Question about pinning spread Lepidoptera

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Papilio_indra
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Question about pinning spread Lepidoptera

Post by Papilio_indra »

I'm in the process of cataloging a western U.S. butterfly and skipper collection that was made from 1937 to 1945. All of the specimens were spread and layered between layers of cotton in boxes in order to conserve space. I would like to pin many of the specimens and transfer them to Cornell style drawers. Is there a known technique for relaxing the thorax of a dried specimen so that a pin can be inserted without relaxing (and re-spreading) the entire butterfly? Thanks for any tips or suggestions that you may have.
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Re: Question about pinning spread Lepidoptera

Post by Trehopr1 »

This may sound unconventional but, you could try getting yourself a packet of "O" size insect pins. They are very thin and fine/sharp pointed. These would easily pierce the thorax of any of your swallowtails or Colias.

Just place each specimen on a styrofoam piece and CAREFULLY push it through.With your smaller Anthocaris and skippers try using size "OO or OOO". Should work.

I have (dry) pinned some 30 specimens of various insecta (non- coleoptera) which arrived packaged and looking good to me ---- so, push a pin through it and on to the next one !

I think once you have several successes in a row you will be comfortable. Otherwise, I think even if you injected each with hot water the wings would droop once placed into any drawer.

Can't imagine any options other than relaxing/re-spreading each specimen; a likely long process....
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Re: Question about pinning spread Lepidoptera

Post by Papilio_indra »

Thanks Trehopr1 for the excellent suggestion. I'll get some "0" and smaller size pins and give it a try. The initial piercing with a fine pin might create a "pilot hole" for a larger sized pin that is more suitable for use on bigger specimens (Nymphalids, swallowtails, etc.). Thanks again!
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Re: Question about pinning spread Lepidoptera

Post by Panacanthus »

Are you certain they don’t have existing pin holes? Have you checked with a magnifying glass or microscope? It seems unlikely they would have been spread originally without a pin through the thorax. Could be that someone removed the pins in order to store them in the manner which you received them.
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Re: Question about pinning spread Lepidoptera

Post by billgarthe »

First….dodouble check to see if there are holes on the top of the thorax.

While size 0 pins would work, I’d tend to use size 2 to do the job. Size 0 will leave the specimen in drawer a bit “springy” which could go “boing” and snap off an abdomen or antenna. The trick (and I’ve done hundreds this way) is to twist the pin like a screw when inserting. I used to use styrofoam as a base, but have come to actually hold the base of the thorax with my two fingers. This prevents the specimen from moving from side to side as you insert. Just be careful as once in a great while, one can stick themself in the process. You could also place a super tiny drop of gin on the spot (top of thorax) you’re going to put the pin in and wait a minute or two, then proceed to twist the pin in. Patience is the key. Don’t “force” the pin in, just let it gradually penetrate at its own pace. Forcing will crack/break the surface which could spell disaster.
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Re: Question about pinning spread Lepidoptera

Post by Papilio_indra »

Thanks Panacanthus for that suggestion, although I did look initially for holes in the thorax I will check more closely this afternoon to see if they were in fact pinned at one time. These specimens were prepared by a teenager during WW2 who probably didn't have access to, or couldn't afford, insect pins. It is interesting to note that I cannot tell how the forewings were advanced to their right angle positions as there are no pin holes or minor flaws typically associated with pulling the forewings forward when using the pin behind the heavy vein method.

Bill I like your ideas of twisting the pin and possibly using a small drop of gin to soften things up. Also after visualizing what you've described, I'm thinking of placing the specimen on a mounting board and holding the wings in place with weighted microscope slides and then inserting the pin. I'm concerned that if I try to hold the base of thorax in my fingers I may break off several of the legs. Thanks for the tips!
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Re: Question about pinning spread Lepidoptera

Post by evra »

Most of what holds the wings in place is the dried muscles at the joint between the wings and the thorax. So by relaxing the thorax, you relax those and the wings will instantly droop. In my opinion, with how fragile/brittle dried specimens are, you should just relax the whole thing and repin it. You'll likely destroy the specimen otherwise. Usually moving something from pinned to a Riker mount is a one-way trip.
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Re: Question about pinning spread Lepidoptera

Post by 58chevy »

My guess is that many of the legs have already broken off from being pressed into the cotton. If that is the case and you don't mind losing a few more, just hold the specimen by the underside of the thorax (as described by Bill Garthe) and insert the pin into the top of the thorax. I've done this numerous times without damaging anything but the legs. No re-relaxing is necessary unless you are determined to preserve the legs. I usually use a #2 or #3 pin. Smaller pins tend to bend or spin after insertion.
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Re: Question about pinning spread Lepidoptera

Post by Paul K »

I would also relaxed and spread the specimens.
This is the only safe metod. I did it to my entire collection about six years ago changing all black and some old steel pins to proper size stainless steel and included all laser print labels. It took me several months as there was about 1000 specimens to work on but that was definitely worth it.
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Re: Question about pinning spread Lepidoptera

Post by Trehopr1 »

Please do let us know what seems to work best and how things turn out !☺️
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Re: Question about pinning spread Lepidoptera

Post by Papilio_indra »

Here's an update - and thanks to everyone for their helpful suggestions! Using magnification I did in fact find that the smaller specimens (coppers, hairstreaks, some Pierieds, and most Satyrids) were pinned at one time. All of the others had not been pinned. I decided to experiment with an 82 year old male Lycaena rubidus specimen which I secured it to a spreading board with pinning strips. I then placed the tip of "0" stainless steel pin into the top of the existing hole and tried to find the old pathway through the thorax. It took a little while but the pin finally dropped in place without much pressure. I then slid the butterfly to about 1/2 inch (12 mm) from the head of the pin.

I then tried to pin an 80 year old Parnassius clodius specimen by holding it in my fingers and pushing the pin through. The pin broke through the surface of the thorax quite easily but then hit some resistance. That's when I got thinking that I should have softened it up first with a small amount of gin. The pin eventually found a route through the thorax and out of the body. Nothing was broken or damaged and I was quite happy. The only issue was that the pin wasn't quite as perpendicular to the body as I had hoped.

All in all I'm happy with the results so far. I think that I'll probably fully relax some of the more valuable specimens and pre-soften the thorax on others. Thanks again for all of the input - I appreciate it.

Note* Not sure why the color difference are so great in the first two photos - I can assure you that it is the same butterfly.
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Re: Question about pinning spread Lepidoptera

Post by Trehopr1 »

Very nice to hear of these early successes.

As you say it is wise to probably relax/reset the more valuable specimens. This could probably be easily done with as little as five or six hours spent in any relaxer.

The first method used on the Lycaena may have been "painstaking" but, once you found the old pinhole it was just a matter of "following through" carefully. Sounds like the way to go with all of the fairly small butterflies. That way less chance of a loss of legs.

The other method used on the parnassius would not work well for things on a smaller scale because you will either crush them between your fingers or you will hopelessly knock off ALL the remaining legs.

Time and Patience are your best friends here.

Look forward to seeing some of these wonderful OLD specimens on pins and in a drawer, unitray or schmidt box --- which you can show us when you are further along. 🙏☺️
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