How to perfectly relax butterflies : the vodka method

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

Post by Chuck »

I updated my post, with photos, above.
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Re: How to perfectly relax butterflies : the vodka method

Post by jhyatt »

Chuck wrote: Wed Nov 23, 2022 9:00 pm
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.
Chuck,

Guess you don't relax many blues and hairstreaks! Mine are usually ready to spread after relaxing overnight in an old-fashioned relaxer, with water-damp paper towels and some antifungal. But bigger stuff, even larger skippers, are a whole other ball of wax. I usually relax them 12-24 hrs, inject water, and return to relaxer for another day. Generally ready to go then. (I'm never in enough of a hurry to bother using hot water).

Interesting experiment you did. I really don't understand what the alcohol brings to the party, unless it lowers the surface tension of the water phase and wets the bug (inside and/or outside) faster as a result. I can't imagine any reason why ethanol or isopropanol would behave differently from each other. Both alcohols are usually sold as a water solution (Isopropanol is usually 70/30 alcohol/water, and "pure" ethanol is generally 95/5; vodka of course has more water than this), so any of these would have plenty of water to moisten a butterfly.

I'd bet dollars to donuts that pure, 100% ethanol or isopropanol alone would be very poor at softening butterfly tissues, but being retired from the lab I can't do the experiment. Anhydrous alcohols are quite hygroscopic and pull in atmospheric water quickly. Ethanol levels off at the 95/5 point, a "stable azeotrope" in chemist lingo. I don't think really anhydrous alcohols could be bought, save from a lab supply company, and they won't sell to individuals.

Cheers,
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Re: How to perfectly relax butterflies : the vodka method

Post by wollastoni »

Paradesia wrote: Fri Dec 02, 2022 8:58 pm 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.
I am glad you like the vodka method ! A game-changer !

chuck < you shoud try with vodka as explained, as your method doesn't seem to work : wings must not be wet at all.
With the vodka method, specimen look like a fresh specimen (they are not soaked, they have no humidity drops), with easy-to-move wings.
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Re: How to perfectly relax butterflies : the vodka method

Post by Chuck »

wollastoni wrote: Mon Dec 05, 2022 1:48 pm
Paradesia wrote: Fri Dec 02, 2022 8:58 pm 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.
I am glad you like the vodka method ! A game-changer !

chuck < you shoud try with vodka as explained, as your method doesn't seem to work : wings must not be wet at all.
With the vodka method, specimen look like a fresh specimen (they are not soaked, they have no humidity drops), with easy-to-move wings.

Going back, I had misread the original Vodka method as ALSO having water. It does not.

It will be a couple weeks, but then I'll try to Vodka method as written. What brand of Vodka? If I'm going to try it, I want to do it exactly; I have to buy Vodka anyway since I don't have any.
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Re: How to perfectly relax butterflies : the vodka method

Post by wollastoni »

My vodka brand is "Eristoff", 37,5% alcohol.

But my friend is using other vodka brands and I have never checked the alcohol % on his vodka, I guess all vodka would work.
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Re: How to perfectly relax butterflies : the vodka method

Post by Chuck »

OK, so I am trying again.

Absolut 40 proof (80%) on toilet paper. No water added.

Box measures 25cm L x 175cm W x 7.5cm H, inside dimensions.

Image

T+44 hours: antennae pliable; legs still quite stiff; wings stiff.

T+48 hours: Concerned because the specimens were still so stiff and I was under a time constraint, I cheated: I slid the specimens up on the vodka soaked paper so that the whole of the body was on the wet paper.

T+90 hours: All except plexippus are just barely to ready set, and were set. I use pins through the wings, otherwise they would not be ready to set.
The polyxenes had some wet on the wings, but not bad; the others do not. Note that none of these species are very greasy.
The plexippus was too stiff to set, so continues the experiment, and will stay in the relaxing container for 3-4 more days.

