As part of my continued efforts to remake myself in the guise of a 19th century naturalist, last night I attended a class in insect pinning and preserving at the Academy of Natural Sciences in Philadelphia. As you may recall, I have quite an array of cicadas, dragonflies and other unfortunate insects which I have been collecting over the last several months. They currently reside in my freezer, in small plastic baggies strewn about my studio and pinned to chunks of styrofoam on my jewelry bench. Clearly, my skills as an entomologist are lacking and in need of improvement.
Upon arrival, I was not surprised to find cookies and a sign-in sheet. According to my informal field research thus far, taxidermists prefer Oreos while insect collectors like a good old fashioned Chips Ahoy. One thing upon which all can agree: cookies. Really, who can argue?
Next, curator Greg Cowper gave a brief powerpoint on the various ways in which insects can be collected in the field. For the most part, they all begin with “the bugs are attracted to the light” and end with “and then the bug drops into a cup of grain alcohol. ” Oh, and sometimes you just catch them with a net as they fly by. I must admit, I enjoy the lurid appeal of tempting bugs with shiny lights and then finishing them off with booze. . . but maybe that’s just me.
After the introduction, we were allowed to see where they keep all of the good stuff. Apparently, the Academy has the oldest insect collection around. It is housed in new moveable storage units, filled with trays of exotic and not-so-exotic insects stuck with pins and labelled with tiny, meticulous, hand-written tags. Greg showcased his encyclopedic knowledge of the collection by quickly locating the insects with the biggest WOW factor.
So many choices, so little time. I could have stayed for weeks looking through those cases.
Greg shows us some pretty impressive beetles.
This bug has about a 10 inch wing span. Yikes.
Behind the scenes.
More IOUS (Insects of Unusual Size)
In case you wondered where they keep all the praying mantises. . or is it mantii??
Talk is cheap – time to get to work. Once we finished the tour, invertebrate expert Karen Verderame handed out the bugs while Greg explained where to place the pins. This bad-boy is a dung beetle. I tried not to ponder where he may have been captured. . . although I do assume he was good and drunk.
Pick your butterfly. Sadly, you may only select one. These beauties are apparently recently deceased from the butterfly exhibit.
Since we had been so impressed by the giant dead Catydid, Karen thought she would see how we felt about a live one. I can tell you this: it sure was big.
I begin to pin my butterfly. Interestingly butterfly wings and bird wings are set with many of the same techniques. Who knew?
You thought that whole “lights and booze” thing was tricky? This guy is disguised as a leaf! Now that’s tricky. Lights and booze: BO-RING.
My specimens pinned and ready to head back to Jersey. A cigar box seems like the appropriate mode of transport, don’t you think?