I did it! I pinned a beautiful butterfly and made the shadow box you can see above. It was certainly an experience. The kind of experience you can only learn through practice, but I did find myself going back to read my How to Pin Insects in Theory post.

An important note is that I deviated from the suggested process. This is purely because I wanted to try out pinning insects using only household objects I could find around my house. I didn’t want to buy anything for it (except the butterfly itself!). This process may change depending on what you can find at home or in store. I suggest using your imagination!

What You Need

 For relaxing:

  • an old container with lid
  • a sponge
  • tissue paper
  • water
  • household antibacterial cleanser
  • an un-mounted butterfly

 For “pinning”:

  • An old box
  • un-mounted butterflies (preferably cheap ones in case something goes wrong)
  • sheets of paper
  • a small pair of tongs or non-sharp tweazer
  • Something weighty enough to hold a pair of wings in place. I used two glass candles.

Re-hydrating or Relaxing

Hydrating a butterfly was the easier part of the hold process. I was worried about bacterial growing in my butterfly’s little container because I didn’t have mothballs on hand. But I found that an antibacterial household cleanser sprayed into the bottom and mixed with water works perfectly fine.

Start by adding water to your container. Don’t fill it to the top, and be sure the water level does not reach over your sponge. This water should not touch the butterfly at all.

Spray some antibacterial house cleanser into the water.

Then add the sponge into the container. It should fit neatly without touching the lid while closed.

Next lay a couple layers or tissue paper onto the sponge. These tissues should not touch the water either, otherwise they will absorb the antibacterial water and it’ll end up mixing with your butterfly. I’m not sure what will happen if it does, but I’m quite sure it wont’ be pretty.

Dampen the layers of tissue paper. A spray bottle will work perfectly for this, but without one on hand, I just flicked water from the tap onto it until it was dampened to satisfaction.

Cut the corners of the papered butterfly (they should come in triangles of paper, flattened) and lay that on top of the dampened tissues.

Add more layers of dampened tissue paper on top.

Finally, you can close the lid of the container and leave it in a safe space for at least twenty four hours. Try not to tip this container as, remember, you don’t want the house cleanser to touch your butterfly.

The “Pinning”

Step One: The Method & On “Pinning”

Firstly, let me start
this process by saying that I don’t feel comfortable sticking pins in
insects – even if they are already dead from natural causes. Instead I
opted to use a simple weight method that I’ve seen used by some entomologists using glass panels.

Step Two: DIY Butterfly Spreader Box

Making a butterfly spreader box is actually super easy. I made my own
from an old box! Just make sure the edges are sharply folded, I took advantage of my box’s natural folded edges for this in order to get a perfectly sharp edge. I recommend using thinner cardboard as it’ll be easier to fold and tape into place.

Step Three: Don’t be Afraid to Pry

Getting used to touching the insects is extremely important when literally prying their wings apart. Their wings are actually very strong. Prying them apart is probably the hardest part for me, especially since I opted not to use pins.

The most important tip I’ve found is to start by touching the insect. Just do it.
Get it over sooner rather than later. It’s not going to hurt you and being able
to hold an insect without freaking out will be very helpful in this process. Get acquainted with the insect and don’t worry too much, you can also fall back onto using your tongs or tweezers.

Step Four: The “Pinning”

The best overall method with the least hassle I’ve found
has been flipping the butterfly over so that it’s wings sit flat against
a cardboard backing, rather than in the spreader box, and laying glass
panels or a lightly heavy object on top of paper squares, on the strongest part of the
wing (the upper join that runs across the top).

Their wings are extremely fragile. When touching them you might find that their wings actually molt fine hair-like fragments. While I’m not 100% sure what this is, I’m pretty sure it’s not a good thing. Try to handle a drying butterfly as little as possible.

Step Five: Be Gentle Removing Dried Butterflies from the Spreader!

When your insect dries again after pinning it, you have to be super gentle. When I picked up my first practice butterfly one of the antennae fell right off and the wings are far more fragile dry than wet. This made me rethink not using pins as that way I’d be able to move it about without actually touching it and without risk of ruining it.

When releasing the squares of paper be sure not
to rip them as that may damage the fragile wings.

After all of that it was easy to hot glue the butterflies into a shadow box.

There you go! That’s how to pin insects in practice.

Practice really is the key word here. It takes a lot of practice to get good at pinning and drying insects for display. I have not taken classes on this and am by no means a professional. I’m still learning and my process for sure isn’t complete yet. But I’m glad I tried and I learned a lot.

What do you think? Do you think all of my hard work payed off? Or was it more about the experience? Let me know your thoughts, would you ever try this and why?



  1. February 15, 2016 / 8:46 pm

    I really like how you glued the butterflies instead of using a needle.
    Thanks for writing down the process you used. 😀

  2. February 17, 2016 / 7:30 pm

    Very cool! We get some giant insects in Texas so I might give this a shot. I think the real trick would be getting to them before my cats do.

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