Butterfly Pinning How To

November 21, 2008

Have you ever seen a piece of art or craft that you think to yourself “I could do that!” but of course you never act on it?  Well, some people do act on that impulse and I’m going to show you how to do just that. 

Every now and then I get a phone call from someone who has a deceased butterfly and they want to spread its wings so they can put it in some sort of shadow box for decoration.  This is always a fun phone call because it’s kinda hard to explain the process of spreading a butterfly.  I usually end up inviting them up to the museum to watch me do it, but other times I just have to do my best at explaining it. 

Preserved butterflies in thin paper being prepped for pinning.

 Papered Butterflies

Now, I do not spread butterflies at work for artsy reasons, but rather for scientific purposes.  We have a very large collection of “papered butterflies” that have not been spread yet.  (When I say “papered” I mean that they are in glassine envelopes awaiting curation, after which they will be placed in the collection – see the photo at right.)  These butterflies were collected by various individuals who never had the chance to process them –  which makes my job lots of fun because I get to do it! 

I have processed butterflies from places all over the world, Australia, India, and Peru to just name a few.  I remember spreading one that was collected in 1922.  You’re probably thinking “How can you spread the wings of a butterfly that is 86 years old?”  Well, that’s where we are going to start this butterfly-spreading lesson! 

1.  You have or have found a butterfly but it’s wings and body are hard and all dried up.  You can’t even open the wings.  This is typical, so no need to worry.  All you need to do is rehydrate the butterfly in a relaxing chamber.  If your butterfly is already flexible (you can slightly squeeze the thorax and the wings move) there is no need to relax it.

Part of the preservation process, a relaxing chamber is used to relax the wings of the butterflies to be pinned.
 Relaxing Chamber

2.  The relaxing chamber is very easy.  You can use any type of air tight container – I use Tupperware.  Place 3-4 damp paper towels in the bottom of the container.  This creates humidity, which will seep into the butterfly.  You also need to add a cap full of either Listerine or Pine-sol.  These act as mold inhibitors so your butterfly doesn’t get all yucky.  The last thing you need is something to prevent the butterfly from touching the paper towels.  I use wire mesh that I cut to the size of the container and put it on top of the towels.  I usually leave the butterfly in here for 2 days before I check on it. 

3. When you check on it, pick it up carefully with forceps or tweezers and hold onto the thorax.  Gently squeeze the thorax to see if it is flexible and the wings move a bit (This is very difficult to explain, so I’m sorry if it’s hard to understand – if you have any questions please comment below).  It this occurs, you are ready to start, but if not – just leave the butterfly for another day and check again.  Sometimes it takes 5 days or so, so be patient. 

4.  Now, you need a large piece of Styrofoam covered with wax or tracing paper.  While you have the wax or tracing paper out, make sure to cut strips about 3 x 1 inches to be used later. This paper prevents the scales from rubbing off of the wings. 

5. Next, you will need some type of pin to put through the thorax.  We use pins purchased from bioquip specially made for insects, but you could probably use any type of long thin straight pin.  Put the pin straight through the middle of the thorax leaving about 1/4 of the pin on top.  While pinning the butterfly, you may need to open the wings a bit.  Do this with your forceps and try your hardest not to damage the wings.

An entomologist carefully opens a pair of butterfly wings using forceps.Opening the wings with forceps.
An entomologist places the main pin in the butterfly thorax for stability.Put your pin through the thorax.

6.  This next part is different from the norm, but I think it’s so much easier.  You are going to pin your butterfly upside down, so the pin head will be going into the Styrofoam instead of the sharp end.  Spread open your butterflies wings and gently poke the pin head into the Styrofoam.  Be careful not to poke your finger on the sharp end.  Now your butterfly should be completely flat.

The main portions of the butterfly are pinned down in preparation for papering.
Lightweight and thin paper is used to help pose the butterfly wings in place.

7.  You will need more pins to do this next part.  Place the first two pins on both sides of the abdomen, right where it meets the thorax.  This prevents the butterfly from moving around when you try to move the wings.  Next, take a pin and find a vein in one of the forewings.  Gently use the pin to move the wing so that the bottom of the wing is perpendicular with the body.  When you get the wing to the correct position, take one of the strips of paper and put over the wing and use some pins to hold it in place.  Do not poke the pins through the butterfly wing. 

8. Now you are going to move onto the hind wing.  Use one of the pins to move the wing so that the top of it just covers the forewing and use the paper again to hold it in place.  Now you can move onto the other side.  The trickiest part here is getting both sides of the butterfly to be even.  This takes practice, so don’t get frustrated. 

Further preparation of the butterfly using the process of papering and pinning.Halfway there!
Laying out the Butterfly symmetrically helps expose the details of the insect.Both wings should be even.

9.  Just a few more things and you will be finished. If the antennae are still attached to the butterfly, you can pin them into place so that they are symmetrical. Remember the pins that you used a the beginning to keep the butterfly from moving?  You want to remove those and make a small teepee over the abdomen with them to prevent the abdomen from curling up. 

A shadowbox filled with different butterfly species using the pinning process.

10.  Now you just wait!  I would wait about a week before checking things out.  When the week is over all you need to do is remove all the pins and paper, lift up the butterfly, turn it right side up and stick the pointy part of the pin in the styrofoam and VOILA!  your butterfly is ready!  Now you can put it into a shadow box or just keep it in your collection. 

I have a couple of last minute pointers before you go crazy with spreading butterflies:

– Patience is very important! 

– Butterflies are very fragile, so be extra careful. 

– If you break off an antennae or tear a wing, just glue it back on with elmers glue that has dried just a bit so it is sticky.

– if you have any questions please feel free to leave me a comment and I will do what I can to help!

I hope you enjoyed this little lesson and hopefully you will be a pro the very first time, but don’t count on it!  It does take practice, so don’t give up, keep on trying and remember to have patience!

Authored By Laurie Pierrel

As an entomologist at the Cockrell Butterfly Center, Laurie’s main duties are receiving and processing exotic butterfly pupae, releasing adult butterflies into the conservatory, and sharing her love and knowledge of insects with school children through a program called “Bugs on Wheels.”

161 responses to “Butterfly Pinning How To”

  1. Kevin M says:

    Do you have any video’s on this topic? or do you know of any video’s that can be watched over the internet. I would like to learn more about this topic, but Im a better watcher than a reader…..ha ha Thanks,


  2. Erin B says:

    Hi Kevin,

    What a grear idea! We will definitely try to gert a video up on this topic. In the meantime, I’ll see if our entomologists know of any other video tutorials out there.

    Thanks for reading!

  3. Tony A says:

    Nice article. We bought some mounted buterflies while in Aruba, quite cheeply and now realize that a few of them are moldy onthe thorax. they apparently missed your step 2. We had already intended to remove them to a nicer shadow box. Can we use Listerine now? just place of few drops on the thorax?

  4. Laurie says:

    I just use the listerine in the relaxing chamber to prevent the mold from growing on the butterfly while they are relaxing, not to prevent mold from growing after they are mounted. What I would do is either drop some alcohol on the abdomen or dip a Q tip in some alcohol and gently swab it on the abdomen. The alcohol should kill the mold and hopefully it will not grow again. Good Luck!

  5. Marlena says:

    Great instructions! My question is a little different and I have been unable to find any info on the web – perhaps you can offer some suggestions. I cannot bring myself to kill a butterfly, they are too lovely a creature… So, I wait til I find one that is already dead. My plan is to “mount” them on a decorative twig as a natural little piece of art. So my question is this, “How can I protect them so they don’t disintegrate or get eaten by other critters?” Can I give them a coat with a verathane spray or some such protectant? What do you suggest?
    Thanks kindly,

  6. Erin M. says:

    Hey Marlena! Very good question! I think it will look really nice being glued to a stick to look as if it was perched! Butterflies will last forever just the way they are as long as:

    -they are kept out of the sun
    -they are kept dry
    -pests are kept away from them

    I would not recommend spraying aything on them. They are so fragile and the wing scales can come off so easily. Anything sprayed on them can have a negative effect on the way the butterfly looks, if not completely ruin it. I would suggest that if you mount them on twigs, you then put it into a deep frame such as a shodowbox, or cover it with some sort of glass or plexiglass cover or display case. To be extra sure bugs will not get in there, you can place a moth ball in the container with the butterfly. I hope this helps, please let me know if you have anymore questions!

  7. Zoe says:

    Hi Laurie,

    thanks for such great, clear, information. Followed your steps and photos – and before we knew it we had a beautiful box of pinned moths (Oxycanus dirempta).

    Another tip I got from a person at the South Australian Museum was to keep the insects frozen until you wanted to pin them. That way you can avoid the relaxing step.

  8. Clayton says:


    I was interested in getting similar information on pinning other kinds of insects: beetles and the like.

    Has anyone come across any good instructions?

    Also, as a novice, I’m curious if people usually kill the bugs or just go out find them, and if so, how often do you manage to find a dead butterfly/insect lying around?


