Nothing says summer more than barefoot children chasing butterflies across emerald grass. Their eyes grow big at the wonder of these winged insects’ zigzag flight and the patterns on their delicate wings. Collecting and preserving butterflies and moths is the perfect way to bring the magic of summer indoors.
A dead butterfly (or moth) with the thorax, or body segment, still attached
A plastic airtight storage container
Four damp paper towels
A small cap full of antiseptic like Lysol, Listerine, or Pine-Sol.
Strips of paper
Shadow box or frame (with mat) for display
Hot glue and super glue
Relax the Butterfly
When you find a dead butterfly, it is usually quite dry. You’ll need to relax it in order to handle it without damaging its delicate wings.
Take the paper towels and moisten them, until they are damp but not dripping. Then line the bottom of an airtight container with the damp towels. Add a capful of antiseptic to prevent mold. Place the butterfly in the container and let it sit; two or three days for small specimens, up to a week for larger insects. The wings should be limp, not brittle, when the butterfly is ready.
Pin and Dry
Cover a piece of Styrofoam with wax paper. Take the butterfly by the thorax and carefully insert a pin through the thorax, pushing the pin a little more than halfway through. Then pin the butterfly onto the Styrofoam.
Open the butterfly’s wings carefully using tweezers. You may choose to open the wings all the way or just partly, depending on how you want to mount the butterfly in the box or frame. (Two examples are shown here.) You can use pins and paper to support the wings or help hold the wings down by inserting pins closely around, but not through, the wings’ edges. If you are flattening them completely, then place paper over the top to ensure they stay flat. You’ll be positioning the pins around (not through) the wings to hold them in place.
Let the butterfly dry completely, one to three days depending on your climate.
Mount and Display
While the butterfly dries you can prepare your shadow box or frame. Clean the box or frame and let dry. Then carefully arrange and hot glue a small amount of dried flowers to the box or the mat inside the frame.
Carefully remove pins from around the butterfly and its thorax. Then super glue the thorax securely to your dried flowers.
Keep the butterfly out of direct sunlight to preserve its color. Display in a low -moisture area. It should last for years!
Arianne Cope is an award-winning journalist, novelist, and photographer living in scenic Southern Utah. She homeschools her four children and blogs about her journey to become a more mindful parent at stillparenting.