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So You Want to Make an Insect Collection?

By Chris Williams on April 3, 2016.

My 10-year old son has always been interested in bugs and actually knows quite a bit about them. He wants to make an insect collection for a school science project and I’m trying to get him started. Can you give us some basic advice? A. A., Millville, MA

Insect-CollectionYour question brings back fond memories; I had to make an insect collection as an entomology student. Your son’s collection won’t be that extensive I’m sure, but the concept will be the same. An insect collection can be quite simple or quite complex, using all types of fancy equipment and techniques.

Keep It Simple, Or Not

Entomologists have various procedures for preserving and labeling insects. They “pin” most hard-bodied insects and mount them on Styrofoam or in display cases. Soft-bodied insects are preserved in small vials of alcohol, and tiny insects are glued to cardboard “points” which are then attached to insect pins.

Pinning dried insects takes some skill, expect many insects to be broken during the learning process. It may be easier to simply place all of the insects in alcohol vials for a first collection. There are some exceptions, such as butterflies, that simply won’t work in alcohol. Insects with large wings are dried on special spreading boards. No matter the method, the specimen must be accompanied by a label that gives the insect’s identification as well as information as to where and when it was collected.

You can buy all manner of collecting equipment as well as special display boxes from an entomological or scientific supplier. Some of the basic equipment: insect pins in various sizes, pinning block, cardboard mounting points, forceps, killing bottles, insect sweep net, small vials, 70% ethyl alcohol, medicine dropper, hand lens or microscope for identification, insect identification book….the list goes on.

How to Make an Awesome Insect Collection

If you search the Internet for “insect collecting supplies,” you will find lots of instructions and sources. BioQuip Products is a well-known supplier that has been around forever, as has Carolina Biological Supply. Purdue University’s Extension Entomology Department has a really cool website and publication designed for kids that covers everything you need to know and is titled How To Make an Awesome Insect Collection.

Remember, your son’s collection doesn’t have to be fancy or expensive. It’s a learning experience and making an insect collection should be fun! He can always improve on the collection as time goes on.

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