  9. Erin M. says:


    All very good questions! Pinning beetles and other insects can certainly be a lot less challenging, depending on how you want to display them.

    Here is a website I found that explains the whole process pretty well, it would take way too long for me to explain it here!


    As far as collecting goes, it’s completely up to you. I personally do not collect insects, instead, I take photographs. This is for a couple of reasons. First, I hate killing them. I love insects and respect them and although there are plenty of them, I prefer to leave them in their natural habitat! Second, not all insects stay preserved well. A lot of them loose their color and it takes some really advanced stuff to combat that. If you want to build a large insect collection, you will need to go out and collect and kill them. If you must, putting them in the freezer is the best way. It is the most humane and they will stay preserved in there until you are ready to pin them. I think kill jars, which are the suggested method, are awful and they slowly suffocate the insect with toxic chemicals.

    You may have luck finding dead insects as well. When I had to make a collection in college, I luckily found about half of the insects dead on my front porch. That made things a lot easier on me! The best way is a combination of finding dead bugs and collecting live ones. Just remember if they’re already dead, you may have to use a relaxing chamber to get them to be flexible again. I hope this helps! If you have any more questions, feel free to ask!

  10. jessica says:

    Hi, thank you for the instructions! I am working on an insect collection for my entomology class. I’ve gotten some butterflies, and one I put in the kill jar, which I didn’t like and do not really want to use again, and the others I put in plastic containers until I could get them to a freezer. Do you have any tips to share on how to get them folded up in the paper, so that they don’t break their wings?

  11. Erin M. says:

    Hello Jessica! Ah, I remember the days of making an insect collection for my Entomology class! My best advice is, get it done early! I thought I had been managing my time well, but all of the little details like adding the labels really end up taking a long time!

    Anyway, butterflies should be stored in a glassine envelope which looks like this:

    The “papered butterflies” pictured above are not in a typical glassine envelope, they are folded up into a piece of paper. You can purchase glassine envelopes from http://www.bioquip.com. All you need to do is open the flap of the envelope and slip the butterfly in. No folding required! Once they are in there, you can store them in the freezer until you are ready to spread their wings. I hope this answers your question!

  12. Jamie says:

    My daughter found a butterfly completely open, unharmed and still very soft. I am trying to find out how I can go about putting this into a shadow box or some sort of frame. Would I just start with step 6?
    Please advise, I’m worried it is going to start getting old and deteriorated. I just have it on the counter in a cool place and has been two weeks. I keep forgetting about it and would like to do something before it gets to late.

  13. Erin M. says:

    Hi Jamie! Yes, if you have found a butterfly that has just passed and is still very flexible, you should start with step 6. Now, if it has been there for two weeks, I would say it is definitely dried up by now and needs to be relaxed. If you try to move the wings up and down, and they move easily, it is fine to pin. If they are rigid and don’t move very much, put it in a relaxing chamber for a day or so. If you ever find a butterfly or other insect that has just died and is soft and flexible, put it in the freezer. This will keep it all of its fluids preserved and keep it from drying out until you are ready to pin it. Good luck!

  14. Sharon Smith says:

    I love your site! I have been trying to find out how to spread the wings of butterflies and dragon flies for some time. Your explanations were very helpful.I too, hate killing insects. I usually just find them or friends bring them to me. Now I know how to fix them to look natural.If I need to kill them, the freezer seems the most humane. No noxious chemicals involved either!

    Thanks a lot!
    Sharon Smith

  15. Jenny says:

    My husband and I like to collect dead butterflies and dead dragonflies (we don’t like to kill them, we just go looking for the dead ones and put the ones that are dying in a window by a plant until they die). We try very hard not to touch them with our hands when retrieving them. We thought we successfully mounted 3 butterflies and 2 dragon flies in a shadow box 3-4 yrs ago. They have been beautiful until this past month. I went up stairs to discover that their colors had literally fallen off. It was like powder dusting down the fabric they are mounted on. What do I need to do to prevent this next time. We have a few others that are currently being stored inside individual little boxes. I don’t mess with adjusting their wings. If there is time I put a sheet of paper on top and that keeps the wings spread. Other wise I leave them alone… battle wounds and all.

    Thanks so much!

  16. Mark Texas Hill Country. says:

    Brilliant! I have been reading through tons of articles on how to do this. Some where to technical for the lay-person to understand and others were very trite and from people who can’t even spell. I think you handled this beautifully and the photos that go along with it are great anyone could follow it.
    i have book marked this page and will refer to it as needed. thank you for your knowledge it’s most appreciated.
    Best Regards,
    Texas Hill Country.

  17. Erin M. says:

    Hi Jenny!

    Well, that is a head scratcher! Honestly butterflies will not lose their wing scales without some type of disturbance, especially if they are in a shadow box. Something must have gotten to them for this to happen, perhaps a pest of some kind. There is really nothing you can apply to a butterlies wings to protect them, and no way to apply anything without damaging the wing scales. All you can do is keep them dry, out of the sun, and protected from pests. Make sure your shaodwbox is in good repair and seals well. Also, make sure that the butterfly is tightly secured to the background and won’t move or fall off. As long as the butterfly is well protected, it should stay beautiful!

  18. Suzanne says:

    About the protecting the wings….I’ve been using clear coat normally used for protecting acrylic paint ect. It’s always worked well for me,and I still have one me and my grandmother preserved this way. I’d say it’s about 18 years old at this point..Still looks just as beautiful and alive as the day I caught it.

  19. Ron Davis says:

    Hi Suzanne

    What clear coat do you use to preserve wings? Is it a spray? Really would
    like to use the method.

    Thanks, Ron

  20. Geetha says:


    I recently went on a trip to Costa Rica and purchased a souvenir of a glass encased wall hanging of three butterflies. When we got back to Houston, I noticed that the glass had shattered and a few parts of a butterfly’s wings were severed. How do I piece it back together?

    Thank you, Geetha

  21. Erin M. says:

    Well, this is a little tricky since unfortunately there is no manual of repairing butterfly wings! You can try to repair it using very small strips of paper.

    You would need to glue the pieces of the wings to strips of paper and glue the strips of paper to the back of the wing so that the pieces fit where they are supposed to. Elmer’s glue is probably the best type to use. If the paper sticks out anywhere from behind the wing, just use small scissors to trim it. I’ve tried this before with some success, although you need to work very very carefully. I hope you understand, it’s so hard to explain this way! Hope this helps!

  22. Jayme says:

    Hello, I very much appreciate your instructions and I’m so happy to discover this page. Truth be told, I have been worrying my brains out on what to do with the three butterflies my boyfriend gave me as a gift this morning. They’re so cute and I really, really want to keep them.

    They’re still alive as of this afternoon, although one is very weak already and I think is about to die. I’ve been keeping them in container with holes punctured on the cover and I really have no idea what to do to keep them alive a little longer and then after in preserving them. I’ve never tried doing this, so can you give me tips to make it a bit easier?

    I’m very hesitant coz I really don’t wanna damage the butterflies.

    thanks alot, Jayme

  23. Nancy says:

    Hi Jayme,

    Thanks for writing us. What kind of butterflies did your boyfriend give you? Giving someone live butterflies is certainly an unusual present, especially at this time of year! I hope my response is not too late.

    Most butterflies don’t do very well in containers, except very large ones (like the Butterfly Center!). They try into the sides of the container and so damage their wings. Also, butterflies typically don’t eat very well/naturally in small containers. But, you can try giving them slices of orange or a bit of watermelon; they will sip the juice (you might have to gently put them on the fruit – if their feet touch the juicy part, they should unroll their tongue and start eating if they are hungry (butterflies have taste receptors in their feet!). However, I don’t think you should expect your captives to live very long, even if you feed them – although my cousin kept alive a monarch that was unable to fly for nearly three months by feeding it this way!

    If you put your finger under their “chin” they may walk up on your finger and you can move them that way, without holding the wings. If the butterfly won’t move/walk on you and you need to move it, you will have to handle it. To do this you should either gently hold it between your thumb and forefinger on its thorax (the middle part of the body, where the legs and wings are attached). Be careful not to bend or break the legs! Or, if the wings are closed you can also grasp it just above the body by the leading edge of the front pair of wings – try to touch as little of the wing area as possible and make sure both wings are together and you are holding both. You can see there are two very strong veins along that edge so holding them there is safe. If you grab some other part of the wing, along the outer edge or the hind wing, the wing can easily break if the butterfly tries to struggle (and also you will remove more scales that way). It’s best not to hold them at all if you can help it.

    Of course, once the butterflies are dead it’s a little different (you still should avoid as much as possible touching the wings if you want your specimens to look their best). Laurie’s original instructions on how to mount a butterfly are excellent (21 Nov 2008). If you have specific questions after reading that, then feel free to get back to us! Good luck with your butterflies!


