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Guest AlexW

How to make dried beetles?

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Guest AlexW

When you know you are a very unusual sort of entomophile:

 

You easily break world records by keeping new and unusual coleopterans as pets

But after they die you can barely preserve the specimens

 

I am trying to preserve insects after they die of natural causes, but despite plenty of info on the internet they don't seem to turn out right. Bugguide's instructions seem to suggest that putting mothballs and sealing the display are enough to keep them from disintegrating, as if the specimens would dry out and thus automatically become immune to mold and rot. I tried the fridge and the freezer, but they don't seem to prevent decay.

I don't wish to keep nasty poisons in my collection case, and I can't buy one either. Tips? I'm thinking of something like this, because I don't like pins.

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Great question! I too am interested in this.

I've been curious as to how the pros deal with the gooey innards of larger insects - big hissers, hercules beetles, vinegaroons. I know my hissers start to smell pretty bad after a day or so. It's that something you just have to wait out? Or do you do a taxidermy type thing where you remove the inside and stuff the cavity?

I use the pin method in case that matters.   

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Hey y’all! I actually love insect taxidermy and will do my best to help you out! 

In order to have insects in a display case like the one listed above, pins are still required, they are just removed before the final placement in the cotton-lined boxes seen there. Pinning may not be your desired look, but once your insects are pinned, the pins can easily be removed and your bugs will look magnificent as they are. 
 

There are two main preservation looks you can get with pinned insects: 

1. Display style - Wings, legs, etc are spread out and posed in order to show the most aesthetically pleasing parts of the animal. A good example would be this: https://www.amazon.com/Beetle-Cicada-Taxidermy-Display-Collectibles/dp/B00K86HTK0

2. Cataloguing style - A pin is put through the animal and nothing is repositioned or spread after that. This is how most researchers chose to keep pinned insects, as it is much easier to keep fragile parts from breaking off and takes up less room in display cases. Here is an example: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Insect_collecting#/media/File:Beetle_collection.jpg

If you would like your specimens to look more catalogue-style, you simply need to soak them in rubbing alcohol (a few hours for smaller insects, 2 days or more for larger ones, and 4 days to a few weeks for specimens that have smelly defense mechanisms because they will stink up your whole house), place them flat over styrofoam, and push an entomology grade pin into their thorax. Getting entomology grade pins are important, because most other pins can cause a breakdown of the specimen over time, and some may even crush the thorax of inverts when pinning. The rubbing alcohol sterilizes the inside and outside of the specimen, and helps excess water evaporate once the animal is dried. 
 

If you would like to make more display-style specimens, some precision work is required. Soak your invertebrate in rubbing alcohol (same as you would for catalogue-style), and when they are ready, place them on a piece of styrofoam. Some people use tweezers, but I prefer to use my hands for the next step (I can never tell if I’m pushing or pulling too hard with tweezers). Use tweezers/ your fingers to gently pull the legs of your specimen away from the body, massaging each joint flat. You may hear a popping or cracking sound on larger animals when you do this, it’s nothing to worry about. Once the desired limbs are softened, place your insect back down on the styrofoam and push a pin through the thorax. Use pins to gently pull the legs out from underneath the insect and position them along the styrofoam. Place pins on either side of the legs to keep them in place, but do not pierce the legs themselves, they will fall apart once the specimen is dried. Here is an example of what this will look like: https://www.pinterest.com/pin/289145238560749865/

If you would like to display your animals with the wings spread, gently use a pin to lift the wing cases off the body and position them with pins as well once they’re loose. This can take some practice and they may break off if you are too rough (if that happens, just use a dab of superglue, it’s easy to hide). Pinning the wings themselves may take some time, as they are the most difficult part to flatten and pose, in my opinion.
 

You can choose to pose the wings: 
1. Above the head (it’s a more unnatural position, but some people like it),

2. With the wings and wings cases horizontal with the body

3. Or with the wings poised downward and the wing cases horizontal (this is the easiest for beginners) 

Once the wings are lifted off the body, you are left with a decision - Do I want the abdomen to remain plump, or have more or a mummified look? This is purely an aesthetic decision and will not affect how your specimen ages over time. The mummified look is popular with curiosity shops and collectors that favor antique specimens, but a plump abdomen makes the animal look and feel more alive. To maintain this, fill a syringe with rubbing alcohol or formalin, and inject it into the abdomen via the anal duct. If the insect is too full of guts to get a comfortable amount of fluid in it, you may have to drain some of the inner fluids out of the animal first before injections are administered. 

