Display. There are a variety of reasons people collect, preserve and display specimens of insects and their relatives. Of course the main reasons relate to scientific studies, and for these purposes there are many conventions that have been developed and students are encouraged to follow these whenever possible so that specimens collects and documented can ultimately become part of the body of science (See section, “Donations to Museums”). Alternatively, people display insects or insect parts as art and decorations. For these purposes, techniques vary widely and benefit from creative experimentation. Some examples of these techniques are provided (see sub-section, “Shadow boxes, glass domes” and “Imbedding in plastic”).
Pinning and mounting. Dry specimens of hard-bodied adult forms of insects are, for the most part, mounted on insect pins and displayed in some type of collection storage box. Insects to be mounted should be fresh, recently thawed from freezing or relaxed to allow legs, antennae and wings to be moved into position during the mounting procedure (see section, “Collecting and Preserving Butterflies”). If specimens are to be prepared for artistic display and are to be glued onto a surface without a pin, either mount it without pinning through the body or dry the specimen first and relax it before mounting. Otherwise the pin will be fixed to the specimen and will need to be cut off risking injury to the specimen.
Conventions for pinning specimens are related to the order and size of the insect to be mounted (see Borror and White 1970 or other references). While holding the specimen between your thumb and forefinger, insert the pin through the appropriate body region making sure the specimen is oriented properly (see “Pinning a Scarab Beetle“) to the pin. When pinning a series of specimens, mount them uniformly. Aids such as pinning blocks will allow uniform height of specimens and labels (see section, “Keeping good records”) mounted on the pin.
Relaxing jar and other methods. Adult hard-bodied insects quickly become dry and brittle after they have died. They can, however, be “relaxed” so that body segments allow repositioning of legs, wings and antennae (see “Collecting and Preserving Butterflies“). The conventional way to relax a specimen is to put it in a tightly sealed container such as a plastic box, large jar or rubberized sandwich box containing a moistened paper towel or cotton material. Because fungi and molds will quickly form on a specimen kept under highly humid conditions, some type of antiseptic agent needs to be added to prevent this growth. Lysol® can be used with some success, although there are specialty products such as Glanz relaxing fluid or chloro-cresol that have been sold and used for this purpose.
De-greasing specimens. Some beetles and moths produce oils that discolor them. Collectors can try de-greasing specimens by soaking them in a solvent like white gasoline (Coleman® Stove Fuel) for a period of time to remove the oils.
Storage boxes (Schmitt boxes, Cornell drawers, cabinets). Insect collections can be maintained in almost any box large enough and deep enough to hold the pinned insects. Cigar boxes with styrofoam or cork layer on the inside bottom are useful. More permanent boxes are Schmitt boxes or Cornell drawers which can be purchased commercially. Schmitt boxes typically have a pinning bottom and a closed hinged lid. Cornell drawers have a glass top and smaller boxes called unit trays are used to fill the box and hold the specimens.
Vials. Various sizes and styles of vials are sold through specialty product sources. Select vials that accommodate the sized specimens being collected and preserved. Uniformity of vial size becomes important in organizing collections for storage. They are available with cork or rubber stoppers and plastic caps that have different types of seals. Some reduce evaporation of alcohol better than others depending on the type of seal. A few curators submerge vials housing specimens in larger alcohol-containing jars. Regardless, specimens need to be examined periodically to assure that specimens remain submerged in the preservative fluid.
Shadow boxes, glass domes. For artistic display of attractive insect specimens, they can be mounted them in shaddow boxes, double-glass frames or glass domes. Shadow boxes and double glass frames have a space for mounting specimens between the back (wood or glass) and the front glass panel (see Design). Generally, specimens are mounts either without pins through the body or by pinning dried specimens that have been relaxed so the pin does not adhere to the body, although pinned specimens can be used if the space in the shadow box frame is sufficient. On wooden or Masonite backings, an attractive cloth can be glued down and allowed to dry using white glue (i.e., Elmer’s). The specimen is then glued to the cloth (for larger butterfly specimens, legs and hair may need to be removed to allow glue to adhere to the insect’s exoskeleton). Dried flowers, pieces of bark or twigs could be added to make a “nature” scene. Once complete, the glass and back should be glued to the frame so that no cracks or spaces remain to allow for entry of book lice and dermestid (carpet) beetles.
For double glass frames, specimens can be glued onto glass directly using clear silicone glue (often sold in aquarium supply departments). However, a small piece of cork can also be glued onto the glass so that the specimen can be glued or pinned onto the cork.
For insect domes (available at hobby stores), specimens can be glued onto pieces of wood or stems and arranged with other dried materials. The glass dome can be glued to the base using epoxy or clear silicone glue.
Imbedding in plastic. Super clear liquid casting resin is sold by some hobby stores (Deep Flex Pastic Molds, Inc., Fort Worth, TX 76110). These can be used for imbedding objects like dry insect specimens into clear transparent bases and other decorative flat surfaces. The resin remains in liquid form until a catalyst (hardener) is added to start the “curing” or hardening process. Polyethylene plastic molds are available, but home-made molds from glazed ceramic, glass, polished metal and cooking molds have also been used. Experimentation is necessary for developing techniques to center specimens, remove air bubbles and proper curing. Follow instructions provided by the manufacturer. The catalyst is very toxic and should never be used unsupervised by children. Once the cast is released, it can be sanded and/or coated with a light spray of Clear Plastic Spray if necessary.