  24. Jayme says:

    Thank you for your response. I really have no idea what kind of butterflies these are. We’re from a tropical area so butterflies are present all-throughout the year. He gave them to me as a present coz he knows i like butterflies.:)

    Anyway, yes, they didn’t live really long. Two of them are already dead while one is still alive. I don’t know how to idea what kind of butterfly these are. Two are big while other one is smaller.

    Thank you for the instructions. I’ve already tried pinning the 2 dead ones. I don’t have to relax them, right? Coz they’re new.. but I accidentally pulled off the head of one of them. What should I do?

    Thanks again, Jayme

  25. Nancy says:

    Hi Jayme,

    Maybe you could send us a photo/s of the butterflies and we could identify them for you? Send them to blogadmin@hmns.org.

    You can use a bit of Elmer’s glue (let it get a bit tacky first) or even clear nail polish to reattach the head (or any other parts that fall off). Yes, if the butterflies are still flexible (i.e., you can move their wings, antennae, legs, etc. without them snapping off) then you don’t need to relax them.

    Good luck! Where is the tropical area you are writing from – south Florida, or someplace more exotic?


  26. Jayme says:

    Hello again. Thanks so much. I sent an email to the address you gave me. That’s the picture of the 2 large ones. I tried researching what kind of butterfly it was and i think it’s called “the paper kite”. it’s found in the Philippines and Malaysia i think. As for the small one I still can’t take a picture because I’ve already pinned it so i think i have to wait til i can remove it. How long does it take again before i can remove it?

    By the way I’m from the Philippines. So is it more exotic? I dunno. Hahaha.

    Thanks Jayme.

  27. Thanks very much for sharing this interesting post. I am just starting up my own blog and this has given me inspiration to what I can achieve.

  28. Mark says:

    Thank you very much for this informative site. I like the personal touch you add too. I’ve collected about 100 butterflies from Florida and the Catskills NY and I’m just starting to mount them. They have been in glycine envelopes and frozen for a couple of years now and I quickly found out that the relaxation stage needs to be taken very seriously. After breaking a few wings off on my first try with some of the less perfect specimens, I realized that they had dried out too much and needed to be relaxed. I saw that someone on the internet uses bourbon in the chamber to speed things up and to avoid mold. What are your thoughts on this?

    Once I become proficient, I’d like to purchase some speciems in the pupal stages and mount them in as “perfect” a state as possible. Do you have any suggestions? I’d actually like to collect some of these this spring from local plants as well as possibly purchasing some from other regions of the US.

    With warm regard,


  29. Nancy says:

    Hi Mark,

    Thanks for your message. I have heard that bourbon is relaxing but since I don’t care for whiskey I can’t vouch for that personally… Seriously, I have never heard of using bourbon per se, but people do use a bit of alcohol, or even listerine in their relaxing chambers – something that will keep mold at bay. We’ve even used a few drops of cleaning fluid such as Mr. Clean! Yes, having the specimens nice and relaxed is important – but it is also possible for specimens to become TOO relaxed, if you leave them in the humidifying chamber too long – and to fall apart, even when mold is not present. You will just have to experiment. Usually small butterflies only take about a day to relax, while larger butterflies may take 2 or 3 or more days. You can always “test” them before actually spreading them (to make sure the wings are not going to snap off). It is good if there is still a wee bit of resistance but no stiffness.

    As far as finding perfect specimens to mount, it is not easy to find sources of pupae, except perhaps from other enthusiasts like yourself – that these days, should be pretty easy to hook up with online. And, what about raising some specimens yourself? If you learn the hostplants, you can find (in the wild) or bring in (to your own butterfly garden) caterpillars that you can then rear until they pupate.

    There may also be some companies out there that provided papered specimens (i.e., dead, in glassine envelopes). Here is a list I found on the web of potential suppliers: http://insects.ummz.lsa.umich.edu/ENTOSTUFF.html. I don’t know if Combined Scientific Supply (it’s on the list) still exists, but they used to have a pretty extensive list of butterflies, moths, beetles, and other insects, both local and exotic.

    Good luck! Feel free to contact us again if we can help further!


  30. Mark says:


    Thanks for the info. Hey, the bourbon worked real well. I’m a vet so I brought home some 28 guage insulin syringes and injected it into the thorax on both sides. Within 10 minutes I could spread even my larger swallow tails. So if you ever find yourself in a hurry this is a great option and I suspect one that avoids mold as well.

    By the way, bourbon tastes awful.

    With warm regard,


  31. Leila says:

    Ummm…what do I do if I had a butterfly, but it died so I put it in the freezer and it’s been there since, oh I don’t know, May of 2009?

  32. Nancy says:

    Hi Leila,

    What do you want to do with your frozen butterfly? If you want to mount it, it should be fine. Just thaw it out and follow the instructions above. If yours is a frost-free refrigerator, depending on what the butterfly was in (i.e., airtight or not), it may have dried out – if so you will need to relax it before mounting (again, see above). But typically things are relaxed once they thaw – but you should mount it soon after defrosting.

    I’ve stored butterflies and other insects in the freezer for years, usually with good results.

    Good luck! Let me know how it works out.


  33. Leila says:

    I put it in a jar sealed with aluminum foil and a rubber band…

    Would it be dried out by now?


  34. Nancy says:

    Hi Leila,

    It’s hard to say. Let it thaw and with a toothpick or something, gently try to move the wings. If they move relatively easily, you can proceed with mounting it. If they are so still that you think they will snap if you put any pressure on them, then you need to relax it.

    Good luck,

  35. Mark says:


    Ok, so now I have about 50 specimens mounted. Of these I’d say 40% are close to perfect (I didn’t break off antennas or tears up the wings). I’ve collected some picture frames from garage sales and proceeded to make three inch deep shadow boxes out of red oak. I’m planning on mounting some construction styrofoam that is in sheets onto some thin wood sheeting for the back of the box to mount the butterflies on and then covering the styrofoam with an attractive base (cloth or attractive paper). Are there any secrets to this part? Should I seal the glass with silicone caulk and try to make this enclosure as “bug proof” as possible? Anything else? I’d really like to pass these down to my kids one day so I’d like to make this as “final” as possible

    With warm regard,


  36. Nancy Greig says:

    HI Mark,

    Wow, 50 specimens mounted – that’s great! Your idea of the shadow boxes sounds very attractive. We used something similar when we had lots of butterfly specimens on display in the old entomology hall (fabric covering a foam mounting surface). It’s certainly not a bad idea to seal the boxes well. We were not able to do that so we would occasionally replenish the fumigant strips we used inside the cases to repel “bugs” (but that did not deter the dust that eventually got into some of the displays!). Presumably, if you could seal the box tightly enough you wouldn’t have to worry about either dust or bugs. You should know that some butterflies will fade over time, especially if they are exposed to sunlight or indeed to any bright light for prolonged periods. So if you hang the boxes on a wall, just be sure they are not too brightly lit and that sunlight doesn’t hit them. Most museum collections are kept inside cabinets away from light, except when they are in use. But of course you will want yours out where they can be seen!

    Your kids are lucky that you are making such a nice gift for them.

    Best wishes,

  37. Steve says:

    Great steps you have! Have you put together a video showing how you do this? I just got a couple butterflies in envelopes so I can mount them. I got them in the fridge now in a container.

  38. Michael says:

    I just puschased a mounted Morpho butterfly that is in a shadow box. I noticed that the wings are extremely shiny. I don’t recall them being this way alive which makes me wonder if they sprayed or coated it with something. From what I gather, you don’t need to but it seems that some people do. Why and what do they use if so? I purchased it from the Butterfly Place which is in Massachusetts. I have some speciments which I would love to mount. I have a couple Luner moths one of which is almost in perfect condition. From my research I’ve gathered that the process if mostly the same right? I pinned the one that was in the poorest condition first obviously since this is my first time. The only thing I noticed was that it lost some of it’s vibrant color as if it faded. I don’t want this to happen to my good one and the only light that it saw was some fluorescent bulbs. I’m guessing that this was the culprit?? Either way I want to keep that beautiful color from fading again. Thanks for all your tips thus far!!:)

  39. Erin M. says:

    Hi Michael! Well, there are about 80 species of morphos and the colors/irridescence of their wings varies greatly. You are probably used to seeing Morpho peleides. That’s the main species we have flying around here If the one you’ve gotten is extremely shiny, then odds are it’s another species such as Morpho menelaus or something similar: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Morpho_menelaus

    The wings have probably not been sprayed with anything at all, more than likely it was just preserved very well! I know that some people do use certain chemicals to spray onto the wings, but I don’t think it’s necessary and I would be more afraid of distorting the colors or harming the specimen by doing so. I’m actually not sure what people usually use! The best way to preserve their color is to keep them out of sunlight and/or away from bright lights of any kind, so flourescent lights shining directly on them would certainly cause them to fade.

    When spreading the luna moths, you will definitely use the same technique as with spreading a butterfly. Just be sure they’re kept out of light and away from pests and they should be beautiful forever! Good luck, and we are planning on posting an instructional video as soon as we can get it filmed, so stay tuned for that!

