Beginners Guide to Insect Pinning Resources

Since I’ve starting sharing some photos of my insect collection the questions have been pouring in asking for tutorials and tips on starting your own collection. I’m fairly new to this hobby and learning more and more about it every day so I don’t feel like I’m of any authority to be writing tutorials just yet. But I can definitely share a list of the things that have helped me learn, as well as a list of supplies and where I’ve gotten them. 

Tutorials & Reading Material
I really have yet to come upon a site that I’ve found to answer all my questions or guide me completely so here is a list of websites I’ve been using to learn from. 
A basic overview on insect collecting.
How to relax and pin a butterfly.
A video on relaxing and pinning a butterfly. 
Another great video on pinning insects
How to put together a relaxing chamber.

I found it beneficial to read and watch a lot of different tutorials
before getting started. Everyone has their own methods they like, use
and trust and it’s a good idea to read about pinning from lots of
sources so you can develop your own methods.

Something else worth noting is that before I pin anything other than a butterfly or moth I do a quick google image search to see what a natural position to pin it in would be. Of course you’re free to pin your insects legs in any position you’d like but it’s definitely the one thing I always check first so I have a better idea of how my insect should look. Just search pinned plus the kind of insect (for example “pinned grasshopper”).

Your supplies…
• Spreading board. As the name implies, this is the surface you’ll be using to spread your insects on. I own four right now this one, one that was made for me, and two of these. Right now I’d have to say my favorite are these ones despite the fact they’re just made of styrofoam. I like them because they have multiple grooves of different widths so they accommodate a wide range of insect body sizes as well as being large enough that I can pin a number of insects on one board.

Insect pins. Pins come in a variety of sizes but the most common sizes you’ll need to use are #2 and #3. These are the pins I currently use.

Wax or tracing paper. If you’re working with insects whose wings you’ll be spreading you’ll need something to keep them down since you never ever stick a pin through a wing.

Killing jars. You obviously don’t need a killing jar if you’re only going to be working with already deceased insects you find but if you do plan on capturing your own live insects to pin you’ll need a place to kill them quickly so they don’t get damaged.

Moth balls. Moth balls will stop other insects from getting into your collection and destroying it as well absorb moisture, keeping specimens from molding (which is something to be cautious of while relaxing dried specimens)

Relaxing chamber. See above videos on how to assemble one. You’ll basically just need paper towels or a sponge, and a tupperware container.

Insect pinning forceps. When working with butterflies and moths you want to keep the amount of handling low to minimize the chance of damage.

Display box. Of course you’re going to need somewhere to put your insects after they’re dried. I have this box. It’s a bit flimsier than I had expected (Basically because the glass top is so heavy it makes taking the lid off feel strange. It’s kind of hard to explain) but really, it’s turned out to be a great box. It holds quite a few specimens and it looks great.

Where to find insects…
This is another one of the biggest questions I’ve been getting. All the insects in my collection, with the exception of the atlas moths, have been found around my yard or at my parents house. I don’t plan on buying anything else for my collection (except possibly a death’s head moth since like the atlas moth they aren’t native to where I live) so I don’t really have any advice on ethical places to purchase. I want my collection to be a representation of what can be found around me and there is a certain pride is being able to say I found, collected, identified and preserved all of these myself.

There are insects everywhere, and neat ones too! You just have to keep your eyes peeled. It’s amazing how easy it is to overlook them. Tell your friends and family you’re starting a collection so they can keep an eye out as well.

Hope that helps at least a little bit! Good luck with your new hobby, it’s quite addicting!

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  • I am so excited that you posted this! I still haven't gotten all of my supplies together, but I'm working on it! This is such a great post and I know I'll be referencing back to it 🙂 Thank you for the tips!

  • This was such an interesting read! I've always loved insect (I attribute this to getting to play with a stick bug as a kid. So cool!), and while I don't see myself pinning insects any time soon, I can appreciate the time and effort that goes into it. I like your idea of just pinning what you can find in your area. Quite a neat look at things!

  • This is so cool. The bug section of the museum is always one of my favourites, I love looking at them all spread all. I think I might be too squeamish to do it myself, but it would be amazing to have a collection like this! 🙂

  • This is so great! My boyfriend is studying to be an entomologist, so he catches and pins lots of insects. I love the way they look on display and have always wanted to do some of my own pinnings! Thanks for the tips. 🙂

  • I've been in the pinning hobby for several months now and I was wondering if you ever have insects that lose color after you pin them? For some reason my grasshoppers turn brown after awhile and I'm not sure if that's normal or if there are sources to prevent such a thing.

  • I took a few entomology classes in college and have a pretty hefty collection, but lately have been feeling the bug (pun intended) to start collecting again. I'm pretty experienced in collecting/pinning, but had no idea where to purchase the supplies, since everything I used for classes was school issued. Thanks so much for sharing!

    ps- Your bug collection may or may not be the reason I started following your blog haha.

  • Woah, I like this way more than I thought I would. I'm not gonna lie, at first I was eh about the whole thing, but after laying down the whole process, it seems really cool. So since you aren't supposed to pin the wings, does just the pin going through the thorax hold the butterflies on the board? That's so delicate! I just applied for a job which involves pinning native bees and other insects, so maybe I'll join you in pinning! I also like the idea of keeping your collection native 🙂

  • Thanks so much for this! I really want to learn how to do this, not only because of my love of insects but also because I have an old dragonfly that I found when I was four years old tucked away in a box, and I'd love to be able to pin and frame it!

  • I think I have a death's head moth. I found it outside school one day and thought it was one of the coolest things so I took it home and put it in a box to keep it safe. I'll have too look for it when I go back to visit my folks in a month.

  • Wow I had no idea pinning insects was so involved! This was really interesting to read. Maybe I'll try this once the insects start to crawl back out in the spring 🙂

  • Congrats! 😀

    You really pin them well. And it's not easy! I had to make an insect collection for a work in the university, and it was not easy to pin some insects. As it was winter the insects were few, and little must of them ( and I hate centipedes.. wich I could not pin them!), so some of them fall down because they were not pin correctly. I want to make a pin collection, but with themed boards. Like one board from dragonflies and damselfies, one board for beetles. I won't do a board for butterflies because I love them too much, and I could not kill them. I like more to see them fly freely 🙂 Only if I saw dead ones. And bees, one because just the noise makes me chills ( been sting 4 times) and they are dying so they protection.

    Great collection and tutorial!


  • This is really neat. It is something I would love to do except I would need to get over the extreme heebeejeebees I get when handling insects. Ugh. They're so cool to look at in a display case but they freak me out if I have to touch them. :p I'll stick to pressing flowers for now I suppose!