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Light traps have been used widely to sample insect abundance and diversity, but their performance for sampling scarab beetles in tropical forests based on light source type and sampling hours throughout the night has not been evaluated. The efficiency of mercury-vapour lamps, cool white light and ultraviolet light sources in attracting Dynastinae, Melolonthinae and Rutelinae scarab beetles, and the most adequate period of the night to carry out the sampling was tested in different forest areas of Costa Rica. Our results showed that light source wavelengths and hours of sampling influenced scarab beetle catches. No significant differences were observed in trap performance between the ultraviolet light and mercury-vapour traps, whereas these two methods caught significantly more species richness and abundance than cool white light traps. Species composition also varied between methods. Large differences appear between catches in the sampling period, with the first five hours of the night being more effective than the last five hours. Because of their high efficiency and logistic advantages, we recommend ultraviolet light traps deployed during the first hours of the night as the best sampling method for biodiversity studies of those scarab beetles in tropical forests.