  40. Clay C says:

    I work in a place that is an insect wondreland. I have seen more insects than I ever have. The strange thing is that where I work has a long hallway that is opened to the outside. I have found moths, butterflys,and other insects that have died. There wings are spread and look like thay are in a pinable position. How can or what further step do I need to do. I found four perfect (3 Butterfly and 1 moth) yesterday alone. I put them in a container and I want to show the but I don’t know the next step if any. I have also found dragon flys and praying mantis. The diffrent types of moths are numderous, and I saw my first Luna Moth. Any help would be great.

  41. Erin M. says:

    Hi Clay! Wow, it sounds like the hallway at your office is a bit of an insect trap! What step to take next depends on how long the butterflies and/ or moths have been dead. If they have been dead for quite a while, their bodies will be all dried up and you won’t be able to spread their wings without relaxing them first. If this is the case, refer to the first and second step in the blog that talk about relaxing chambers. If the butterfly or moth has died recently, then they will still be moist and flexible and ready to spread! If this is the case, you can start with step 4 in the blog. If you’re afraid you will not be able to get to them, right away and spread them while they’re still fresh, you can put them in a tupperware container and place it in the freezer. This will keep the butterfly fresh until you can get to it. Good luck!

  42. Naomi says:

    I have collected 3 green colored luna moths and 1 brown luna moth. I have already pinned them on foam boards to let dry out. They have been dead for about a week. I am wanting to but them in a shadow box to keep. Do I need to spray them with a clear coat before putting them in the box? This will be my first box and not sure on how many to put together since there is an odd number. Any suggestions?
    Thanks greatly,

  43. Erin M. says:

    Hi Naomi!

    I would not suggest spraying anything at all onto the wings of the moths! Some people do, but if you are not experienced with that, you could seriously ruin the moth’s wings. Also, this is really not necessary. As long as you put them into a well sealed shadow box and keep it out of direct light, they will stay pretty for years and years. As far as how to orient the butterflies in the box, well, use your own creativity! If the box is large enough for all 3, you can put them all in and tilt them different ways to make it look like they are flying. That’s what I would do anyway. Good luck!

  44. Morghan says:

    I found a Butterfly on the sidewalk today it was already dead, it is still fresh and hasn’t started to dry out. I have ordered a box for insect preserving online, and I’m waiting for it to show up. I wanted to know if I should put it in a Tupperware container in the freezer until the box shows up?

  45. Nikka Daguio says:

    hey! can you use other pins? i mean, not an insect pins?

  46. Nikka Daguio says:

    upz, sorry! i wasn’t able to read the line that says “you could probably use any type of long thin straight pin.”

  47. Erin M. says:

    Hi Morghan!

    Yes, you should put it in the freezer. This is the bext way to preserve it until you are ready to pin it. When you’re ready, just pull it out, let it thaw, and it should be ready to go!

  48. Helen T says:

    Thanks so much for this helpful website, and I’ve learned much from the above discussions. We live in Hong Kong where it’s very humid, and mold is a serious problem. Do you have any tip on creating a shadowbox that can be kept dry and mold-free?

    p.s., I sent you a separate email with a picture of a large butterfly we found in our building and would love to find out what kind it is.

  49. Lauryn says:

    I have recently pinned two butterflies, and my results are amazing. I unfortunately have to kill them myself by pinning a needle through it’s head for a quick death instead of starving and torturing it. Only a tiny bit of the scales come off, which I think is fine. I also tried using hairspray to keep the scales on, and that is working too. I was just wondering where to get a shadowbox. Also, I really can’t find any dead butterflies. Where should I look, so I don’t have to kill them?

  50. Barbara says:

    I found a beautiful large butterfly dead on the lanai in Florida. I put it in a tupperware and it was shipped back to CT along with all of my belongings. When it arrived it was still in perfect condition. The underside is more colorful than the top so I want to show that side in a shadowbox. I didn’t have to use pins because it was all spread out. My question is should I spray hairspray on it to preserve it in the shadowbox and I was going to use nail glue to adhere it to the cardboard. Is that OK?

  51. Andre says:

    How long can you keep butterfly’s before they can not be mounted? I have a collection of 50 buttfly’s from 30 years ago from PNG.

  52. Erin M. says:

    Well, depending on what kind of condition they are in, there really is no time limit. It’s best to find them freshly dead, and keep them in the freezer. I would say that 50 years is not too long. We have butterflies in our collection that are at least that old and have been pinned. You will definitely need to relax them before you try to pin them. Just refer to the appropriate step in the blog. Thanks for reading!

  53. Diane says:

    How do you recommend framing butterflies behind picture frame glass?

  54. Erin M. says:

    Hi Diane! I’m sorry for the late reply, I’ve been out of town. Putting a butterfly in a regular frame may or may not work. I would recommend a deeper frame such as a shadow box. I’m afraid, depending on what position the butterfly’s wings are in , that a normal picture frame would distort or squish the wings. There is also a chance that the glass rubbing against the butterflies wings can damage them or remove the scales. Also, the body and legs can get damaged or broken. A shadow box gives the butterfly plenty of room to be displayed and gives it movement. You can even add special touches such as dried flowers or custom backgrounds! I hope this advice helps!

  55. Lorna McClellan says:

    My friend has an antique butterfly tray. Design made with wings, under glass. From
    studying online info, I would guess that it was made in Brazil in the 1940s or 1950s.
    The glass was broken in 2009. I offered to help, and have gotten the glass replaced.
    BUT, when trying to put the new glass over the wings, I found that there was a kind of static electricity which attracted the wings, and it became a nightmare trying to
    put the glass in place. Wings around the edge of the item fell off, and became damaged. I am a careful person, but this repair is more than I have been able to handle. The old wings are very fragile and hard to control. Can you recommend how to fix this problem, or can you recommend a professional in my area who would be able
    to do the repair? Thank you.

  56. Bett says:

    I found a dead butterfly this morning and its wings are streatched out. So since it’s in the right position what should I do next to perserve it?

  57. Erin M. says:

    Hi Betty, you can do whatever you want with the butterfly. If you’re happy with the way it’s wings are, I would just put it in a safe place to dry out, so it will stay in that position. If you want, you can try to spread it’s wings out a little more by following the instructions in the blog. Either way, once it is dried, it should stay pretty well preserved. You can read some of the other comments for tips on how to display it. Thanks for reading!

  58. What is the purpose of the wax paper? Somehow it’s not clear. I found a beautiful dead butterfly with the wings totally spread out open. The entire composition is there, even the antennas. Do I still need to do the wax paper in order to mount it in a shadowbox frame? Can we use crazy glue instead of Elmer’s glue to pin it to the box? I need to do this ASAP so it doesnt lose its beautiful colors. Thanks for your help.

  59. Erin M. says:

    Hi Barbi!

    The purpose of the wax paper covering the styrofoam is to prevent the scales from being rubbed off of the butterflies wings while you are spreading it. The surface of the styrofoam is a bit abrasive, so it can damage the wings. If you’ve found a butterfly and you are happy with the position of it’s wings, then you can keep it that way. Scientists usually prefer to spread a butterfly’s wings in a specific way because it makes it easy to see all of the markings and wing veins, so we can identify it. But you can do whatever you want with it! If you want to change the position of it’s wings, follow the instructions in the blog. If you are happy with it, you can go ahead and put it in a shadow box. You can use whatever type of glue you like!

  60. Crystal Hinson says:

    Hey! I was wondering what kind of glue I could use to mount my butterflies in my shadowbox, do I actually use the Elmer’s glue to mount it in the frame? Also, I have a double glass paned wood frame with mounted butterflies. I bought it about a year ago and the butterflies are getting eaten or something, it looks like there are bugs in the case. Is there anything I can do about it? Thanks, Crystal

  61. Erin M. says:

    Hi Crystal,

    You can really use any glue you like, but I find that hot glue works very well when securing the butterfly to the backing in the shadow box. To keep other bugs from eating your preserved butterflies, you can use fumigant strips which you can purchase at http://www.bioquip.com. You can also try moth balls, I’ve heard they work as well. Good luck!

  62. Judy Strickland says:

    I have a gorgeous, pale green moth that my grand daughter and I collected while in the Georgia mountains recently on vacation. It was night time and it kept flying into the glass french door to the living room. After it hit several times, I decided to get it before it died and the ants got to it. So, we put it in a large box where it died and I pinned it right away to the bottom of the box just to get it home. So, it’s in perfect condition and I’m ready to put it into a shadow box. My question is – I read that the wings should not actually touch anything; is that true? Also, do you think you could help me identify it if I send a picture? As I said, it’s a lovely soft green with two wings and “tails”. from the top edge of each wing is a “tear drop” shape and it has a white body. Any ideas as to what it is? I’ll send a photo if you think it will help. God Bless, Judy

  63. Erin M. says:

    Hi Judy! I received your picture and that is a beautiful specimen of a Luna moth! They are just my (and many other people’s) absolute favorite! It is true that you should keeo anything from touching the wings as it will cause the scales, and that gorgeous color to wipe off. Luna moths tend to fade easily, so definitely keep it out of sunlight and any other bright artificial lights. Great find!

