Mississippi State University Extension Service

Collecting Insects
Preparing Insects for Mounting

Insect Killing Jar

Avid insect collectors need an insect kill jar with which to kill insects quickly once the insects are caught.

Materials Needed


Place 2 inches of dry sawdust (or rubber strips) in the bottom of the jar. Mix 4 to 5 teaspoons of plaster of Paris with water in a separate container. Make sure the mixture is just thin enough to pour. Pour the wet plaster over the sawdust to a depth of about 1½ inches. Allow the plaster to dry and cure for at least 24 hours (in the warm sun if possible).


After the plaster has set, charge the jar with nonacetone fingernail polish remover (ethyl acetate)). Use a non-oily material. Pour a small amount into the jar, and allow it to stand for a few minutes, giving it time to "soak" down into the sawdust. After allowing the material to set for a while, pour off the excess. The jar is now ready for use. Under heavy use, recharge the jar two to three times per day. The newer the jar the more often recharging is required. It is also a good idea to wrap the bottom of the jar with duct tape to prevent the glass from shattering if it is accidentally dropped.

Insect Relaxing Chamber

A relaxing chamber is a necessity that allows the collector to work insects at a more leisurely pace. Mount (work) the insects as soon after collection as possible. Moths and butterflies can even be relaxed and their wings spread with no adverse effects.

To make the relaxing chamber, choose a wide-mouthed jar or a plastic box with a tight-fitting top. Place a thin layer of sand (about 1 to 2 inches) in the bottom of the container, and moisten the sand with water. Make the sand damp but not "soppy wet." Add a small amount of rubbing alcohol or moth crystals to the moistened sand to help retard mud growth. Cover the sand with cardboard to allow placement of the specimen in the chamber without the specimen coming into contact with the sand. Chamber

Place specimens to be relaxed on the cardboard, and seal the chamber. Specimens usually become pliable in 24 t 48 hours. Do not leave specimens in the relaxing chamber for an extended period of time, because they become too soft and begin to deteriorate.

Insect Spreading Board

Use spreading boards to spread the wings of butterflies and moths for display. This enhances the insect specimens and makes the collection look neater and more beautiful.

Materials needed

To construct the spreading board, begin by gluing the two large 2½ by 16-inch stips of balsa wood to the support blocks, being sure to leave a ½ inch of space between the two pieces. The balsa wood strip, ½ inch-squared × 15 inches, fits under the ½ inch of space between the two support blocks. This gives a pinning surface to use when spreading the wings of butterflies and moths.


You can also make a spreading board from Styrofoam sheets. The blue insulation Styrofoam is ideal.

Spreading Insects

You must spread the wings of moths and butterflies before the specimens dry.

Use the following procedure:

  1. Pin the insect through the middle of the thorax at the thickest part, slightly behind the base of the forewing. The pin should emerge between the middle pair of legs.
  2. Insert the pin into the center groove in the spreading board until the wings are level with the sides of the spreading board.
  3. With the aid of an insect pin, adjust the front wing by gently pulling it forward, until the rear margin is at a right angle to the body of the insect. When moving the wing, rest your pin on the front margin of the wing. The wing can be temporarily anchored to the board by carefully inserting a pin through the wing membrane, directly behind the wing margin.
  4. Pull the hind wing forward until the front margin is hidden beneath the front wing, and temporarily anchor it in the same manner as the front wing.
  5. Once the wings are in position, place strips of paper over the wings; anchor them firmly to the board, and remove the temporary pins.
  6. Allow specimens to remain on the spreading board for about a week. Larger specimens may take longer.

Protect Your Insects

Scavenger insects can easily destroy an insect collection in a short time. It is extremely important that specimens in holding and display boxes be protected by moth balls or moth crystals or a pest strip.

In opposite corners of each box, place five to six moth balls (or at least two caches of crystals). A 1-inch by 2-inch piece of pest strip will also keep down scavengers. Be sure you change the pest strips at least once per year. Always keep boxes tightly sealed when not in use. Also, always promptly remove insects from pinning and spreading baords after they have adequately dried (5 to 10 days).

Revised and Distributed by Michael R. Williams, Ph.D., Extension Entomologist

Mississippi State University does not discriminate on the basis of race, color, religion, national origin, sex, age, disability, or veteran status.

Information Sheet 655
Extension Service of Mississippi State University, cooperating with U.S. Department of Agriculture. Published in furtherance of Acts of Congress, May 8 and June 30, 1914. Ronald A. Brown, Director

This document is public information and may be reproduced in part or in total. It should not be used to imply endorsement of any specific brand or product. Mississippi residents may get a printed copy of this publication through their county Extension offices.

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Last modified: Tuesday, 17-Mar-98 13:48:00
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