As you might have predicted, there are rules on how to label an insect collection for display. Here are a few key points:
Number Labels- Each insect in the collection gets a number. If it is a 4-H collection, a numbered insect must have been collected in the current fair year (not before the previous year’s fair). You can have those insects in a collection, but they cannot be numbered in that year’s collection. These labels are the last ones on the pin with the insect.
Collection Labels- The first label on the insect pin (underneath the insect) is the collection information. Where the insect was collected and when along with the name of the collector.
Identification Label- For 2nd year collections and up, you must include another label which goes between the number and collection information. It will have the family name of the insect as well as the genus and species. Correctly identifying the insect to the species is important for point value.
Order Labels- These are larger labels and they are pinned inside the box. When you organize your collection do so by order.
Common Name Labels- Required after the first year, these labels tell the common name of the insect and usually include a family name (so not just “fly” but “crane fly”)
Keeping a Collection Record
Along with all the labeling in the box, you must turn in a collection record. Since the collections are additive over the years, these records can be many pages long. Below are listed the information you need to keep:
Insect Number- comes after you’ve labeled your insects
Common Name- 2nd year and beyond
Locality- location of collection
Place Collected- what habitat
A first year collection only needs to be identified to the order. After that, more work is required!
Other Tips for Insect Displays
In addition to the labeling, here are a few more helpful hints:
Group orders of insects together in the collection and place the order label nearby
Numbers within an order should be chronological
Place the vials toward the bottom of your collection- So if they come loose, they don’t wreck other insects in the box!
Keep a collection record as you go- This is a time saver when you are preparing your collection for evaluation!
This has been an exciting project area for us this year. We’ve already started next year’s collection. As of publishing time for this post, the collection pictured here has won a blue ribbon and a project excellence for first year collections and is headed for the NY State Fair next month.
Enjoy the collecting!
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Once you have insects stored, you are ready to pin! Today I’ll be sharing how to properly pin an insect.
Pinning the First Pin through the Body
It’s probably no surprise that there are rules that go with pinning insects. How to Make an Awesome Insect Collection from Purdue University quite nicely outlines the information on how to pin. I’ll try to pick out some highlights for you here.
Each insect that is big enough to be pinned through the body without breaking will get a pin directly through the body- usually to the right side and between the first and second appendages on the thorax. The pinning location does vary by insect order though so you need to read the rules!
The size of the pin (0, 1, 2, 3) is dependent on the size of the insect you are pinning. Smaller insects use smaller pins and vice versa.
You want to be sure that the insect on the pin is not tilted- either side to side or up and down. It needs to be straight on the pin.
If your insect does not have wings or it is not typical to spread the wings of this particular insect, then you can pin the legs and antennae into position while the insect dries. That’s when quilting pins are useful.
Spreading Insect Wings
An insect with its wings spread out can look fantastic in a collection. It’s a careful job to be sure! You can check out this advice on spreading wings, but here are a few more tips.
Place the winged pinned insect on the spreading board in the valley. You may have to adjust the width of the board to accommodate large insects.
Use a size zero pin to gently pull the wing along the surface of the spreading board. When you get it to where you want it, use a slice of glassine envelope with the quilting pins to hold it into place. You want to be very purposeful with this motion.
Once you have the first pin in place, then you can add more as you see below.
As the insect dries, you can leave the coverings in place to protect the wing- especially those wings with scales as in butterflies and moths.
Once your insects are pinned, you need to let them dry for a few weeks before placing them into a case. You want to be sure they dry to avoid odors and you have to keep the whole thing dry to make sure nothing like mold grows on your specimens or that it doesn’t attract parasites which can eat the insect from the inside out. Yes, that is as gross as it sounds.
The last post in this series is all about the finished display of insects and preparing it with official entomological guidelines.
Now that we know what entomology is and how to identify insects, and we have all of the equipment we need to get started, it’s time to collect our insects! Today is all about Best Practices for Collecting Insects- how to collect and preserve all sorts of insects.
Collecting Terrestrial Insects
You can find specimens flying through the air or crawling on the ground. How do you catch the insects- especially the dangerous ones?
Use an Aerial Net- To catch insects which fly, take an aerial net and “sweep” it over tall grasses in a meadow. It’s best to do this in the heat of the day when the flying insects are most active.
Clasp the Net- So that the insects which have gone in have to stay and usually you can work them to the opening you create while you have the killing jar at the ready.
Use Your Killing Jar- Make sure your jar is “charged” with ethyl alcohol and open it. Around here, it’s a two person job. One has the net and the other is ready with the jar. You can even do this with bees and yellow jackets, but you must be right there with the jar. This is my new go to in the house- rather than swatting, I arm myself with a container!
Use any jar or container- Once you have the insect inside, take the container to the freezer. This is a great idea when your killing jar isn’t charged and you aren’t in the field.
Be ready with a glassine envelope- Moths and butterflies either need to be paralyzed (which we really haven’t gotten the hang of yet, but requires you to hold it between the wings and squeeze enough to paralyze but not squish) or they can be placed in an envelope and taken directly to the freezer. The trick with these guys is not allowing them to struggle. Once they flap their wings too hard, they will lose scales and it won’t show as well once it’s pinned.
Collecting Aquatic & Soft Bodied Insects
Soft bodies insects are those without an exoskeleton like caterpillars, thrips, silverfish, etc. Aquatic species are larval forms of mayflies, caddisflies, stoneflies, etc.
Both are different from terrestrial species because they get collected and stored in alcohol.