  64. Skia S. says:

    Hi! I like to preserve butterflies, but I HATE touching them. Is there anything more precise than tweezers that I can use while pinning them?

  65. Sissy K. says:

    I once saw a Zebra Swallowtail here in Utah. When I looked it up, it said the furthest Zebra Swallowtails go west is the Mississippi. If that’s true, why did I see one here? And is their any chance I’ll see it here again?

  66. Erin M. says:

    Hi Skia,

    There are several tools specifically used for mounting insect specimens that you can find at http://www.bioquip.com. They have several different types of forceps (tweezers) that you can buy. I would buy a few pairs and see what is most comfortable for you to use.


    Typically Zebra swallowtails are found in the Eastern part of the United States, but there can be exceptions. We have seen and heard of sightings of butterflies from Central and South America here. These butterflies are not typically found so far north, but occasionally one wonders up here. I think isolated incidents happen, but I wouldn’t count on seeing one again, but who knows, maybe you’ll get lucky! They are one of my very favorite butterflies!

  67. Amanda says:

    I purchased a framed butterfly in a shadowbox at an estate sale. One of the upper wings has sagged and is laying on the bottome wing. The frame is sealed and I am wondering if i can repair it? It says it was sealed in 1967. Will the whole thing disintegrate if I unseal it? If I can unseal it, how do I do that?

  68. Erin M. says:

    Hi Amanda,

    I’m sorry, but not being able to actually see the butterfly myself, or what exactly is wrong with it, I can’t really advise you on how to repair it! I wouldn’t think the whole thing would disintigrate if you opened it, but again, I’m not sure. I would see if you can find an expert in your area to take a look at it. Good luck!

  69. Brad says:


    I was given a gift today, but it was bitter sweat. I knew I had a butterfly in my exterior porch and was keeping an eye on it to make sure it found its way out. As I went to check on it later in the day the butterfly fly drifted down and passed away. I scooped it up right away and decided I would pin it next to my collection photos of the garden. Since the butterfly just passed away I assume that I can pin the thorax and wings on wax paper until wait for a period time. How long will it take before I can permanently pin the butterfly? Thanks!

  70. Erin M. says:

    Hi Brad! You should go ahead and pin the butterfly now. I would not wait. The longer you wait, the more dry, stiff, and friagile the butterfly’s wings will become. Just go ahead and pin the butterfly, following the instructions in the blog, starting with step 4. After following the steps to spread the butterfly’s wings and keep them in place, leave the butterfly for a good week. After that, it’s wings will have dried into place and you can put it in a frame, shadowbox, or whatever you please!

  71. alexis swarner says:

    Hi my name is alexis and last nite around 12am july 31st my boyfriend acciendtly killed a really big moth. Its yellow and brown and fuzzy. Well last nite I put it into a baggy and the powers from the wings is coming off. And on one part of the wing there is no design, I wanted to keep this moth and put it into a shadow box but before I do what can I do to keep the rest of the powder from coming off. Thanks so much because what u said up above is what im going to do.

  72. kris morgan says:

    I’ve been trying to google this, but have had limited success, so i thought i might ask you for advice.
    I got a set of butterflies as a gift a few years ago and have taken them with me everywhere i move, but this last move a friend and i realized some little bugs had gotten to them and have put holes in the wings and were living on the thorax – gross.
    do you have any suggestions for removing the bugs and maybe fumigating the box? we were thinking of simply untacking the back and putting them in the room with a bug bomb then brushing the dead critters off with a cosmetic brush.
    does this sound like a bad idea? do you have any better suggestions?
    thanks so much!

  73. S. says:

    what do i do if my butterflie is alive but parilized??

  74. S. says:

    from head down, i can not tell what kind of butter flie it is eather, when its wings are flat and your looking from above whith its legs down its wings are black with white spots along the top and white bands under neath, then when its wings are up its orange white and some black

  75. Erin M. says:


    The more the wings come into contact with other surfaces, the more the wing scales are going to come off. Especially if you touch them with your fingers. They need to be handled very carefully and as little as possible in order to keep the patterns on the wings. It takes a lot of practice to be able to spread a butterfly or moth without losing some of the wing scales. All I can say is do your best!

  76. Erin M. says:


    Please don’t use a bug bomb! That’s definitely not necessary! You can put the box in the freezer for 24 hours to kill any insects that are living in there and eating your butterflies. Then you can use the brush to brush away the dead things. You can purchase fumigant strips from http://www.bioquip.com to place in the box that will keep future pests out. I’ve also heard that moth balls help, but I have never tried that myself. Good luck!

  77. Erin M. says:


    If the butterfly is paralyzed, but alive, you can put it in the freezer for about 24 hours to kill it, hopfully that would put it out of it’s misery. I appreciate you trying to describe the butterfly, but I would not be able to identify it without seeing a picture. If you want, you may send a picture to blogadmin@hmns.org and we will identify it for you. Thanks!

  78. Carla says:

    I have a collection of about 40 butterflies framed and in shadow boxes. We just moved to a house with a beautiful sun room and the butterflies seem to be the perfect addition to that room. Is there a way I can protect them from fading while still displaying them in that room? I was thinking of the same type of UV protective clings that are used on car windows or something along those lines. I would appreciate any advise.

  79. Erin M. says:

    Hi Carla,

    Well, I’m afraid I have bad news for you regarding this. There is really no good way to protect the butterfly wings from fading by the sun, even if you try to block out some of the UV rays. As you may know, a butterfly’s wings are actually transparent, but are covered in millions of tiny scales that give them their colors and patterns. Most of the scales are colored by pigments, while others, mostly the ones that appear irridescent or shiny, contain tiny crystals that reflct light. exposure to light, either artificial or sun light, will cause the pigmented scales to fade over time and the more they are exposed, the faster they will fade. The best way to make sure your butterfly wings do not fade is to keep them out of direct light of any kind.

    If your heart is set on displaying butterflies in your sun room, there are a couple of options. You could try to use UV filters on the windows and maybe rotate the shadow boxes out. So, hang a couple of them up in there (as far away from direct light as possible) and change them out every couple of days or weeks. This would at least lessen the amount of light they’re exposed to. The UV filters may slow down the fading process enough for something like this to work. Another option, which may sound ridiculous, is to display photos of butterflies in shadow boxes. It would be some work, but you could take high resolution images of the actual butterflies, cut them out, and use different techniques to make them look 3D in shadow boxes. It is a technique used by a few museums because they do not want to ruin their actual butterfly collection by displaying them under lights. We actually had to get rid of many of our specimens that were on display because they were horribly faded from being under fluorescent lights for a long period of time.

    If you try the first option, you might want to start with a couple shadow boxes that may not be your favorite (as hard as that might be to decide!). Display them for a couple of weeks and see how being in the sun room effects them. You might want to take before and after pictures to really capture any difference. If they seem ok, hang more, but I would definitely still rotate them every once in a while. I’m sorry I could not give you better news and i hope this helps a little. Good luck!

  80. Christine says:

    Hi I found a pretty dead butterfly and recently set up a hydration chamber as per your instructions. I used a mason jar, and there are no holes in the top but I discovered a little bug that looks like it might be a baby caterpillar in the container as well. I tried moving it to another jar with leaves though its no longer moving and I think I might of scared it to death in the move from one jar to another..in any case, is this even possible? I had the butterfly kept in a McDonald’s courtesy (tis where I found the butterfly already dead) for like 4 months because I’ve been in the process of moving and just now getting to attempting mounting my butterfly.

  81. Erin M. says:

    Hi Christine!

    What you found in there with your butterfly is probably not a caterpillar. There is no butterfly or moth that would lay eggs on another dead butterfly. It may be the larva of an insect that eats other dead insects, like a dermestid beetle or something similar. An insect probably layed eggs on or near your butterfly while it was in the McDonald’s container. If I were you, I would put your butterfly in the freezer for at least 24 hours to kill any other insects that my be living on or in it. These insects can destroy the butterfly very quickly! If you’ve already moistened it, the freezing process will not hinder your progress, it will actually keep it moist for you, until you are ready to pin it! Good luck!

  82. Christine says:

    Ahh thank you. Actually my butterfly’s wings are movable now so I will do that 🙂

  83. Esmeralda Marina says:

    Thank you for the excellent article. The idea of pinning them upside down seems *really* obvious, but I never thought of it, and I guess no one else has either, (or they’re very worried about damaging the scales) since there are about a jillion different elaborate contraptions to pin butterflies right side up. I JUST built myself a styrofoam mounting block with a divet- but i know I’m going to try more than one at a time, and I will surely try out this creative technique.

