How to perfectly relax butterflies : the vodka method

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wollastoni
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How to perfectly relax butterflies : the vodka method

Post by wollastoni »

We had a lot of discussion about the best method to relax dried butterflies.
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.
butterfly-relaxing-technique.jpg
butterfly-relaxing-technique.jpg (107.14 KiB) Viewed 613 times

Benefits:

- 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.
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wollastoni
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Re: How to perfectly relax butterflies : the vodka method

Post by wollastoni »

Please try it on a simple butterfly (Pieridae) and a tougher one and let me know how it works for you.
For me, it is a life-changer !
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Re: How to perfectly relax butterflies : the vodka method

Post by Chuck »

OK, I'll try it.

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.
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Re: How to perfectly relax butterflies : the vodka method

Post by wollastoni »

Thanks.
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.
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Re: How to perfectly relax butterflies : the vodka method

Post by daveuk »

Thanks for all that information Olivier.
Definitely want to try it. Will let you know how I get on👍
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Re: How to perfectly relax butterflies : the vodka method

Post by wollastoni »

Important notice to all : don't drink the vodka ! :D
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Re: How to perfectly relax butterflies : the vodka method

Post by Paul K »

I don’t know how big is your cup but even if you just pour 50ml that would be $1 per litre of vodka.
That is very cheap vodka?!
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Re: How to perfectly relax butterflies : the vodka method

Post by wollastoni »

Not a "cup", a bottle cap. Should be 3 ml max...
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Re: How to perfectly relax butterflies : the vodka method

Post by nomihoudai »

In the very beginning I used alcohol based window cleaner. I assume it's a similar mixture to Vodka. Unfortunately, specimen will get a bit of a smell from the window cleaner.
Lepidoptera distribution maps: lepimap.click
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Re: How to perfectly relax butterflies : the vodka method

Post by Trehopr1 »

Thank you so much Olivier for this relaxing container suggestion ! I have some things to try it out on and I will be doing it very soon. If successful I also have a couple of Agrias (papered) to also give it a try on.

Once again, many thanks....👏
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Re: How to perfectly relax butterflies : the vodka method

Post by adamcotton »

This method seems fine if you will spread only a few different butterflies at a time, but when I spread specimens I will often put maybe 10, 20 or more very similar specimens from different places in the box at the same time. Normally I stack them inside their envelopes (data written on each envelope in indelible ink), but it would be impossible to use this method with several specimens of the same species and be confident that the data does not become mixed between specimens.

Is there any difference between using vodka and gin? I remember previously someone recommended gin.

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Re: How to perfectly relax butterflies : the vodka method

Post by bobw »

I think it was Bill Garthe who used to recommend gin.
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Re: How to perfectly relax butterflies : the vodka method

Post by alandmor »

For beetles, I use a 50:50 solution of household ammonia and water. I moisten a few layers of paper towels in a petri dish, place the specimens on top and cover with the lid. Label data goes on top of the lid. Most specimens are relaxed within 24 hours and I have not had problems with discoloration, mold etc. Works for me. I can't vouch for how it would work with leps, but it may be another option.
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Re: How to perfectly relax butterflies : the vodka method

Post by wollastoni »

adamcotton wrote: Mon Nov 21, 2022 8:19 pm 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.
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Re: How to perfectly relax butterflies : the vodka method

Post by Chuck »

Regardless of the liquid, I find it important/ easy to:
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.
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Re: How to perfectly relax butterflies : the vodka method

Post by livingplanet3 »

wollastoni wrote: Mon Nov 21, 2022 9:21 am We had a lot of discussion about the best method to relax dried butterflies.
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!...
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.
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Re: How to perfectly relax butterflies : the vodka method

Post by Chuck »

I'm trying something close.

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.

Image

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.)

Image

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.
Last edited by Chuck on Mon Nov 28, 2022 1:37 pm, edited 6 times in total.
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Re: How to perfectly relax butterflies : the vodka method

Post by wollastoni »

Chuck : these are rather big butterflies, we will see if 24h is enough. For Pieridae, 12/18h is enough.

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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Re: How to perfectly relax butterflies : the vodka method

Post by 58chevy »

I use the same method Chuck uses, with water and 70% iso alcohol on paper towels. 12 to 24 hours is usually enough. If I leave smaller specimens in the container longer than that, their wings tend to fall off. I have never had problems with staining.
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Re: How to perfectly relax butterflies : the vodka method

Post by Paradesia »

I have used vodka or gin with no apparent difference. Love this method because it inhibits mold and the drying time is faster due to a lower vapor point.
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