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Insects and other arthropods

Preserving insect specimens

Insects preserved in alcohol
Photo: Espace pour la vie (Ekaterina Konioukhova)
Insects preserved in alcohol

The appropriate method of preserving specimens depends on the type of insect and what you plan to do with it. The following are the most common methods for storing your specimens properly.


This method involves using triangles or rectangles of semi-transparent or transparent material. It is used for insects with large wingspans, and makes it possible to store many unmounted specimens in a single box.

Storing in alcohol

This method is best for insects whose bodies would lose their shape if they dried out (spiders, mayflies, aphids, caterpillars and other larvae). Use 70% or 75% isopropyl alcohol (rubbing alcohol) and completely fill the little glass vials containing the specimens.

Preparing specimens for pinning and display

Insects to be pinned must be flexible enough so that they won’t break. If you have kept them in the freezer, take them out and let them thaw first. Dried specimens must be softened. This takes 12 to 24 hours in a relaxing chamber.


To mount your specimens, use rust-resistant insect pins, available from specialized suppliers.

Pin the specimen through the thorax (never through the abdomen). The exact spot depends on the order to which the insect belongs.


This involves arranging certain parts of the insect’s body so that it is easier to examine them. The insect should be placed in a natural position. If you decide to go this route, you will use a mounting board called a spreading board to spread a specimen mounted on an insect pin, while it is still flexible. Let your specimen dry for one to three weeks on the spreading board, depending on its size.


Labels pinned underneath specimens add scientific value to an insect collection. All specimens should have at least one label, but they generally have more. You might wish to include where and when it was caught, the insect’s habitat and other collection details, and the insect’s identification.

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