    I also wanted to comment in regards to the mothballs or pest strips. I have a one year old baby who has already destroyed one large exotic grasshopper (to his delight) and loves to play with riker boxes and point at the “BUHHHHH!”

    Because of this little creature, I try to do everything I can to make my hobby as non-toxic as possible, and have found an alternative which you may find of value: Cedar oil, dabbed on cotton balls, can be shoved into those fold-it-yourself fumigating cubes and mounted in shadowboxes. Or if you’re using riker boxes, just a drop or two every now and then right into the foam (but not touching your bugs!) should keep dermestid beetles at bay without being toxic.

    I’ve heard several suggestions for natural mold prevention, but am still using Lysol for the moment- though I bet several widely available essential oils would probably work as well or better.

    Oh, and recently I had a large number of butterflies dropped onto my lap with dates written on them like ’74, and I was like “Really? Can this be possible?” – Now I’m certain that the dates are correct- if you say that age is mostly irrelevant to a dried butterfly (which makes sense I suppose)

    – I wonder what the oldest mounted butterfly in the world is?
    Any idea?

  84. Karin Slayter says:

    My butterfly frame has some white/grey spots inside the glass frame that look almost like snow flakes , the butterflies are intact. Do you think this is mold or something else? How could it have been prevented?
    Thank you for any advice.

  85. Erin M. says:

    Hi Karin,

    My best guess on that is that the spots are mold/mildew, which is always caused by a combination of moisture and warmth. I’m not sure what could have caused this. Maybe the butterfly was not completely dried out before it was sealed into the shadow box? Or the shadow box was left in a place where moisture was able to get into it? You should be able to open the frame and clean the mold off. Then maybe leave the butterfly and the frame in a cool dry place to allow it to completely dry, then reassemble the shadow box. That’s the best advice I can think of. Good luck!

  86. Rose says:

    I just found your website and have a question that maybe you can answer.
    I purchased an acrylic case with a butterfly inside. The butterfly’s body does not appear to be dried, but instead looks just like it did when the insect was still alive. Any idea what might have been pumped into its thorax and abdomen to puff them up?
    I have a few Monarchs in the freezer now that I would like to use in making a shadowbox display. But I’d like my butterfly’s abdomen to look as though they are still alive, not dried and withered away.
    Awaiting reply, Rose

  87. Erin M. says:

    Hi Rose,

    Some butterfly’s bodies fare well through the drying process and don’t shrivel much and some do. There is one thing you can do to make sure they don’t shrivel and that is to stuff them. You would have to make an incision in the abdome, scoop out the guts and replace them with cotton, then sew it back up. I’m not aware of anything that can be injected into the abdomen. Good luck!

  88. Tim says:

    Hi Laurie,

    I have a butterfly (Anartia fatima) I brought back with me from my field study in Nicaragua (February 2010). Currently he is residing in a petri dish, not ideal for a keepsake. He was a victim of being left for too long in the net 🙁 . As part of the study, my partner and I used Sharpie paint pens on the heads and thoraxes so we could identify sex / age without having to recapture individuals. I am curious as to whether or not this paint can be removed from my little guy in a non-damaging way. Just some rubbing alcohol on a Q-tip? Or is it not worth it? I don’t mind terribly that it’s there, since its sort of a reminder of the project, but it’d be nice to have him lookin’ more natural. Thanks for your time and advice!

  89. Tim says:

    *February 2011

  90. Carmen says:

    Help! I brought a gorgeous blue morpho home from Costa Rica. It is mounted in a glass frame type thing. Sealed. Or it appears there is no way to get into the thing. ANYway, this morning I noticed that the body of the butterfly has white fuzz on it. Do you think I should put it in the freezer? The rest of it looks as beautiful as ever, and I am afraid of losing my morpho . . . please advise, and mahalo!

  91. Helen in Hong Kong says:

    Thanks to your website, we have mounted a number of butterflies and a big moth (lyssa sampa), which Erin and Nancy kindly helped us identify last year. Because we only collect dead butterflies, they are very fragile and tend to be in less-than-perfect condition, I have found that using a pin to move the wings (step 7) often damages the wings (similarly, with the forceps to open up the butterflies). Instead, I would slide a small strip of wax paper underneath the wing to gently ease it into position. This seems to work for me.

  92. Erin M. says:


    You can try alcohol or dry erase board cleaner, which I have used to clean off permanent marker. I don’t think it will harm the butterfly, but I have never had to do this so I’m afraid I don’t have a lot of advice! Good luck!

  93. Erin M. says:


    It seems some moisture has gotten into your shadow box and caused mold to grow. You can try freezing it, but I’m not sure if that would effect the glass. It should kill the mold though. A better solution may be to open the shadow box and dab the abdomen with a q-tip soaked in alcohol. The leave it open for a couple of days to give it a chance to dry out. You may want to keep an eye on it though to make sure no pests get to it. Then re-seal it. That’s what i would do. Good luck!

  94. T.Lynn Stickler says:


    Thank you for your extremely informative article!

    To all those who want to start a collection but do not want to kill the insects: First, kudos to you! The first step of appreciating anything is to value its right to exist!

    It is very easy to amass a large collection without killing any of the subjects:
    1. Plant butterfly bushes. These bushes attract a huge amount of insects, butterflies included. Keep watch at the base of the bushes. Beginning mid-summer you will begin to find butterflies that have lived out their natural lifespan at the base. Often their wings are still in great shape. Check the bushes at least twice a day as ants will quickly clean up any little corpses.

    2. Take a few walks along well traveled roads (where your speed limit is 40 mph or above), especially those near fields or well gardened businesses and homes. Be certain to stay safe and keep an eye out for traffic (make certain that drivers can see YOU), but the sides of roads are often littered with butterflies and other interesting insects! Most you’ll find don’t have structural damage either.

    3. If you have access to anyone with a pool you’ll have an endless supply of subjects to choose from out of the filter baskets! Hint though ~ many of these insects will actually revive if removed from the skimmer baskets…sometimes as long as 30 minutes after you’re certain they have died. BUT ALL are usually in great shape if the pool is not overly chlorinated. Good luck!

  95. Elizabeth says:

    Hi there! I found a Luna Moth today at work and put it in a cup and taped another cup on top. It wasnt moving around much at all when I caught it or all day but when I got home about 12-13 hours later and opened it up to show my dad it flew out and broke one of it’s “tails” off. Is there anyway to reattach it? The moth is otherwise in perfect condition. It’s still alive and I really don’t want to kill it. I thought if I sealed the cups and no oxygen was getting in it would “go to sleep” on it’s own. Can I just stick it in the freezer sniping the other steps? Lol. Thanks for your help in advance!

  96. Erin M. says:

    First of all, I would not in any way encourage killing a poor moth, especially one as beautiful as a luna moth just to be able to keep it for oneself. Their lifespans are short enough as it is! Putting it in the freezer would definitely do the trick, if you must. This moth sounds like it’s been through quite an ordeal already.

    The tails are very fragile and most butterflies or moths that have them and lead a full life, will more than likely lose them. There is no 100% effective way to reattach them. You can try glueing a thin strip of paper to the back of the hind wing and attaching the tail to it. It would have to be thin enough to be hidden behind the tail. In the future, I would follow the advice of the woman who posted previously and try collecting insects that are already deceased.

  97. Jocelyn says:

    Last year my 2 year old and I tried to hatch a Luna Moth cocoon to no avail, it was too dormant so I finally decided to let it outside and it decided to hatch as we were’nt watching. (I guess it just wanted some privacy) Anyhow, just yesterday I noticed a beautiful one perched on our ivy by our front porch and he/she hasn’t moved since. I know they live short (week)and we will be moving soon. So, I wanted to keep this for her in a shadow box or even a small terrarium once it’s gone.
    Is my best bet, to keep a watchful eye and grab it as soon as it dies (assuming it will fall to the ground) and I should be able to pin it from there? Or do I need to freeze it first then pin it? Also, how does it not get yukky or moldy once it’s died and pinned immediately, to me it will still be decomposing??
    Thanks for the help!

  98. Erin M. says:


    You can try to watch it and wait until it dies, although it’s very possible that it will fly off to another location before it dies. If you are able to find it when it dies, you can pin it right away. You don’t have to put it in the freezer. You would only want to put it in the freezer to keep it moist, if you weren’t able to pin it right away. When insects die, if left out in the open in a dry area, the fluids will dry up, out of their bodies and you will be left with a dry, stiff insect. If you keep it somewhere that is too moist or humid, it will mold and possibly rot. So just be sure you keep it in a cool dry place until it is all dried out (a couple of days), then you can put it in a shawod box or something like that. I hope this helps!

  99. stephanie says:

    Hello! I am wanting to get into displaying. I will probably end up buying specimens, as I live in a city. Could you give me any direction as to where I could find nice double pained glass and wood shadow boxes to put them in? I have a small collection now of bugs Ive found in different stores and love the look of the double pained box.

