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Insects and other arthropods

Maintaining an insect collection

Butterfly collection
Photo: Espace pour la vie (Ekaterina Konioukhova)
Butterfly collection

If you have spent hours catching insects, transcribing your notes onto tiny labels and carefully arranging dozens of specimens, you know how precious the contents of an insect box can be. Like any other valuable item, your insect collection deserves to be well protected. The main hazards are moisture and… other insects.

Excess moisture will result in mouldy specimens and rusty pins. To prevent this kind of damage, your collection must be kept in a fairly dry spot where the relative humidity is ideally between 45% and 50% and never higher than 65%. This will prevent mould.

Various insects feed on dead insects and can seriously damage a collection. Among the main insect pests are dermestid beetles, museum beetles and tiny book lice (Psocids).

The best way to protect your collection against insect pests is to keep it in an airtight container. You can place the box in a tightly sealed plastic bag.

If you find live insects in your collection, get rid of them by placing the box in the freezer for three days, well wrapped in plastic. When you take the box out again, don’t open it up until it returns to room temperature, or condensation will form on the specimens.

Other factors that can harm your collection are dust, temperature swings, shocks and light. So it is important to choose the right location for your collection, and to handle insect boxes carefully. Always keep boxes and drawers flat. Don’t pack your specimens too tightly together, either. If you decide to display your insects, rotate the selection regularly so as to keep them from fading from over-exposure to light.

The best way to protect a collection is to inspect your specimens regularly. Ideally, give them a visual inspection at fixed intervals of from one to four months. Mark the inspection dates on your calendar. Look for signs of any live insects, excess humidity, fading, etc. Also make sure there is enough liquid for specimens stored in alcohol.

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