Thursday, December 23, 2010

Pins and Needles 3: (Spread-eagle)

Hey guys

I've become something of a pin-junkie it seems! Taxidermy galore!!! Although today I want to share what is more of my experience than just mere pictures of my butterfly collection. First of all, in case you are new to my blog you should know that I never kill butterflies, ever, not even for specimen displays as I believe you can always do the same and so much more wiht sketches and photographs. However, should I come across a dead butterfly, or a friend find one and hand it to me in a box well, I must say I wouldn't be averse to doing it. But I digress, one of the most important points in preserving a butterfly, as my acquaintence and fellow lepidoptersit K takes delight in pointing out is the spreading process.

Prepping a dead Archduke (Lexias Perdalis) butterfly. This is the best way to handle butterflies, by the way to avoid damaging their wings.
The spreading process is where the lepidopterist or collecter opens up the wings of the insects in the position best able to display their beautiful patterns prior to display. Now, if you hunt for live butterflies, like K, then spreading won't be of any problem because the butterflies would still be soft and supple as they are *gulps* fresh *gulps* from death. However, if like me you choose a more peacable path well, then I suppose spreading can become a problem as butterflies tend to stiffen up really quick when they die.

Same method with larger butterfly
There are many ways to spread a dead butterfly. Most lepidopterists will use some sort of spreading board or another, made usually by two soft-wood planks with a groove running down the centre to support the butterfly's body but I find that I can achieve a similar effect with a slab of plastic. Note, if you are going to do things "my" way, you probably will not get as nice a setting for your end product but I think its pretty passable by my standards so poh-tay-to poh-tah-to eh?

Spreading the wings using sheets of paper
To spread the wings some people will stick pins into the stronger supporting veins of the butterflies' wings. Personally, because I am rather inexperienced and also because I don't like having unsightly holes in my specimens wings I use sheets of paper instead. The sheets of paper are measured and then cut to about exactly the right size of the wings. Once you've gotten the wings into the position you want it to be, simply press it down firmly (but DO NOT RUB) and then tape the corners of the paper down. The body of the butterfly can be prone to swivelling sometimes, which is not ideal if you want a nice spread and while this is easily solved in use of a spreading board, it can also quite easily be solved by simply sticking two pins on either side of the butterfly's body, at the base of the hindwing.
Note the three pin, one in the center of the thorax and two on either side of the abdommen. Note, this specimen came in with a torn wing.

Same methods can be used for very small butterflies as well and are in fact ideal since a pin anywhere on a tiny butterfly's wings will surely mean disaster.

Different view
So once you've got your butterfly all spread out, all there's left to do is leave it to dry. Again normally the drying period is supposed to take one week but usually, I just leave it overnight. However, I do advice if you put some sort of drying agent in it if you want to do it my way. I normally use silica gel. Note, failure to use a drying agent may result in really soft butterflies that break apart when touched. (This particular Rajah Brooke lost its abdommen the following day when I took it out to apply the usual coating of insecticide *I had run out of silica gel*) Anyway here are the results

Beautifully spread Rajah Brooke, if not for the torn wing and the fallen off abdomen segment I'd say this would have been my first successfully spread Rajah Brooke.

The Archduke (Lexias Perdalis) although something wrong happened during the spreading process (one of the pins came loose) resulting in a slightly skewed upper left forewing.

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