Sunday, March 25, 2012

My new odonate nymph digger

For a couple of years I’ve been using a modified tennis racket as one of my implements of aquatic life exploration. I cut the strings out and replaced them with a piece of window screening. I scoop up sediment and strain it, or sweep through submerged vegetation, or catch what is dislodged from rocks and debris in streams. It has always worked really well, but it’s a bit big and heavy to carry around along with my aerial net and camera. I thought I’d try something a little smaller and lighter.

My new dip net for finding dragonfly and
damselfly nymphs.
I found a small (I presume older style) racquetball racket at a local thrift store for $1.50 that looked perfect for the job. At 18 inches in length, it’s about 2/3 the length of my tennis racket, plus it has a handy wrist loop. The smaller size also means that it’ll be easier to pack in a suitcase if I want to go flying with it (something I never did with my tennis racket).

I cut the strings out and replaced them with a piece of window screening just like I did with my old tennis racket. I used 28 gauge steel wire looped in and out of the holes along the side (where the original strings looped in and out) to marry the window screening to the rim. I don’t wrap the wire around the outside of the rim since that makes it vulnerable to damage when it is scraped against rocks.

There’s one thing that’s a little bit different from how I modified the tennis racket. On the tennis racket, the cut edge of the window screening is folded over the top—it just seemed easier to do it that way, so occasionally I get a little poke from them as I push the debris around with my fingers. Not a big deal, but it is a little annoying, plus it’s more likely to snag fine debris. This time the cut edge of the screen is on the underside where it’s more out of the way.

On top is the outside of the rim showing the steel wire
looping in and out of the holes. Below is the inside of
the rim where the window screening is attached.
The original wrapping on the handle was pretty old and I figured it wouldn’t hold up to aquatic usage for very long, so I finished up with rubbery bicycle handlebar tape secured at the end with yellow duct tape. The handlebar tape is soft and grippy and that yellow duct tape should make it easier to spot when I absentmindedly put it down in vegetation. I like the handlebar tape so well that I put it on my tennis racket too. It lost its handle wrap after occasional exposure to water.

A small advantage of the racquetball racket over the tennis racket is the flatter edge opposite the handle. This should leave fewer gaps when it is seated against a stream’s substrate to catch what drifts from overturned rocks and wood debris. The short handle means that I’ll use it primarily in shallow waters; the longer tennis racket will still be useful in deeper waters.

I gave my new dip net a try yesterday, but the location wasn’t optimal. I found a couple damselfly nymphs, but no dragonflies. I look forward to seeing what I can dig up elsewhere during my travels. I’ll keep you posted...

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