  100. Mike says:

    I am interested in starting a collection of butterflies in glass shadow boxes. I want to buy several different butterflies from around the world but am having a hard time locating a place that I can buy them. I was wondering if you might be able to help. I was also wondering what type of glue I might use to place them on the glass that won’t damage the butterfly. This article was great and very informative. Thank you

  101. Caroline says:

    Hi Mike,

    We actually sell butterflies in our museum store! They are “upcycled” (which is to say they died naturally) and are beautifully preserved, if you would like to stop by and take a look at some of our framed specimens. I’m sure we can tell you all about the adhesive used, too!


  102. Mike says:

    I would love to stop by but I live in Montana. I was looking for a website that I could get them from that let’s them die naturally.

  103. Caroline says:

    I will ask around for you and let you know what I find!


  104. Caroline says:

    Hey Mike,

    I spoke with our entomologist, and she says to try ebay or bioquipbugs.com. (We source our specimens from our own conservatory.) Hope that helps!


  105. Keely says:

    I must know….how do i …kill a butterfly without damaging wings?? thanks(:

  106. Caroline says:

    Hi Keely,

    We don’t kill the butterflies we pin, we “upcycle” the ones that die naturally in our habitat – and suggest you use butterflies that die naturally, too!


  107. Thanks for the info i was also worried about damaging the wings best this blogs helped loads!! Thanks

  108. noina s. says:


    I’ve found a dead male Loepa sikkima specimen today outside my office. thorax still soft, wings spread, antennae attached perfectly.

    I was searching for how to preserve the butterfly/moth. Your article is exactly what I look for, thanks!

  109. Namrata says:

    Im Namrata from India..My aunt has preserved few dead butterflies since long… the other day while cleaning the house we found them… and i thought i could frame them.. I was not sure of how to do it and bumped into the information you have provided… I have by now understood that i have to re hydrate them before mounting… just few questions before i do anything wrong…
    I do not know how old these butterflies are.. what should be the time that they should be kept in a relaxing chamber??
    where can i get the moth crystals for the relaxing chamber??
    and I want to mount them in a double glass display box. So i shall not have a foam in the base to pin the butterfly.. What glue should be used to stick the butterfly on the glass??
    Are there any specific points to remember while im mounting the butterfly on to the glass?? eg how to make it free from other insects eating it?

    Im very new to this. Please guide me if you can..


  110. Christine says:


    I found a huge dead beetle outside of my work in Pasadena, TX and have no clue what it is or how it got there. I saw it yesterday and left it, but when I came back today and it was still there I just had to scoop it up. Because of this it is missing parts of its legs from ants. I would love to pin it but am a little squeamish around bugs, but it really is beautiful. Do you know someone who could do this? Or are there any resources at the museum that could help me? I am also just extremely curious about what kind of beetle this is and its history! Thanks for your help.

  111. Jessica says:

    ive got around 100 in a box that i bought some time ago and i still dont know how to do it. :/ i hope this would help me 🙂 thank you very much.

  112. Beni says:

    Hi Christine,

    The best way to pin a beetle is to find a thick butterfly/insect pin and stick it through its shell and out between its legs on its underside.

  113. bl3ug3 says:

    thanks you very much,
    this was just what i was looking for,

    yesterday we found a Acherontia atropos, got the name from wiki ;), and we wanted to box it,

    regards from Canary Islands, Spain!

  114. Katie says:

    If I leave the butterflies in the relaxing chamber a bit too long and a couple of them have a bit of mold on them, should I discard or will they be ok?

  115. Cailyn says:

    Hi! I am a newly becoming artist, and I was wondering if there is any way of preserving a butterfly so that I could pin it onto an art canvas? In this way, there would be no form of protection or shadowbox around it, but do you know of a way that I could harden the insect so that it is still protected? Or is this unsafe for the specimen?

  116. sakib says:

    Hi there,
    I bought a butterfly collection a couple of months ago now there are tiny little bugs having my butterflies for dinner. Any suggestions?

  117. Erik Krenz says:

    This was SO helpful! Thank you! just one question: If I wanted to frame a butterfly to hang in my room, would I need to do anything different? That is to say, would I have to get some kind of special frame, or some kind of special acid free paper?

    Thank you so much in advance!


  118. Alyssa says:

    I am an entomology student at Texas A&M and I have never heard about adding pine-sol to the relaxing chamber. How much do you use, and do you add it to the water before you moisten the paper towels or after you put them in but before the butterflies?

  119. Constantine says:

    I am preparing to embark on creating a scientific butterfly display. What size of pins would be the best for the pinning?

    Thank you,


  120. Tarra says:

    Can this same process be used for moths as well? Just making sure there isn’t anything different that needed to be done.

  121. Jeanette says:

    I just found a dead butterfly in my kitchen (I have no idea how it even got in my house) but it is on it’s back wings spread open and it is beautiful and quite large I want to know what steps do I need to do so I can preserve it. I read your steps but they appeared to be for a old closed butterfly and I was wondering if there is any thing different for a fresh open one. I appreciate any help thanks!

  122. Brenda says:

    I have found a red spotted admiral in my windshield. is it ok to preserve it with the wings partly closed? can you use pillow or quilting badding instead of styrofoam> What is the purpose of the paper over the butterfly when trying to preserve it?

  123. Alyssa says:

    I found a dead butterfly and was wondering if I can preserve it by keeping it in a plastic container used for sewing supplies. I don’t want to spread it’s wings or anything, I want to keep it the way it is but I don’t want it to decompose. Do I need an airtight container or will this container be okay if I put moth balls or silica gels in it? If not is there a way I can preserve it without putting it in a shadow box or frame and still keep it the way it is?

  124. Kathleen says:

    I was wondering if you need to spray butterflies with anything to frame them in a shadow box?

  125. Talia says:

    I got 2 butterflies and 1 dragon fly at a lake today but don’t know how to humanly kill them. I herd that the freezer method is good, but I also have heard about a method where you dip a piece of paper in some rubbing alcohol and leave it in a jar with them. Which one is better?

  126. Liz D. says:

    My daughter has one of those butterfly pavilions/gardens (net tube thing) were you watch the butterflies go through their metamorphosis. We want to fame the first group of butterflies (Painted Lady), so what do I do with the ones who have died already?
    Can they stay in the bottom of the pavilion or should I take them out?
    And if I take them out where and how do I store them (so I can pin them all at once)?

    Thank you for the info

  127. Allan Mak says:

    l had some butterflies l caught long long time ago. more than 4 years old.
    l don’t catch them anymore because it is so difficult to keep them from damages and discoloration. They are disappearing cause of residential developments and pollutions.
    l felt guilty about their destruction. Anyway
    is it too late to pin through their abdomen and set them on a foam board.
    though they are so fragile now, glue only tear them apart. l had made some paper
    solocup to contain them separately but is not a perfect solution. Any advice ?

  128. Allan Mak says:

    l’m not the web guy .But if you put the dead butterfly into a air tight plastic box without any preservation , the butterfly will be 70% safe only and still will deteriorate in time. spread butterfly is better, that way butterfly abdomen dry faster and some corpse eating micro-insects will not develop so fast and finish your butterfly abdomen in less than 1 month. yes you have to check your butterfly once a while and see any insects eating from the inside out and stop them immediately. keeping butterfly alive and dead is not easy. Enjoy

  129. Faith says:

    Does this work with moths?

  130. Nick says:

    I found a large moth no in the greatest form but it is still amazing to me. I actually had held it the day before and found it had died the next day. but i was just wondering, if the pin has to/should go in the thorax and if the relaxing chamber is useful for a moth too. thx.

  131. steve abrahams says:

    just wondering do you have to put any chemical or bug repellent in the display boxes to stop mites etc from attacking the insects

  132. Dianne Schuch Lindsey says:

    I worked as a lighting designer on the Butterfly House. I remember how discouraged we were when it opened and the ventilation system caused many of the beauties to die (also the fault of the mechanical engineers I worked with).

    Since then it has enjoyed so many different people from different countries and having my name assigned to its development is so flattering!

    I wrote you regarding an unusual moth I found outside my door. I have lived her for 30 years and never have I seen one like it.

    Thanks for telling me how to keep thos treasure. (you helped through twitter)

  133. Clara says:

    Hi there,
    I have a question about pinned butteflies. I have been gifted two frames with pinned butterflies, I’m not sure about their origin though. I would really like to know if there is any way to find out if they have been killed for this cause or died of natual death and upcycled in order to be framed, as you guys do it.
    Thanks a lot in advance!

  134. Ashley says:

    Hello Mike,
    During this summer when driving to town a blue dragonfly had managed to lodge itself perfectly into the crease of my door when I had hit it most likely, when I opened my door he fell out and was slightly moving, I thought that he might make it so I placed him on my dash… He didn’t. So instead of just throwing it out I decided to keep him in hopes to persevere him in a shadow box as a gift to my sister who collects butterflies. It’s been several months and this article was exactly what I was looking for, only question is, do you preserve a dragonfly the same way as a butterfly??? And if so, is my dragonfly okay to do so after sitting on my shelf for several months?? He’s really beautiful and my jeep had done little damage to him surprisingly and I just thought it would be a beautiful gift idea since he would be basically “handmade” instead of store bought like all of my sisters butterflies are currently. Thank you so much for your help, I look forward to your reply.

