For me, insect collecting was an interest and recreational hobby that began when I was about 7 or 8 years old. Living next to an open field, as well as a corn field and wooded area across the street from my home, was prime territory for butterfly hunting. It also helped that my mom had a garden and many flowers that always attracted butterflies and bugs.
My parents bought me books about butterflies and moths, and in one of those is where I read that people could actually collect and display these wonderful natural treasures. My dad was supportive of my hobby by making a wing spreading board for me, and eventually, beautiful display cases. When I started out in that first year, though, I pinned my butterflies and other insects with steel pins; those rusted very quickly. Also, I pinned my finds in an empty shoebox at my mom’s suggestion, and found out that my treasures did not last. The advent of my use of actual display cases, made to the specifications required by 4-H, was and still is a wonderful way of preserving and displaying my collection.
Some neighbors who were aware of my insect collecting knew a 4-H leader near my hometown who was also a Lepidoptera collector. Her name was Mrs. Patricia Lawton of North Collins, New York. Under her tutelage and guidance, Pat nurtured and encouraged my passion for insect – and particularly, Lepidoptera – collecting. She taught me how to best-preserve my specimens, how to best spread their wings and display them, and she informed me about the proper pins to use. For the next two years, my collections were displayed at and won awards at the county (Erie) and state (New York) fairs.
Once I turned 15, my interests transformed into becoming more involved in high school clubs, academics, sports, music, theater, language, and writing. For many years – about 15 – I shelved my passion for collecting and displaying butterflies and moths. When I came back around to it at about age 30, I decided to go further in my collecting pursuits and look to the Internet for purchasing tropical and exotic butterflies and moths. The Internet is where I located Ianni Butterfly Enterprises, located out of Ohio, that sells Lepidoptera.
So, more than one decade ago, I began investing in expanding and enriching my Lepidoptera collection by adding dozens of tropical and exotic butterflies and moths to it, mostly purchased from Ianni Butterfly Enterprises. This company is an excellent and reliable carrier, and I highly recommend them for outstanding, top quality specimens.
After about five years of adding to and investing into expanding my Lepidoptera collection, I decided that the expense had become too much, that I was getting carried away by it, and there were other priorities and responsibilities into which to put my money, most particularly my son. Also at that time, I began to view collecting with a very different perspective. I reflected on all of the butterflies and moths that were being sold for a profit, and recalled how much more I enjoy observing them as living creatures. Certainly, looking at them and enjoying them in display cases is lovely, but viewing them in full living color, flying about with zestful energy became much more appealing to me.
Therefore, I resolved to stop actively collecting butterflies and moths about five years ago. Throughout the past 30 years, I have collected insects, including Lepidoptera, as my collection shows. However, with my increasing age – and hopefully, wisdom, as well – I decided that it was more important that the butterflies and moths should live their lives without my catching them for my collection. Instead of continuing to actively collect Lepidoptera, I have turned to photographing butterflies and moths. Of course, if I happen upon an injured or deceased butterfly or moth, and it is in a condition that I believe is worth preserving, I make it part of my collection. Otherwise, and unless it is a specimen that I do not have in my collection, I do my best to observe and enjoy these lovely creatures in life rather than in death.
The photographs in this blog post are of the majority of my Lepidoptera collection, spanning more than three decades of collecting. The oldest butterflies and moths in my collection are at least 31 years old, with my having caught and displayed them as an independent 4-H member.
All of my Lepidoptera display cases were made for me by my dad, who is a very talented craftsman. The cases are made of wood, glass, and styrofoam; and are of excellent quality. Once or twice each year, I take the time to do maintenance on my collection by replacing the moth balls (notice the folded envelopes inside the display cases – these contain moth balls) in order to deter the bugs from infesting and eating my prizes.
In the past when I was much less experienced with maintaining my collection, I made the mistake of not placing moth balls inside the cases, and I have lost entire cases of Lepidoptera to bugs that completely disintegrated my treasures into dust. When one sees this occurrence, one can really understand the phrase, “Ashes to ashes, and dust to dust.”