Jar of Isopropyl alcohol- Bring along a jar (just a normal kitchen variety) 2/3 full of 70% rubbing alcohol. When it’s time to catch and collect these insects, you just grab them with some forceps and drop them into the jar.
Use a pan- To dump the water and critters from the bottom of the creek. From here you and your kids can investigate what came up with the aquatic net for collection.
Bring along collecting tubes- Sometimes it’s easier just to bring a few collecting tubes rather than a whole jar of alcohol. They are lighter and easier to carry if you are in a pinch.
Storing Collected Insects
Once you have the insects in your killing jar and alcohol jar, you have to take of them once you arrive home. It’s important to pin the terrestrial insects before long so they don’t dry out on you. Pinning a dried out insect is difficult and leads to breakage.
Remove insects from the killing jar- and put them into individual air tight storage in your freezer.
Decant the aquatic/soft bodied insects- Pour out most of the alcohol and add new alcohol to the jar. Once the insects die in the alcohol, the water inside of them will diffuse out and dilute the alcohol. You want to avoid that for long because a diluted solution will not preserve the insect. I like to decant and add 90% isopropyl. Decant the solution twice to be safe.
Separate the insects into vials- Ultimately, they will need to be in their own container. This will save you time when it comes to preparing your collection for evaluation.
Keep them in glass- as opposed to plastic for long term storage so they don’t dry out.
Keeping a Record of Your Collected Insects
You’ll want accurate records of your insect collection as you go along. If you are turning in your collection for judging, a written record is required. Also, you’ll need the collection information on all those tiny labels that go under the pinned specimen. Keeping the information as you go, will save time in the end. Even if you think your collection isn’t large. Here is a sampling of the information to keep:
Location of collection- both the place (address, name, and town with county) and the exact habitat it was collection from (pond, meadow, etc)
Date Collected- Month, day, and year for each specimen
Name of the Collector- You are permitted to have others collect for you, but make sure you note who it is.
Name of the Insect- First year entomologists are required to ID to the order only. In the second year, they add common names to the record keeping.
Most of all have FUN! Collecting insects is a challenge which can be very entertaining in its pursuit. As you gather specimens, things get exciting as you find new varieties and add things to your collection. The next step is pinning your insects. Join me!
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If you are going to collect insects, then you’ll need the right equipment. Today’s post is a list by category of the Must Have Equipment for Entomology.
Be sure to buy equipment that is meant for serious entomologists and not items that are essentially toys. We bought an Insect Collectors Backpack Kitfrom Home Science Tools for his birthday. While this was not everything Joshua needed once he got serious, it was a great starter kit and we only needed to supplement our initial investment.
Our other supplier is BioQuip Products which specializes in equipment, supplies, and books for entomology and related sciences.
Materials for Collecting
Aerial Net- For sweeping over vegetation and collecting terrestrial insects
Aquatic Net- A seining type of net for use in the water to collect aquatic species of insects.
Flat Pans- For pouring water collections into
Flat Tweezers on a String- for catching the aquatic species from the pan
Killing jar- jar of any kind with tissues inside. The jar usually has a substrate on the bottom to hold the ethyl alcohol when you pour it in. The out-gassing of the ethanol into the jar will kill the insect.
Aquatics Jar- filled with isopropyl alchol to keep aquatic and soft-bodied insects when you collect them.
Supplies for Pinning & Spreading
Quilting Pins- to hold the legs, wings, & other appendages into place while the insect is drying
Insect Pins- in various sizes from 0 to 3. For use with different sized insects
Magnifying Lens- to see the insect features up close
Glassine Envelopes- These are also used in collection (which we’ll talk about tomorrow). They are for temporary storage of moths & butterflies so you don’t destroy their wing scales, but they are also useful in holding wings in place during drying.
Scissors- for cutting apart the glycene envelope when you pin insect wings
Small Ruler- so you can measure where the insect is on your pin.
Spreading Board- made so you can place the body of the insect in the groove and coax the wings out very carefully. Joshua made his own out of insulating foam block and dowels.
Pinning Block- this foam can’t easily break and is thick enough to pin insects which don’t need any wing spreading.
Paper Points- for displaying tiny insects rather than pinning them through
Elmer’s Glue- for the occasion when a leg falls off. Elmer’s to the rescue! This is also how we get an insect to display on a point.
Equipment for Handling Aquatic Species
Listed here are items you’ll need for handling aquatic insects and soft bodies insects such as caterpillars.
Jar- for collecting day
Isopropyl Alcohol- For preserving the insect. How to use it will be in tomorrow’s post!
Screw Cap Collecting Tubes- These allow you to collect aquatic insects which are larger and hold specimens for putting them into their display vials.
Materials for Displaying Your Insect Collection
One of the requirements in our entomology club is to share your collection in a public display. On Wednesday afternoon, Joshua will turn in his collection and he’ll talk to a judge about his experience. Then his collection will go on display at the fair for the rest of the week.
Case with a Glass Lid- So that people can see your insect collection without taking the glass off. The backpack kit we got came with a small box.
Pins for Labels- For holding the labels
Laser Printed Labels- So that the labels don’t smear when you place them in the vials with alcohol
Vials- the small glass variety in various sizes
We ordered about $40.00 worth of equipment from BioQuip, Inc outside of the Backpack Kit from Home Science Tools. We use items from the kit as well including the field guide. Next season, which starts in September, we’ll be ordering a few more supplies to add to our collection of equipment.
You want to be well-equipped to do the job right. There is so much to learn and inferior materials will make the work more difficult.
Tomorrow I’ll be sharing all about where and how to collect your insect specimens.
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