Baits and traps for the tropics

John Shuey jshuey at TNC.ORG
Wed Aug 14 08:18:29 EDT 2002

Richard -

Here are two recipes - the first is mine, the second is from Mike McInnis.
I'm headed to Belize soon so this has been on my mind as well.

The only real secret that I have are to bring as many traps as you can make
sure that they are always in use.  Eventually, every trap you take will
reward you with a species that otherwise would have been missed!  Put them
in light gaps or forest edges at two heights - about 1M off the ground and
as high as you can get them.

First - a fruit bait.  (this is and excerpt from a paper I published a few
years ago (Shuey, J. A. 1997. An optimized portable bait trap for
quantitative sampling of butterflies. Tropical Lepidoptera 8(1): 1-4).  The
only thing you need to bring with you is a fresh packet of yeast and

"Bait. Perhaps most critically, if catches between traps or trapping
stations are to be consistent, the attractant must be likewise consistent.
Butterflies are attracted to aromatic decomposition products from baits. If
bait trapping is used as part of a quantitative sampling regime, the quality
of bait used must be consistent throughout the sampling period as well as
between sampling periods. I achieve this (as best as is possible) by using
only fruit-based baits, and then I control the fermentation process to the
greatest extent possible by following this bait recipe:
1) To a ½ gallon (2L) container, add enough over-ripe plantains (1cm thick
crosswise slices with the skin still on) to fill the container to the 0.5
level. Plantains decompose slowly and create a stable base to the bait that
will last for over a week.

2) Fill the remainder of the container with ripe (not over-ripe) bananas
sliced similarly.

3) Add two cups of unrefined (brown) sugar.

                    4) Add a spoonful of bakers yeast.

5) Add enough tap water to the container to bring the water level up to the
0.9 mark. Make sure that the water is not chlorinated, as this will kill the
yeast or at least slow the fermentation reaction.

6) Cap the container, shake well until ingredients are well mixed, and allow
to sit for 24 hours.

After the initial fermentation period, the bait should smell very strongly
of fruity alcohol and is ready to use. Because the nature of the bait
changes with time, I keep a constant supply of fresh fermenting bait on
hand. As I move my traps to new locations, I discard half of the old bait
and refresh it with new bait to insure that the fermentation process has a
constant supply of fruit and sugar upon which to work. In the tropics, never
add processed fruit drinks or beer to baits as these usually have enough
preservative in them to completely wipe out ongoing fermentation in the

This bait is very attractive, and I usually have interested butterflies
circling the traps within the hour, sometimes in minutes. However, if there
are abundant natural fruits fermenting in the immediate vicinity, no
artificial bait is very productive. In these cases, trapping is not likely
to be very worthwhile."


And here is the fish bait that people are talking about for hairstreaks and
metalmarks: (Next month will be my first use of this particular bait).

As to bait, I would slice up any species of whitefish about five days before
you plan to bait. Put the slices 1" by 1.5’ in a container that seals
tightly (even with contents under pressure). Add water to equal to 75% of
the volume of the fish in the container. Sit the container in the sun and
relieve pressure daily. Make sure that you have a couple of layers to seal
the container (I use wide-mouth carbonated beverage containers, tape, and
then 2 layers of sealed plastic bags) when you fly. Also, take some fresh
raw fish (the original batch will be shot in 3 to 4 days) to refresh your
bait. (from Mike McInnis)

I personally would not take this stuff on an airplane!

John Shuey
Director of Conservation Science
Indiana Office of The Nature Conservancy

-----Original Message-----
From: owner-leps-l at [mailto:owner-leps-l at]On
Behalf Of Richard Worth
Sent: Tuesday, August 13, 2002 2:36 PM
To: leps-l at; TILS-leps-talk at;
TILS-moth-rah at
Subject: Baits and traps for the tropics

Hi all,
I was hoping to get feedback regarding baits, either in traps or not, what
works for you, have you used it in the tropics?, and what kinds of leps you
get at them (moths included!). I know there are all the normal baits e.g.
crap, fish bait, fruit, etc. but I would like to hear your short stories,
nuances and secret recipes!! I'm going to Central America soon and am trying
to decide what to use. Please post responses to either me, LEPS-L, and/or
moth-rah lists. Thanks for any help.
Happy trails, Rich
Richard A. Worth
Oregon Department of Agriculture
Plant Division
rworth at
(503) 986-6461
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