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How to Spread Butterflies and Mount Beetles
click here: Follow-My-Hands Illustrated Guide

Easy - to - Follow Text Version
The most important part of spreading any insect that is dried and brittle is to soften them properly in a relaxing chamber. The object is to get the stiffened specimen to absorb moisture in its body and all parts including wings and antennae. You will want it to feel like a freshly caught specimen. The best relaxing chamber is a plastic container about 5x7x4" or larger if necessary. Wet a face cloth or several paper towels with water and lay these on the bottom of container, put a few moth crystals under cloth to prevent mold.

Lay the specimen or several specimens on the wet toweling and cover them with another wet towel. Water will not harm or discolor insect. Close lid and wait 12-24 hours for butterflies, beetles and insects of average size. Wait 24-48 hours or more for larger insects. (You could leave butterflies in envelopes but cut corners of envelope to allow moisture to penetrate. Beetles can also be left in package but pierce packaging to allow moisture to penetrate. This procedure requires a longer relaxing period) Check insects periodically. They will be ready when all parts are flexible.


Spreading butterflies or moths:
  1. When specimen is relaxed and flexible, hold specimen under thorax, pinch thorax and squeeze gently and wings will open slightly.
  2. While squeezing thorax to separate wings, carefully insert a pin half way through thorax.
  3. Place specimen in groove on spreading board with thorax pushed down until wings extend level on board like an airplane.
  4. Push the pin into the groove to hold the specimen in place.
  5. Use narrow strips of index card to hold each side of wings down on board, pinning near wings but not through wings.
  6. Working only one wing at a time, use butterfly spade tip forceps to position the wing in place, and secure it with pins very near to wing edges.
  7. Arrange antennae in `V' shape by cross pinning.
  8. Pin wax paper strips over wings and pin near wing edges so they do not curl when drying, or set glass slides over edges.

Dry for 24-48+ hours. Remove all pins very carefully, or leave thorax pin in thorax if you intend to pin it into a case. Most chips, tears and antennae breaks can be easily repaired with clear or Elmers glue. Scale rubs and scratches cannot be repaired and are generally caused by excessive pressure or heavy handedness.

Mounting beetles and other insects: When specimen is relaxed and flexible, gently wiggle and loosen up all legs, antennae, jaws and other parts. Insert pin through body right side of center and pin specimen onto balsa wood or foam block. Position each leg and anchor it in place using cross pin technique. Arrange jaws and all other parts and antennae the same way. Let dry 24-48+ hours. Remove all pins very carefully but leave pin in body if you intend to pin it in a case. Breaks repair easy with clear or Elmers glue.

Beetles have wings. To spread them, lift each side of the shell cover like a hood of a car and pull the wing out and pin in place.

Speed Relaxing: Injecting the thorax of butterflies with warm water before you put them in the relaxer cuts down on waiting time and helps soften all parts more quickly. This is recommended especially for large and robust bodied species. Beetles can float in a bowl of very hot water for a few to several minutes and this allows all parts to become almost immediately flexible. However, some beetles may slightly discolor.
Practice Makes Perfect !