T+1week: The Danaus wings were a bit splotchy with moisture, but not wet. It set easily; it was not rotted.

I'm satisfied with the Vodka method, I'll use it again. After all, I now have about a four year supply of Vodka.

I do have concern for species that tend to be greasy/ oily. Water tends to limit impact on oil migration; from past experiments with soaking Dynastes in alcohol (see the old forum discussion) I know that rubbing alcohol will force oils to migrate, and fast. I have some very greasy specimens, so I will use some for the Vodka and Grease experiment.
Last edited by Chuck on Mon Dec 19, 2022 4:55 pm, edited 3 times in total.
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Re: How to perfectly relax butterflies : the vodka method

Post by kevinkk »

wollastoni wrote: Mon Dec 05, 2022 5:44 pm My vodka brand is "Eristoff", 37,5% alcohol.

But my friend is using other vodka brands and I have never checked the alcohol % on his vodka, I guess all vodka would work.
I think the water in the fridge works fine, I did want to comment on alcohol sold outside of the USA though, I don't drink alcoholic
liquids anymore, but when I did I took full advantage of my time in Naples, besides the Cuban cigars, there was the Absinthe,
so, one night after I'm home, I'm drinking the green faerie and thinking...boy, for a hardened alcoholic, this stuff is kicking my
butt. Then, I see it- they don't use "proof" in the EU, this stuff is 70% alcohol :shock: 8-)
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Re: How to perfectly relax butterflies : the vodka method

Post by Chuck »

Experiment #2 post updated, see above.

Happy with the Vodka, still in experiment stage.
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Re: How to perfectly relax butterflies : the vodka method

Post by Chuck »

Final specimen set, experiment #2 results updated in previous post.

Note the difference between experiment 1 and 2 was that #1 did have water in it. Normally this isn't a problem, but what cause the problem was the water AND that laying only the front of the specimen on the wet towel took soooo long to relax the thorax that the wings became absolutely saturated. So don't do #1. Either lay the specimen on wet paper, OR use pure vodka.

I suppose I could try #2 with isopropyl alchohol.
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Re: How to perfectly relax butterflies : the vodka method

Post by Chuck »

Third experiment. Very much departing from the "proven" model, and past experiments.

* Papilio done in previous fashion
* No new vodka added (yet- probably should/ will since some came out with the previous specimens)
* As you can see, arguably over-loaded with biomass; more to absorb the vodka
* Heavy bodied specimens set body-down directly on vodka paper
* Two smaller moths left in envelope
* Two of the moths were (are) extremely greasy, so were pre-dipped in 70% isopropyl alcohol...didn't seem to do anything

Image


OK, an update. My experiment, which was not held to anywhere near the limits of a viable scientific experiment, had some revealing elements.

First off, after three days the specimens were still quite stiff, minus antennae. Recall that I'd not refreshed the vodka, and with that bioload it's no surprise that there was little relaxing. So I added vodka.

Turn now to the greasy specimen. Below you can see a series covering pre-dip, fresh-dipped, then post-dip 2 minutes then ten minutes.

Just about to be dipped:
Image

Note in photos 2 and 3 that the alcohol wetted area of the HW left areas that appear dry; conventional wisdom would indicate that the dry areas are greasy and repelled the solution, but in fact the opposite is true: The alcohol solution was absorbed, and even migrated, into the oily areas of the wings.
Image
Image

This specimen was so greasy I expected the oils to rush out into the 70% alcohol dip, as they did with the dynastes (see archive forum post). But, though held in the alcohol for a minute or so, the oil did not notably rush out/ off. The final photo (after 10 minute dry) shows that the specimen's oil coverage is effectively unchanged.
Image

After three more days in the relaxing chamber, the pictured specimen, including wings, was dark with absorbed liquid (vodka) AND oil migration. Unfortunately the photo I took has gone missing. The thorax and abdomen were mushy with (presumably) oil and vodka, and the oil on the exterior of the thorax (presumably pulled out of the body) was like sticky tar- thick and gooey. The specimen is on the board, so I'll add a final photo of the outcome.

