HOW TO PIN INSECTS IN THEORY

This post is not for the queasy. I mentioned pinned insects in a recent post: Crimson Peak Aesthetics I Want to Steal, which made me look into framed pinned insects even more. Considering they aren’t cheap, I decided it would be a great project to try to create my own pinned insect display.

Now, this post is the first in a two part series on pinning insects. The first post is my theory post in order to collect information on the process of pinning insects – specifically butterflies. The second post is going to be How to Pin Insects in Practice, where I’ll be attempting the process myself!

Be aware that the process is different considering the type of insect (I’m focusing on butterflies) and depending on the person you ask! And without further ado, here is exactly how to pin an insect in theory.

What You Need

Most of these things can be found around the house or re-purposed from packaging.

Insect pins in a size 2 or .50mm. From what I’ve seen and read insect collectors are very particular about the pins they use. You can get similar pins from your average craft store.

An insect or two. If you’re worried about the cruelty free status of your insect, you can always ask the seller about their source, seek out cruelty free insect collectors on Etsy or catch your own. As for butterfly specimens, you can also search out cruelty free farms which collect the butterflies after their natural death.

Foam boards or a spreading board. Spreading boards are a particular kind of table to set winged insects on when spreading their wings. It allows the wings to sit at a more natural angle towards the body, rather than straight across.

It’s easy to make your own out of foam boards and duck tape, or if you aren’t particular about the wing angle (say you’ll be framing your insect) you can sit them upside down on a foam board.

A container with lid.

Water, sometimes in a spray bottle, in order to wet the insects into relaxing their joints.

Sponges or a plastic grid that perfectly fits inside your container.

Mothballs, Windex or any other surface spray to add to the water in order to prevent mold growing.

Paper towels.

Re-hydrating or Relaxing

It’s super important to relax or hydrate a specimen in order to make it’s joins flexible to move. The whole process of pinning works due to the drying process! That also means that if it takes you a long time to pin an insect into place it might start to dry and ruin the insect.

The actual act of re-hydrating an insect can vary greatly.  Here are three ways I’ve seen.

1. Fill your container with water and a few squirts of windex or any other surface spray. Then place the fitted grid in after it above water level (do not submerge the insects). Place the insects on top of this grid with corners of their packaging cut open in order to allow moisture to penetrate the butterfly. Close lid and leave for twelve hours.

2. Fill the bottom of a container with sponges, a couple mothballs and dampen heavily with water. Place paper towels over the sponges and dampen them too. Place insects on top of this layer of paper towel, and cover with another layer of paper towel. Dampen once more then close lid and leave until flexible.

3. Add moth balls and some dampened paper towels to the bottom of your container. Cut the corners of your preserved insect’s envelope so that moisture can penetrate it and lay it inside. Then cover with a damp paper towel. After twelve hours check to see if your insect is relaxed.

The Pinning

Step One: pin your insect through the torso and then pin it to the board you’re using. This pin doesn’t come back out. It’ll stay in them in order to add them to collection or into a frame. They should be positioned on a spreading board so that the wings sit perfectly on the angled sides and the body sits in the valley where they meet. If you’re going to be gluing your insect into a frame, use a cross pinning method to pin their little body into place.

Step Two: When it comes to stretching out the wings, some people use card to hold them in place, others use squares of glass. Laying something over the wings is important in order for the edges not to curl up when they dry and to keep the wings in place. The one that seems like it would work for me personally is using tracing paper like in the video above. This video is probably the most up front and direct video I’ve seen so far.

When using tweezers to move the wings into place only grab at the wing
section closest to the body
of the butterfly and nearest the upper vein
where the wing is strongest.

Apart from your first pin that holds the body onto the board, all other pins go around the body. Do not pin anymore into the body, especially the wings. Pin through the paper around the wings in order to keep them steady.

Step Three: Once your insect is properly positioned and pinned into place, you’re finished the pinning process. Now, it’s important to let the insect dry completely, otherwise it may deform the shape. This can take a couple days to a week.

Then you can display it however you want. But be careful not to attract ants and any other insects that may want to eat it!

What do you think? Have you ever pinned an insect, or would you ever consider it? Or is it something you’d like to leave to the professionals? Let me know!


Image (bottom) is a product picture of Gypsy Warrior’s Butterfly Frame AKA, the product that started my obsession with framed butterflies.

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11 Comments

    1. Hi Dayana, you don't have to worry about me killing living beings. I don't not and would not kill an animal for decor. All animal remains I use come from ethically sourced and cruelty free sources like I mentioned above. They have already died from natural causes.

  1. My brother had to actually catch kill and pin insects for an assignment many years ago. He stored the pin box in my room without telling me. I had nightmares for days, then one day found the box in my room, opened it and one was still alive, wriggling on the pin. Pretty sure it's pain was giving me nightmares.

    Having said that (and yes, my life varies between soap and Gothic novel) I think that pin boxes look totally awesome and are definitely good retro, slightly creepy decor! I approve of your points for getting cruelty free ones!

    Also I am totally the last person who has not seen Crimson Peak! Was meant to today but sick!

  2. Ohhh very interesting! I never thought about looking into the process before. Insects have always fascinated me and I've enjoyed studying and photographing them, but I think I'll leave the pinning to the pros and just buy the finished product. I have enough projects lined up to keep me busy, I don't need another one lol. I look forward to seeing your next post on this.

  3. I found a lot of my predatory insects after surprise drops in temperatures. Insects are not that resilient to sudden climate change– especially the ones that live in heat, heh. My favorite find is a praying mantis that did not survive a frosty night.

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