Preserving Insects




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By Dan Beard

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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.  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, benzine, creosote or chloroform.

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When a butterfly, bug, or beetle is put into a bottle prepared in this manner, and the bottle tightly corked, the insect expires without in struggle, and hence without injuring itself.

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From the bottle the specimens may be taken and pinned upon a mounting-board, consisting of two strips of wood resting upon supports at each end, a space being left between the strips for the body of the insect.  Under this space or crack a piece of cork is fastened (Fig. 155) in which to stick the point of the pin.

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After Pinning the specimen to the mounting-board, spread the wings and legs out in a natural position, and if it be a butterfly or moth, fasten its wings in position with bit, of paper and pins, as shown in Fig. 156.  An ingenious and simple device for pinning the leg of an insect is illustrated by Fig. 157.  It consists of two needles with their heads driven into a small pine stick.

Morse Insect Box

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Mr. E. S. Morse gives probably the best device for arranging an insect box for the cabinet.  It consists of a light wooden frame with paper stretched upon the upper and under surface.  Dampen the paper and glue it to the frame; when the paper dries it will contract and become as tight as a drumhead.

Inside the box upon two sides fasten cleats, and let their top edges be about one-quarter of an inch above the bottom.  Rest the paper-covered frame upon these cleats and secure it in position.  The bottom of the box should be lined with soft pine to receive the points of the pins.

The space under the frame can be dusted with snuff and camphor to keep out such insects as delight to feed upon the prepared specimens of their relatives. Fig. 158 shows a cross section of a box upon Mr. Morse's plan.

The Lawrence Breeding Box

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The best moths and butterflies are obtained by rearing the caterpillars in cages made for the purpose.   I am indebted to Albert Lawrence for the accompanying plan of a larvae box, invented and used by himself for several seasons (see Fig. 159).  The Lawrence box, as may be seen by the diagram, can be taken apart and packed away when not in use or during transportation.

The sides, ends, and top are wooden frames covered with wire netting; the bottom is a flat board.  They are all joined by hooks and screw-eyes.  To take them apart it is only necessary to unfasten the hooks.


are very likely to lose their colors if placed in spirits, and if pinned and dried like beetles they will not only lose all color, but their bodies will shrivel up and change in form and proportion to such a degree as to make the specimens next to worthless.

Mr. Ralph Hemingray, of Covington, Ky., sent the author some spider bottles manufactured under his direction of very thick, clear, white glass, three inches high by one and one-quarter inch broad, and three-quarters of an inch thick.  These bottles are convenient in shape, and when a spider is put in one of the bottles filled with glycerin, the spider looks as if it might be imbedded in a solid block of crystal.

I have had some brightly colored garden spiders preserved in this manner for two Years, and they have not only retained their original shape but color also.  In the place of corks, pieces of elastic are stretched over the tops of the bottles; this allows the glycerin to expand or contract.

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Fig. 160 represents a drawing of one of these bottles with a spider in it.  A case of specimens preserved in this manner makes interesting cabinet, but a very pretty one.

A though many persons have a horror of spiders they lose all their nervousness when the insects are seen neatly labeled and enclosed in pretty glass bottles.

How to Make Beautiful or Comical Groups and Designs of Insects

Many really beautiful, as well as some absurdly comical designs can be made of properly preserved insects by ingenious lads.

Butterflies may be made to have the appearance of hovering in mid-air by mounting them upon extremely fine wire.

Grasshoppers can be arranged in comical, human-like attitudes.

Beetles may be harnessed like horses to a tiny car made of the half of an English walnut-shell.  A very pretty design can be made by setting a grasshopper in a delicate seashell of some kind, and gluing the shell to a bit of mirror-glass; fine wires attached to the shell will answer the double purpose of a support and harness for a couple of flying beetles; a little moss glued around the sides so as to conceal the ragged edge, of the glass will add greatly to the effect, and the whole will have the appearance of a fairy boat being drawn over the surface of the water by two flying beetles, guided by the long-legged imp in the shell.

Preserved insects are exceedingly brittle, the least touch will break off a wing or leg or otherwise disfigure the specimen, hence it is necessary not only to be very careful in handling them, but to supply some sort of cover to protect them from accidents, dust, and injurious insects.

Dome-shape glass-covers are best adapted for small groups or compositions, and may be obtained from the dealers at moderate prices, or, if the young taxidermist has acquired sufficient skill to make to make his work valuable, he can readily trade off duplicate specimens for glass-covers, as many amateurs as well as some professionals do.

American Boy's Handy Book






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Last modified: October 15, 2016.