For softer specimens like hissing cockroaches and large beetles, injecting the abdomen with rubbing alcohol is a necessary step, unless you want to spray your specimen down with a clear fixative (like the kind used for acrylic paintings). Spraying it down is definitely easier, but you must be sure to cover the entire animal, otherwise it will deflate and possibly rot over time. 

Once all of the limbs are laid out how you would like to see them arranged, all you have to do now is wait. For plumped specimens, I let them dry a few days before framing, and for mummified ones, I just wait until the specimen looks fully dried out. If it starts to rot or mold while drying (it shouldn’t, but it happens), soak some paper towels in rubbing alcohol, drape them over the rotted parts, and wait for the mold to die. Then let the drying process begin again.

I will post some examples of all of the mentioned methods soon, but for now, I really hope this helps! Insect taxidermy is addictive and fun, it’s hard not to take home dead bugs when I find them out and about now that I know how easy it is to preserve them, haha. Wet specimens are also an option too, but I’ve never tried that, so I can’t tell you where to begin! If you want to feel like a mad scientist with liquid jars full of insects in your home, feel free to research that on your own. It can look beautiful in its own way, but not what most people are looking for. 
 

I would love to see your results when you’re gonna attempt this again :) 

Edited by Shon2
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Here are some example pics. If google drive doesn’t work or you need permission, just let me know and I will allow access to whoever wants to look at these :) 

This is the box I currently have of drying specimens: https://drive.google.com/file/d/19Aa3JatRtOqxmHqrWx4Kzay-ZIUwa1Yw

The two beetles on the right as well as the dubia roach on the bottom left are drying “mummified” style, whereas the wasps, honeybee, and large rhinoceros beetle are drying “plumped” to look more lifelike. I have not started working on either of the butterflies, but just as a note, you cannot dip Lepidoptera in rubbing alcohol, it ruins the quality of their wings (I forgot to mention that in the above post). 
These beetles have a thick exoskeleton, so only the top of their abdomen has become flattened with the drying process: https://drive.google.com/file/d/1hyx_obI1Be3a3uypqvEZ6Ya9lVerkQOH/view?usp=drivesdk

https://drive.google.com/file/d/1nVM1orgx13RsA_7S58lCyObXrfPlalIs/view?usp=drivesdk


https://drive.google.com/file/d/1VZQcekkKqtLng4DPZ1fpQo0cHMHPgVsp/view?usp=drivesdk

This is my shadow box full of finished specimens that are yet to be framed individually:  https://drive.google.com/file/d/1kgTavagWKMJWO4KANkCSyPpjNELXPWu9/view?usp=drivesdk

The dubia roach seen in the top left of the finished box is mummified, and as you can see, they become really flat when finished. They look great from the top and bottom though! 
Top: https://drive.google.com/file/d/1_uaG45rm65_aVHORkNksx7_1WhN2GPtJ/view?usp=drivesdk

Side: https://drive.google.com/file/d/1jv-9cUMr3USI7WLfncHfCTswlckpGu5R/view?usp=drivesdk

My male hisser has gotten some wear and tear over time (he wasn’t always missing pieces), but I used the fixative method to preserve him and he’s held up well over the course of a few years: https://drive.google.com/file/d/1ZWpKRljksEkztU5K-zIqoHr8PruFhI9B/view?usp=drivesdk
 

Most other animals in the finished box did not need to be injected with anything to remain nice and full, they all have just soaked for the proper amount of time in rubbing alcohol and have been treated gently during the drying process. Even tiny insects come out nice! 
https://drive.google.com/file/d/134NXAnqjnIdXGEhSfU4pUig47sCsIbR1/view?usp=drivesdk

https://drive.google.com/file/d/15ecrU2uSrok--qYMNnB3aciSNQHtC4tc/view?usp=drivesdk
 

If you are really set on not pinning anything, maybe you can just loosen all of the limbs on your specimens and stick them between two pieces of cardboard to keep them in place? Or directly into the display boxes? I feel like that may lead to them shriveling up again, but it might be worth a try. 
 

Again, thank you for your time, and I hope this information helps! :D

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