What You'll Need:
- dried butterflies (or moths)
- rehydrating chamber w/ paper towel (I just use a tupperware container)
- spreading board (wood or styrofoam works!)
- insect pins (I've seen people use regular sewing pins as well, those work fine!)
- forceps (optional, but they help a lot)
- small strips of paper, anything transparent works best (for holding the wings down)
If you choose to order your insects from an online supplier, they will usually come papered + dry, with their wings folded up.
(note that this is not the butterfly I will be spreading here, just an example!)
Since they're dry, they're obviously very fragile. That's why before you do anything, you'll need to rehydrate them first! Rehydrating is the process of relaxing the joints so you can move them around freely without having to worry too much about breaking them off.
*Warning: dead insects do smell a bit after rehydration. I can only describe it as an old, musty odor. It's not too strong and it fades after a little while! Not nearly as bad as a rotting lizard, lemme tell ya.*
Take a tupperware container of appropriate size (or any container you can find that has a lid) and a length of paper towel. Completely soak the paper towel under a faucet with warm water, ring it until it's damp, and spread it out. Make sure you have enough paper towel to be able to fold it over. Place one end of the towel inside your container. Then, carefully remove your butterfly(ies) or moth(s) from their sad paper prison. DO NOT attempt to open the wings just yet! Place them gently in your container after admiring them for a bit. Fold the rest of the paper towel over the insects and securely place the lid on top. Let them sit in there for about a day, for bigger insects it'll take a bit longer (like for an atlas moth, maybe leave them in there for a day and a half). You can take them out periodically to see how much the joints have loosened up. The time it takes for the water to evaporate + for the paper towel to get cold depends on what the temperature is like in the room you're keeping the insects in.
After your insects are pliable and smelly, you'll want to carefully remove them from the container and move them over to your spreading board. You do still have to take some care at this point, as insects are fragile in general and legs + antennae can still be very easily broken off.
For this tutorial I will be spreading a Menelaus Blue Morpho butterfly (Morpho menelaus), native to Central and South America. It's roughly the size of my palm when it's wings are spread, I'd recommend a butterfly about this size to start out with (maybe a bit smaller). I've found that larger insects are much easier to position.
You'll want to gently coax the wings apart with your fingers at first, so you can get the initial pin through the thorax. (It's much easier to do this with two hands while you're not taking pictures lol)
You want to place the pin in the center or slightly to the upper right on the thorax. Try your best to make sure the insect or the pin is not crooked. (It was hard to get a picture of me actually placing the pin, so this one is of me holding the pin. You can kind of see where it sticks out of the top of the thorax)
After that, just stick your insect into your spreading board! If you buy a board specifically for spreading, there will be a narrow crevice (is that a good word to use?) in the center of it. This is where you want to place your bug. This makes it so that when you spread the wings, they'll lay flat while the body is underneath them. You want to stick the pin in in such a way that the body is almost fully inside the crevice.
Next, carefully grab one wing and pull it down gently towards the board. Take one of those strips of paper and lay it flat against the wing. This is where transparent paper comes in handy, it allows you to see more of the wing so you can position it better. Hold the paper with your finger (try your best not to move it against the wing) and gently manipulate the wing (with your fingers or forceps) until you get it in the position that you want. Be /very/ careful when using your fingers for this, as it is very easy to rub off the scales on the wings (and lose color) or tear the wings. Here's an example of a butterfly I spread on an off day I guess lmao. The left hind wing was torn pretty badly and I accidentally rubbed off a lot of those scales (indicated by the dull gray-ish coloring, you can see it best on the right hind wing). The right antenna fell off while it was still packaged.
Here's the first wing done! Remember to place the pins as close to the wing as you can, so it doesn't slip, but try not to put a pin right through the wing! They leave nasty holes :'^( If you need to, feel free to place more pins along the side of the wing to keep it steady. You can always reposition a wing if you need it more spread out, or need it to be more symmetrical to match the other one.
Also, do your research!!! If you can identify the species you're working with (or already have it identified), I suggest looking at pictures of living specimens to see how they hold their wings! Of course you can position them however you want, but I generally like to keep them looking alive + relaxed! In the case of this morpho however, I spread the wings out a bit more to show off it's gorgeous coloring *v*
Pin down + position the other wing, try to make it as symmetrical as you can. Admire the butterfly some more because hoo BOY THOSE WINGS !!! GORGEOu s
If you want to, you can position the head + antennae as well! This takes a little more patience, as these sections are smaller and more finicky with how pins hold them. Make sure the antennae are symmetrical as well, and that they're not sticking up too much.
Okay, woo ! You did it man! You pinned a butterfly!! CLAPS
Now you want to place the butterfly + spreading board in a safe, dry place. Don't let your cats get to it, and don't place it where it can easily be knocked over. Leave it out for a few hours at least, they dry and harden pretty quickly.
After it's dried, carefully remove all the pins except for the one in the thorax. If you let it sit out long enough, everything should stay in place once the pins are removed.
Now you can remove it from the spreading board and display it however you want!! Frame it, put it in a box, add it to a collection! Make sure you have it somewhere you can look at it, they're such lovely, gorgeous creatures and deserve to be appreciated!
Have fun collecting cool buggies! There are so many wonderful and colorful species out there, and you can find lots of readily available specimens for taxidermy on Etsy. That's where I get most of my insects. Of course there's whole websites dedicated to dried insect preservation as well, and if you're lucky you may even come across a nice butterfly corpse on your own! All I ask is that you show respect to these deceased, as you are preserving them so that they can be admired for years to come <3
I sure hope this was informative!! And I hope I can get more people to appreciate these lovely insects, and the preservation of their corpses. If any of you guys end up pinning any insects I'd love to see them! :^D Have a nice day and thank you for reading this !!