Here is a new method I have been now using for a year, that my friend Nicolas Grimaldi taught me last summer: the vodka method!
It is very simple, very fast and it relaxes the butterflies much better than the classical methods with water or injections. The other big advantage is that it avoids moistures.
What you need :
- a bottle of cheap vodka (buy the cheapest one, the one I use has 37.5% alcohol),
- an airtight tupperware,
- some toilet paper.
What to do :
- Fold a strip of toilet paper lengthwise and place it in the tupperware. (see picture)
- Pour in about half a cap of vodka. The paper should be well soaked but the vodka should not run out of the paper.
- Put the butterflies next to the toilet paper, I just put the head of the butterfly on top (to relax the antennas)
- Close the tupperware
- Wait about 12 h for a Delias, 24h/36h for an Agrias.
- the butterfly is much more relaxed than with the traditional methods of hot water or injection
- it is faster than the classical hot water method. One night is enough for most butterflies.
- you can leave the hard-to-relax butterflies (Agrias, Charaxes...) several days in the tupperware without risk of mold, alcohol prevents mold to appear.
- I did not encounter more problems of greasing than with other methods (less risk than with the injection)
- it is not expensive : maybe 5 cents of vodka per tupperware ?
One thing to watch out for:
- you should not leave the butterflies too long. 12 hours is enough for most species. Otherwise the risk of greasing increases.
For me, it is a life-changer !
I've always used isopropyl alcohol and water. Vodka is about 40% ethyl alcohol and 60% water, so there is water in there to relax the specimens. The ethyl alcohol serves to prevent mold and such, but is more of a dehydrant than isopropyl. So I can't say why this would work better than my method, but I'll try it.
I have never tried isopropyl alcohol and water, so let us know. It will be interesting.
Which proportion of isopropyl alcohol vs water, do you use ?
Both method seem "chemically" very close and much better than hot water only.
Definitely want to try it. Will let you know how I get on
That is very cheap vodka?!
Once again, many thanks....
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Is there any difference between using vodka and gin? I remember previously someone recommended gin.
The gin method explained on Insectnet years ago was a gin injection method. I used it for about one year and it was as good as hot water injection... but as all injection methods, it has some defects :
- risk of damaging the specimen by injecting too much liquid,
- risk of having too much liquid remaining inside the body when it doesn't "drop" from the specimen (it happens from time to time)
- risk of important greasing with some specimen (major issue)
- risk of antennae breaking
The vodka technique is not an injection method.
I haven't tried gin vs vodka as vodka was very efficient. I guess results should be the same with all 40% clear alcohol.
1. Simply relax in a box w/ some liquid to soften antennae, legs, and wing edges to avoid damage.
2. If need be, inject a LITTLE bit of liquid; it shouldn't come flowing out. Then let it sit in the box longer to allow the injected liquid to penetrate.
3. Rather obvious- when injecting, keep body below wings to avoid liquid getting on wings. When I place them back in the box, it's thorax down, wings up against the side of the box.
Note a previous post that showed a Eumorpha that had been wrecked when it got saturated simply by being in the softening box. Use caution with some taxa; clearly Eumorpha.
Staining of wings, particularly the shiny blue/ green of (at least some Papilio), can occur when water migrates over the wings. This can be caused by something so simple as sitting in the moist relaxing box. In cases like this, it's probably best to relax the antennae, then inject- don't leave them in the relaxing box for any significant period of time.
Many thanks wollastoni for the detailed instructions, and thanks also to all for your input on this topic!
Instead of vodka, would I likely get the same results using a 50/50 mixture of water and 95% ethanol (grain alcohol)? This mixture would be 47.5% ethanol / 52.5% water.
Usually I just wet paper towel and put in some alcohol to prevent mold. This time I'm using the same physical method, with water and 70% isopropyl alcohol at about the same "vodka" volume.
I had these papered and laying around, and this species is subject to staining. Now, this may help and/or help determine if that's from laying on wet paper towel.
It's my experience that no butterflies of any size are ready to set in 24 hours; usually 2-4 days. If I get the same results, I'll go buy a bottle of Vodka and try again.
Update 1: T + 16 hours: antennae and legs flexible. Thorax feels saturated. Squeezing the thorax spreads the wings, though I did not see how far I could push it with forceps. Wings are clearly wet. Neither the plastic bottom nor top nor sides of the box exhibit the slightest moisture. Oddly, this seems thus far to have relaxed the specimen faster than laying on saturated toweling.
T+22: I check the wings of one specimen with forceps, would only go about 30 degrees from top; I assume I could have pushed to 45 degrees but risked damage. The wings, particularly the edges, have absorbed enough moisture to temporarily discolor.
T+46 hours: wings definitely wet; thorax saturated. HW will set down 45 degrees; FW will go to 45 degrees grudgingly, but I'm sure if pulled forward to set it will bend near the thorax. So far, the only real difference I see with sitting on saturated toweling is that the wings aren't dripping wet. WARNING! One specimen when tested the wings immediately fell aside, and in fact I was surprised they did not fall off. SO CHECK EACH SPECIMEN. I then tested the other two specimens and found that they were still quite stiff- so much so that they wouldn't easily be pushed to 30 degrees. I injected hot water into the thoraxes of the three specimens and returned them to the box.
T+68 hours: wings and thoraxes absolutely soaked. However, the FW muscles were still too strong to position the wings, so I had to cut the muscles (I've not had to do that before.)
I'll post a last photo when they dry out to see what staining occurred.
In a concurrent thread on relaxing, it was stated that the refrigeration method had been proven; I do not concur. When I tried relaxing in the refrigerator it took longer.
Disclaimer in case it's not clear: In this experiment I focused on using a tiny bit of paper towel with alcohol. I did not put the container in the refrigerator, I did not use Vodka. So I departed from the instructions.
I am not satisfied with the outcome of my experiment. It took longer to relax the specimens, they became far more wet than if simply tossed on saturated paper towel, and still the FW muscles didn't relax properly.
The dried specimens below. The black of the wings is washed out; in comparing it to specimens set long ago, the deep black is lost. I attribute this to the saturation of the wings for the period it took to soften the muscles in the thorax. No apparent greasing except right near the body of one specimen. These are off to Cornell- they didn't have this ssp, so I guess they won't mind too much.
Summary: maybe I should have used vodka instead of isopropyl rubbing alcohol; I can't imagine it would make a difference. I won't use this physical method of head over paper towel again, until something shockingly new and proven works I'm sticking with specimen wholly on wet toweling.
Another thing to take into account : the volume of the tupperware. Mine is only 5 cm high. I guess the smaller the tupperware is, the faster the process is (with the same volume of vodka).
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