Crafts, documenting nature, Taxidermy, xo

Collecting Bugs

01.10.09 | 3 Comments

fancypants lepidoptery

I’m doing dishes. He is four and bored and restless and wriggling over the furniture by midmorning. I tell Chas it’s too sunny outside for a movie. Beautiful days are meant to be out-of-doors. Internalize that, little man!

With a grudge he plops to the floor, surrounding himself with shoes, to pick out a pair. I grin, cradling a lidded mason jar and pink sandbox scoop, and with my other hand I help him slide on his sandals. The sunshine has warmed the fickle January air here to near-70 degrees fahrenheit, heatwave following a hard freeze, leaving brown and withered shoots; steam on the streets; a string of jackets hung on the playground fence after recess.

We tiptoe around Ford’s tribe towards the garden beds. He squats down close to help me lift up stone. Then he gasps, holding his breath; under neath the flower pot are an army of ants, two yellow millipedes and a roving, furious centipede: mad, fire orange and two inches long. Chas fumbles in his frenzy, so I pick up the plastic shovel and scoop up the insect, sliding it into the glass jar.

“We are such good CATCHERS!” he boasts.

I place the stone back down. His smile underscores blue saucer eyes and the sunshine behind his hair casts a blinding white halo when I look up at him. On his shirt flakes the dried crust of breakfast, evidence that when I can’t be the perfect mother inside a home and on a schedule, at least I am present in the field. This is my office. So we start talking about decomposers.



For the project of Preserving Insects, Beard describes a professional technique for his day: the pinning of bugs on a mounting board.

“Great care must be taken in killing insects, intended for the cabinet, and death should be produced without disfiguring them or rubbing off the down or scales that covers the bodies and wings of some specimens,” says Beard.

“A convenient and successful way to kill insects is to drop them into a wide-mouthed bottle, the bottom of which is lined with blotting-paper that has been previously saturated with ether, benzene, creosote or chloroform” fingernail polish. “When a butterfly, bug or beetle is put into a bottle prepared in this manner, and the bottle is tightly corked the insect expires without a struggle, and hence without injuring itself.”

Or, you could just put them in the freezer for a few hours, which is just what we did with a couple of desert beetles.

From this point on, Beard describes the insect mounting board, constructed of strips of wood resting on supports and sandwiching a piece cork, for the straight pins. Honestly? For young active kids on a full moon, I suggest buying the classic piece of foam-core, cutting it to your preference, and pinning the bugs to that.

we decided Beard's mount was too technical for the younger set

I took Ford to the Peabody Museum of Natural History when he was a baby and fell in love with their Robin’s Egg blue bird mounts. You can run with this style if you get a bunch of homologous paint samples. Like, blue eggshell hues. Next, cut them to preferred size and frame within the foam-core pieces with a layer of Modge-Podge adhesive.

paint chipsuse Modge Podge

Next, tell those frenetic little fingers of his or hers to gently hold the insect while directing a straight pin through the bug and into the foam core. This might require some pressure!

very gently poke a straight pin through your insect

even if it’s the dead of winter, I’ll bet if you look around, you’ll find some critters with which to start a rad collection.

even in the middle of winter, you can find lots of bugs

To learn more:

For a thorough, curatorial tutorial on bug collecting:
The University of Nebraska, Lincoln campus, Entomology 116 class notes on bug collecting

You can also try The University of Minnesota Extension Office’s tutorial.

Finally, read about Randy, in an article by the Missouri Department of Conservation, who mounts Bugs for Bucks!

With practice, you can madden your presentation skills! Imagine turning over a few of these after vacation. Our friend Justin Brown mitred these wood frames for his bugs. It just takes the collector’s tenacity and some wood shop know-how:

Righteous! Thanks Justin. And happy collecting!

add to kirtsy


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