably black lighted in some seemingly less favorable areas. In desert areas, location with a creek or spring or some other water feature can be really key.

I also like to set up in places that are off main roads as far as possible, as lights from cars can be really distracting, and moreover, YOUR light tends to be an attractant to looky-loos who stop and ask what is going on (including the police). There is also the threat of some drunk slamming into you if you are right along a road.

Finally, I have tested the positioning of these lights on the sheet and have concluded that resting them directly on the sheet yields the best results, I believe since the sheet expands the reflectivity of the bulb itself. The same exact light hung inches in front of the sheet on the same night showed poorer results.

Publicado por jaykeller hace alrededor de 6 años

I've been blacklighting across TX-NM-AZ over the past few weeks and tried different setups in various locations. I'll offer some examples (and maybe post pics of the set-ups) when I get home in a few days...or after the CNC...or after I collapse out of exhaustion.

Basically on this trip, I've scoured Google Earth in advance for campgrounds/campsites which are isolated or little used. When I find a place, I try to pick a spot either well away from other campers or where my lamp will not shine brightly close to them (at least 100 to 150 ft away when possible). Once or twice, I've had late arriving neighbors to whom I had to explain about my UV light and apologize for any disturbance; my neighboring campers have always been understanding and even curious about my mothing. In the western states, BLM or Forest Service sites are often the best because they have fewer restrictions and are often less populated (except on weekends). In Texas, I either set up on private land or try to find a state park which I can visit during the week (to avoid weekend crowds)--an advantage of being retired!

Along with the "sheet taped to the side of the car" routine I did at Amistad, another set up I've used in campgrounds (in as isolated a campsite as I might find) is to drape the sheet (queen-sized) stair-stepped over one side of a picnic table--anchored with books or rocks--where I can hang up my UV light close enough to work (within 2 to 4 ft usually). That meant hanging the light from an overhanging picnic canopy if possible or from a nearby tree limb, etc. It worked very well in Davis Mts SP (where I turned off the light at about 11 pm for dark sky purposes). I've also wrapped the sheet around a big tree (like a two-ft diameter oak in the Gila National Forest), again where I can either set up a pole for my light or have an overhanging limb from which to hang the lamp. I've also used a length of nylon rope which I string between trees from which I drape the sheet (secured with clothes pins and clamps and pinned down to adjacent limbs/shrubs, etc.). You've just got to be creative!!

I have been using a Chafon 345 Watt-hour portable battery (UPS - "Uninterruptable Power Supply") which can run my little 15 watt UV bulb for many hours...or a powerful 150 watt mercury vapor lamp for about 3 hours. It is perfectly silent. I recharge it at an AC outlet at home or at my next motel stay. The Chafon of this size is pricey (about $200 if I recall) but has been well worth it. I can also recharge my camera batteries in the field with it, recharge a phone, etc., etc. It has 3 AC outlets, 4 12V DC ports, and 4 USB ports...and I could charge it from a solar panel if I wanted to spring for that extra gear. (It supposedly can be recharged from the electric outlet in an auto but the outlet in my Subaru Forester started to get reeaaally hot when I tried that so something wasn't right. I unplugged it without damage.)

I hope to do some mothing in Monahans Sandhills SP tomorrow; maybe San Angelo SP after that...then home, finally!

Publicado por gcwarbler hace alrededor de 6 años

Chris, I put something together for last year's iNat-athon. Scroll down to the What to bring section.

Jay went into specifics, but my answer to where you should blacklight is anywhere. I try to find places that have a wide variety of plant species, and are a bit open so that the light can be seen from a further distance. But even in an urban area you will get stuff coming to a sheet. Just find a place where you feel safe. Hang it on your balcony in the apartment complex if possible. I have mine hanging on my back porch most nights and over the course of a year I'll probably get a few hundred species.

I'm not fully up on the laws in AZ but I've never had an issue there. I would think that as long as it is public land you would be OK. If you're setting up alongside a road be far enough off so that looky-loo drivers aren't also attracted to the light and slam into you.

There may be laws about collecting that you need to look into.

Publicado por finatic hace alrededor de 6 años

Thanks guys for all the tips of the trade here, I feel a lot less ignorant now. I went and took the first step and ordered the basic equipment, so whenever bioquip gets around to shipping the blacklight (and in my experience they can be slow) then I should be ready to get started.

Chuck, one thing that intrigued me is the idea of using Google Earth to find campsites that are little used. What exactly are you looking for to make that determination?

I imagine finding great spots is going to take some trial and error and I probably won't be successful all the time, but I'm excited to see what happens. I would like to check out Madera Canyon again since it's relatively close and when we blacklighted there as a group it was a pretty good night.

Thanks again everyone for taking the time to elaborate on setups and tips. With a little luck maybe this will be the year I surpass 1000 lep species..