I did note that the all-vodka method (as opposed to 95% water and 5% alcohol to prohibit mold) force-migrated oils out of the body, and onto the exterior of the body, as well as the wings. For very greasy species, it may not be the best method.

Note that some specimens are not laid horizontally with head on paper, they were upright. These specimens demonstrated less vodka (and oil) saturation of the wings, with apparently the same level of relaxation of the thorax. Note too, that the Ceratocampinae have strong wing muscles, so these had to be cut, despite the thoraxes being saturated almost to the point of dripping.

The Papilios relaxed just fine. The vodka method works well, better than water+alcohol because the wings don't get wet. Contrast that with the prior experiment, in which the Chilasa wings did get wet- I believe that too LITTLE vodka retards the relaxation of the thorax, allowing saturation of wings, and that "sufficient" (e.g. plenty wet) vodka relaxes the thoraxes before wings can saturate. Perhaps a case of "too much is good"??
Last edited by Chuck on Wed Dec 28, 2022 1:09 pm, edited 2 times in total.
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Re: How to perfectly relax butterflies : the vodka method

Post by livingplanet3 »

kevinkk wrote: Tue Dec 13, 2022 11:14 pm I think the water in the fridge works fine,...
I'm hoping that the water / refrigeration method will work well for me also, as I'd really prefer not to use anything containing alcohol (whether ethanol, or isopropyl). I would use something such as vodka however, if it indeed proves to be the most practical solution for reliably getting good results in relaxing specimens, as described by wollastoni.
Chuck wrote: Wed Dec 21, 2022 2:14 pm Third experiment. Very much departing from the "proven" model, and past experiments...
Many thanks for doing these experiments; looking forward to hearing about your ongoing results.
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Re: How to perfectly relax butterflies : the vodka method

Post by Chuck »

Experiment #3 (two posts up) updated with images. Focus on greasy specimens.

I should add, these experiments are conducted at room temperature. My previous experiments with the refrigerator showed no decrease in relaxation time required, so I don't bother with it. When someone does a side-by-side experiment at room temp and fridge, and documents the results, I'll believe it then.
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Re: How to perfectly relax butterflies : the vodka method

Post by Chuck »

Another observation of the vodka method: specimens dry much faster than with water. That, of course, makes sense.

How fast I don't know. The Experiment #3 Ceratocampiinae were dried solid at 31% humidity in four days. I'm hesitant to "experiment" and pull the pins & paper earlier, since that could be rather an annoyance to push to the point one is not dried.

What will be interesting is to see how fast specimens dry when humidity is at 50%. In summer here, when humidity is at 50%, specimens must stay on the board a minimum of seven days, and even then I'm quite certain the "guts" are not fully dried. Particularly at higher humidity, I'd expect the Vodka to dry MUCH faster than water.
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Re: How to perfectly relax butterflies : the vodka method

Post by wollastoni »

Interesting !

I will soon share another relaxing method for Agrias (and other butterflies). :-)
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Re: How to perfectly relax butterflies : the vodka method

Post by Chuck »

wollastoni wrote: Tue Jan 10, 2023 5:16 pm Interesting !

I will soon share another relaxing method for Agrias (and other butterflies). :-)
I hope it involves a microwave.
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Re: How to perfectly relax butterflies : the vodka method

Post by wollastoni »

Haha, no just a nuclear power plant.
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Re: How to perfectly relax butterflies : the vodka method

Post by Chuck »

Experiment #4: one cecropia, six promethea (some quite small)

Immediately after experiment #3 I dropped the specimens in, on their sides, thorax and some bit of abdomen on the paper.

Day five the paper was quite dry, which made it readily apparent that what had not been sucked up in Experiment #3 certainly was now. I added a generous amount of vodka.