Just last year, there were some tiny buggers that got into one of my display cases that housed many of my expensive tropical and exotic Lepidoptera. Unfortunately, many of them were not salvageable, and I lost about one dozen or so to them. This year, I did not lose any of my collection to the dust-creating bugs. Thankfully, the moth balls did their job in keeping away the pests, but these crystalline chemicals do lost their potency after awhile and must be replaced in order to keep them away.
This is my collection. These are my prized treasures. This is my hobby about which I am most passionate. I hope you have enjoyed viewing my collection!
Pictured above is a photo that represents half of one of my Lepidoptera display cases; I have 13 cases in all. I have specificially included this photo here to reflect the display of butterflies and/or moths. In this photo are moths that I collected from Florida and – mostly – North Carolina in 2006.
Included in the photo of my display are twelve Regal Moths (also known as Royal Walnut Moths, Citheronia regalis), two Waved Sphinx Moths (Ceratomia undulosa), one Small-Eyed Sphinx Moth (Paonias myops), one Imperial Moth (Eacles imperialis), one Rosy Maple Moth (Dryocampa rubicunda), one Ornate Tiger Moth (also known as Virgo Moth, Apantesis ornata), one Black Witch (also known as Giant Noctuid, Ascalapha odorata), and two Io Moths (Automeris io). I have well-preserved them by placing many moth balls at the bottom of the display case to ward off Lepidoptera-eating pests. And, I replace the moth balls in each case about twice each year for that purpose.
When I was a kid and my entomology collecting interest was in full swing, my dad made me an “official” Lepidoptera spreading board. It was a very scientific “board” that was made of two boards of soft wood, however even the softest wood was not very soft. The two boards were arranged so that they were almost immovable, making it difficult to spread the wings of a butterfly or moth, as well as challenging to maintain the spread. That was the fancy spreading board.
Having come a long way in collecting during the past 35 years, I now use styrofoam boards to spread the wings of butterflies and moths – yes, styrofoam boards! And, let me say, they are absolutely the best type of spreading board one can get for the ease and pliability of use, as well as the economical cost.
For anyone who is a beginning collector, I highly recommend the use of styrofoam boards for Lepidoptera wing-spreading as the one and only choice. The best type of styrofoam board is similar to that pictured above, being about 12″x12″x2″. This is because one can use scissors to carve out spaces on the styrofoam’s surface in which to place the pinned specimens. Also, a thick board serves as protection from getting poked by the pins, since they don’t go all the way through the bottom of the board.
Also notice at the bottom, right-hand corner of the spreading board in the above-photo that there are several specialty mounting pins. These are pins that one can purchase from an insect, entomology, or science-related company. They come in various strengths and sizes, and are specially-coated to prevent them from rusting. Do not use common, everyday metal pins on which to preserve insect specimens of any kind because they do rust over a period of time.
In the photo of the spreading board are two Regal moths that I collected recently from North Carolina on July 1, 2012. Each moth is pinned using a specialty pin, and wings have been spread and allowed to dry in place for 2.5 weeks. I have used strips of tissue paper, pinned into place, to maintain the “spread” of the moth’s wings.
A collector should allow a butterfly’s or moth’s wings to dry for at least two weeks or more to ensure hardening, and to prevent the wings from prematurely drooping due to not having completely hardened into place. Sometimes, it is challenging to be patient and wait several days for the butterfly’s or moth’s wings to dry, but doing so is well-worth the wait and prevents the problematic wing-sag from occurring.
And, there you have it – see the above photo within this article to observe how beautifully these Regal Moth specimens have turned out for display! The wings of these specimens are not perfectly-placed and have minor areas of damage, however they will be just fine for my collection!
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Lepidoptera Lovers By: Michele Babcock-Nice
I enjoy collecting and photographing butterflies and moths, as well as blogging about them!
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