  135. Amy Brown says:

    I loved the article! Im starting a business in entomology art. Just have some questions, basically I want to put my butterflies in shadow box frames but how do they stay preserved, Ive been told to line the frames with plasterzote or moth balls? Or can you simply just frame them in the shadow box (not pressed against the glass) and they will be fine?

  136. Magdalene Gordhamer says:

    I just caught a butterfly on August 23, and I identified it. I want to put it in a shadow box to display. Do I have to dry and relax it first? Can I glue it or does it need to be pinned? How do I hold the butterfly when pinning it? What do I need to do to prevent it from molding when on display?

  137. Pearl says:

    Hi Laurie, your website is very helpful & I successfully pinned my very first butterfly today. I found a monarch on the ground being ( I can only assume) stung by 2 wasp/yellow jackets. It’s in perfect condition, everything perfectly intact, including the probiscus. Now, as I said , I have pinned it following your directions but now I’m wondering – is that the correct way to display a monarch or should it be more as in life, with that sloping look to the fore wings – angled down over the hind wings?

  138. Patience Ely says:

    I have found an amazing video on spreading and displaying butterflies and insects. I know many here have been looking for such a video so I hope that I’ve been helpful. https://youtu.be/0YrAHR3Ipqc

  139. Tina Pizor says:

    We just found a Luna Moth. It is dead. I read to put it in the freezer for 2 weeks in an open container and then mount it in a shadow box with a moth ball. Will the wings be ruined after it thaws? Do you recommend this? Can I do what oyu said above for the Luna Moth? Thanks

  140. Calvin Tran says:

    I found my first deceased butterfly today, and this tutorial helped me tremendously! Thanks so much Laurie! 🙂

  141. Courtney says:

    Loved this article! Would you recommend following the same steps for a dragonfly?

  142. Ive been collecting deceased specimens at a small exhibit ive been working at. i have placed them in an airtight container out of view of sunlight. I suppose my question to you is, will this preserve them before i decide to relax and or pin them? i am planning a few art pieces using just the wings as well, if you have advice on what would gently fuse the wings to a surface (glue-wise) as it will be mandala art possibly mixed media while simultaneously preserving them and or not damaging them it would be greatly appreciated. Also, kudos to you for helping people with all of these …situations. (i did read through the thread). Again your help is forever appreciated.

  143. Rebekah says:

    Love your instructions! I was wondering how to mount the butterflies in a shadow box? Do i just glue them to the back of it? I’m afraid glueing them will hurt them or something

  144. Heather says:

    I just caught a live butterfly and it is now in a jar.
    What do I do?? Im afraid to handle it alive so I thought to wait until it died. (which is sad to me) but what are my steps for a live one?? thank you

  145. Valeria says:

    This article was all very useful! Thanks!
    I just have a couple of questions. The first one is if the process is exactly the same with moths. And the second one is if they don’t need some kind of extra care to last and don’t get rotten.

    Thanks again,

  146. Hello-
    I pin all kinds of insects, been doing it for years- but right now, I have an Atlas Moth that has been in the relaxing chamber for two weeks and it is just as stiff as it was when I first put it in. I don’t have a syringe to inject it with anything, so what else can I do? I need to get this thing relaxed and mounted asap!!

  147. Diana says:

    Where do you get a shadow box?

  148. Pat weiman says:

    I viewed your videos and your directions are clear and easy to follow. I thought this process was much more complicated, so thank you. In your video you mentioned that your department has frozen butterflies that can be purchased and I would love to have information on how to buy butterflies for mounting.

  149. Zoë Schmidt says:

    Hi there! I just finished watching the youtube series on butterfly taxidermy, it was wonderful! I was hoping to contact the entomogly dept. at HMNS in hopes of taking a few deceased specimens off their hands. I tried multiple combinations of the website (verbally) provided, but to no avail! Unless of course, I have now arrived at the right website!
    There are mostly moths in my residential area, but I would love to be able to hand preserve something more exotic.
    If specimens are unavailable through HMNS, would anyone happen to know of any good butterfly friendly locations where it is LEGAL to take deceased specimens off site? Thanks!

  150. Mariah says:

    Hello, I am concerned about the body. the butterfly (moth) i have just died and it has a rather large body, I dont want it to rot or mold how do i make sure it dries. is it the foam that allows it to dry. I really want to do it with this one.

  151. mil says:


    I just was searching for an answer to how to handle very small moths … they always loose quite a bit of scales just by getting picked up. Guess I need the right paper and tweeters and a steady hand.

    But I just wanted to say – in regard that you can’t spray them with something – You can and it keeps pests away!
    I use artists fixing spray, so it does not cover the wings but get absorbed. It’s the kind of spray Artists use for charcoal drawings – so that the drawing/wing keeps its texture and colour but does not loose particles. And it smells seemingly bad to pests 😉 … also I think it’s a light-protection!

    (by the way – how do I spread the wings of beetles without damaging the beetle?)

    anyway – I looked up this article a few years ago and it helped alot, so thank you!

  152. Fernanda says:

    Hi, my husband found a butterfly on a friend’s windshield, it was still alive but had a broken wing, my daughter and I kept it alive for about 2 weeks and we found online that it was a male monarch, after it passed away I decided to keep it so we can remember what we did for it. I tried the relaxing method it did worked, but I left the butterfly in the relaxing container for 5 days when I had the time to check the butterfly had mold, my question is, did the mold happened because I use listerine without alcohol? Or because I left it for too long?, anyways I used alcohol with a cotton swab like you said in one of the comments. Thank you for your blog. Hopefully my questions and your answers helps others as others helped me.

  153. Ana says:

    I tried to save a monarch yesterday evening. It was stuck in the sand in shallow water. The wings on one side were twisted up, antennas stuck together, etc… I managed to get it to the house, sand off, and left it in what I thought would be a safe spot for it to regroup. When I checked on it later, it was struggling with tiny ants on it. I immediately picked it up, got the ants off, and tried to figure out it’s wing situation. I very carefully managed to get it back in place but it had already been through so much it didn’t look promising. Brought it in the house – tried to give it access to water… gently stroked it… Kept it with me. Bottom line, it didn’t make it. I was going to bury it but then I thought it really is in beautiful condition so I want to save it. Put it on tissue on a paper plate in a plastic bag for the trip back home from the beach. Can I just freeze it as is in a freezer bag for now or do I need to do something else? Please help!!!! Many Thanks! 🙂 Ana

  154. Mr A.G. Hope says:

    I inherited my late Father’s small butterfly collection which is in a box. I want to have some of these put in a box frame (picture). I have bought some Foam Board for this purpose. Do I have to remove the glossy film or let it remain. Your comments would be very appreciated.


  155. Samantha says:

    I’m just starting to breed butterfly’s and like to pin them when they die.
    For the relaxing room you say you have to use Listerine to prevent mold.
    I’m from the Netherlands and when I search listerine I found mouthwash is that correct?
    Thanks for the information

  156. courtney says:

    Thanks for the tips! So for a butterfly. Are there any preservation methods that need to be done? I found a dead butterfly and have it in the freezer now, but not sure what to do afterwards.

  157. William R Horlacher says:

    I know I’ve only recently stumbled upon your videos on how to pin a butterfly because my son and I have only begun to attempt to enjoy nature together. In your video you said there was an alternate way to get specimens that we could work with as opposed to catching and killing them which is always been an issue for me I never mind it when we found them dead but the samples were always a bit tattered so if there is way or somewhere you can direct me I would be greatly appreciative. Thank you very much for your time William Horlacher
    36 Hanover Square Middlesex New Jersey 088846

  158. Lauren Buckhammer says:

    Awesome article! Could I ask you can you mount the butterfly in different phases of flight/wings poised more etc? Do you use a spreading board? Do u add syrofoam to the sides of the board to change the looks?

  159. Jacque McMillan says:

    I don’t like the smell of moth balls. Can I use a cedar block inside moth shadow box to prevent damage? My husband says he can cut a small piece to display the moth on instead of a glue stick for a 3D look. Also do you think taping the back would prevent any entrance holes for little critters?

  160. William Wilson says:

    Thank you for your information. I have been collecting for about 2 years. The problem I have is preventing the scales from rubbing off the wings. I have tried tracing paper, wax paper and pinning the directly on the foam spreading board. I am disappointed that no matter what I try when I remove the pins and paper I see significant residue of scales left on the different substrates. Some species are more prone to scale loss than others. I notice more loss from the Orange Sulphur and Bucky than others. I would appreciate any advice you could offer.
    Thank you.

  161. Megan says:

    How do I stick my butterflies to a shadow box without the use of styrofoam and pins? I want to try this and do it right. Please tell me if you can.

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