Day eight: wings show some moisture, paper still quite wet. Wings can be flexed HOWEVER the base of the wings will only go maybe 30 degrees. In my experience, 3+ days on water-soaked paper would have relaxed the wing muscles more than this. Reflecting on the previous experiment #3, I also saw this- though wrote it off due to the strength of Ceratocampiinae muscles. And, in hindsight, I saw it in the papilios. SO there is something different in the way vodka relaxes the wing muscles less effectively than water.
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Re: How to perfectly relax butterflies : the vodka method

Post by Chuck »

Experiment #4 continued, DAY 13!!!

Finally, the promethea wings are flexible- though STILL not very flexible. The wings themselves are saturated with vodka, so stick together. Between these two issues, the first specimen was set with great care.

The others I had set out to dry the wings, then was distracted for an hour. When I returned, the wing muscles had already stiffened up so best I could get is about ten degree flex! Wow, that dried fast. An hour back in the vodka box returned them to flexibility.

The cecropia on day 13 set nicely, no issues at all. Why the difference between it and the six promethea I don't know. Obviously the cecropia is much larger than these small promethea. The cecropia was wild caught, the promethea was bred from a gravid female captured the previous year and were dispatched not long after eclosing.

No matter what, so far as the promethea are concerned, the vodka method was far slower than water.


In review of these vodka experiments, it appears that soft tissue (e.g., abdomen) absorb a lot of vodka, to the point of total saturation and squish, before the wing muscles do. Why it took so long for the promethea to relax enough to set I don't know, but then again with the Ceratocampiinae I ended up cutting the muscles.


This series of experiments leave me not so impressed with vodka, and also more questions of why I observed what I did. Notably though, these experiments were woefully non-scientific so pretty much are not useful other than perhaps observed results that are consistent across all four tests.

One vodka test I'm inclined to try is the "oh no I forgot the specimens in the relaxing box for two months." With water, even with a dash of isopropyl to inhibit mold, chances are the specimens would be all mold after two months; I wonder what the vodka would do.
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Re: How to perfectly relax butterflies : the vodka method

Post by jhyatt »

Chuck wrote: Tue Jan 17, 2023 1:11 pm Experiment #4 continued, DAY 13!!

One vodka test I'm inclined to try is the "oh no I forgot the specimens in the relaxing box for two months." With water, even with a dash of isopropyl to inhibit mold, chances are the specimens would be all mold after two months; I wonder what the vodka would do.

I think you'd have to have an extraordinarily well-sealed relaxing container to avoid having its makeup change drastically in two months at ambient temperature. Alcohol is so volatile that it evaporates more readily than water. You might end up with the same result you'd get with just water in any very long term experiment, if the seal isn't very good.

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

Post by Chuck »

jhyatt wrote: Tue Jan 17, 2023 3:27 pm
Chuck wrote: Tue Jan 17, 2023 1:11 pm Experiment #4 continued, DAY 13!!

One vodka test I'm inclined to try is the "oh no I forgot the specimens in the relaxing box for two months." With water, even with a dash of isopropyl to inhibit mold, chances are the specimens would be all mold after two months; I wonder what the vodka would do.

I think you'd have to have an extraordinarily well-sealed relaxing container to avoid having its makeup change drastically in two months at ambient temperature. Alcohol is so volatile that it evaporates more readily than water. You might end up with the same result you'd get with just water in any very long term experiment, if the seal isn't very good.

jh
I'm thinking that vodka-only will leak evaporatively, and leave the specimens dried out. In my experience with water with some alcohol, the alcohol escapes, leaving the specimens in only water- and with mold spores. Also, in my experience with water (and some alcohol) eventually the specimens innards rot; perhaps this will not happen with vodka only. So theoretically, an all-vodka solution may be viable in cases where one risks, perhaps knowingly, leaving the specimens in the relaxing container for an extended period.
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