Publicado por psyllidhipster hace alrededor de 6 años

So it's going to take bioquip "3-4 weeks" to ship my blacklight (and the last time they did this to me it ended up taking them over 2 months) ... are there any other decent blacklights I can obtain from more reliable retailers (ie amazon)?

Publicado por psyllidhipster hace alrededor de 6 años

I bought a DJ Party light at WalMart for $15 and it did the job until I was ready to spend more. :)

Publicado por kimberlietx hace alrededor de 6 años

Just wanted to say thanks to everyone - went out and solo blacklighted for the first time last night and it was a success! This was despite it being a relatively cool, somewhat windy night, but the clouds obscured the moon so that worked in my favor. I set up at a staging area off of a fairly untraveled road off the 83 and didn't encounter anyone once I got going. I went ahead and got the cheap DJ party style blacklight while the bioquip light is in transit and I'm surprised how well it worked! Apparently, the bugs don't care how much you pay for your light.

I look forward to seeing what I can find in different habitats and conditions in the future ..

Publicado por psyllidhipster hace alrededor de 6 años

I'm really grateful that a google search led me here!! I just bought the DJ light as well and well be taking it out to the Everglades soon (and other places in Florida). Big shout to @damontighe for his write-up as well. @douglas-u-oliveira this would be interesting to try in the open space on your property!

Publicado por joemdo hace casi 6 años

@kuchipatchis check it out!

Publicado por joemdo hace casi 6 años

thank you! bookmarking! :)

Publicado por buggybuddy hace casi 6 años

Thanks @joemdo. I'll let you know what happened as soon as I setup something equivalent to the equipments described.

Publicado por douglas-u-oliveira hace casi 6 años

I know I'm joining the conversation very late, but I thought I'd add my setup anyway—this post is a top result in search engines for "blacklighting moths," so other people are probably still referencing it, and I have a fairly different alternative to the approaches posted here so far.

For my light source, I use the UV Beast flashlight (recommended by someone on the iNat forum): I pair this with a regular flashlight or lantern, though I don't know how much that helps.

Rather than a sheet, I use a pop-up mosquito tent: I leave the tent flaps open and prop up the UV flashlight inside on a few beanbags or a sweatshirt. I aim the light up toward one of the top edges. The tent works like a sort of cross between a blacklighting sheet and a malaise trap, because while some insects settle on the outside, others come in and get temporarily trapped in a corner or the top of the net.

I've found that this tent has all sorts of other advantages over a sheet:
-It pops up on its own, rather than needing to be suspended or hung on an existing structure, meaning you can set it up almost anywhere, and it will be readily visible to insects from all directions.
-It doesn’t move much in the wind; if the night is breezy, you might need to put a rock or other object in each inside corner to keep it from flipping over, but as long as you do that, you should be fine. You don’t have to worry about moths getting shaken off by a blowing sheet, or coming in and out of your camera’s focus as it blows in the wind.
-You can still use it even if it gets wet, e.g. in a light rain.
-You can easily see everything on the net—you don’t miss species that have crawled behind it, as used to happen frequently for me when I used a sheet draped against a wall.
-If you need to turn in for the night and haven’t photographed everything, you can just zip it up--maybe depositing additional insects from the outer side into the inside--and finish shooting the rest in the morning! They’re even protected from outside predators this way. Of course, this doesn’t work for the really tiny species. And I should note that moths may lose some scales if they’re enclosed that long. However, this enables better daylight shots, even for the species you've already photographed, in case the night ones didn’t turn out well.

A caveat: as far as I can tell, the net isn’t treated with insecticide. If it were, you’d think that would be a selling point and would be mentioned in the description. However, I washed it thoroughly in the bathtub just to be sure; you might want to do the same, if you decide to get one of these.

Also, the tent is tricky to fold up (it works like a car sunshield, but a bit more complicated). It took me several tries, but I eventually got the hang of it. It is small enough to fit in a large suitcase, and very lightweight.

This isn’t related to the blacklighting topic, but I use my tent during the day, too, setting it up on the lawn to catch flying and jumping insects. I’ve gotten a number of new hover flies, wasps, sawflies, etc. this way! It’s also a good option for photographing insects caught in your yard that might try to escape. If you capture them (for example, with this favorite bug-catcher tool of mine: ) and then take them into the tent and zip it up, you can keep trying until you get a good photo.

Hope some readers find this helpful!

Publicado por shelley_b hace más de 3 años

Anywhere else to get good UV lights now that Bioquip is defunct? I currently have a low wattage 365nm bulb.

Publicado por kemper hace casi 2 años

@kemper I'm testing out a lightweight portable set up using UV LED strip lights from My goal is to have a set up that I can take to campgrounds and is lightweight enough to travel with easily. Short runs of LED strip lights can be powered by a cellphone-sized power bank.

Publicado por bradleytsalyuk hace alrededor de 1 año

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