D & M Perlman Fine Jewelry & Gifts

Friday Flyers #16

Specimen Preparation!


Hello again bug buddies!!! It’s Friday again, and time for our latest edition of Friday Flyers. It’s hard to believe it’s November 1st, and even though there’s nothing flying around here, in warmer climates beautiful butterflies are plentiful. And they’re also plentiful in our Wonders Of Nature department! But instead of introducing you to another one of our favorites, this seemed to us like a good week to answer a question that we get asked frequently. Almost every day people ask us how we prepare our butterflies for framing. So this week we’d like to explain the process in a little detail.

First, of course, you need to start with a fine quality frame and background. Our frames are fine stained and finished hardwoods with a double lip, one for the front glass, and one for the back mat. Our standard mat is a 3-piece matte with a gold inner border. The inner border is just enough to highlight the specimen, but not detract from it. Any types of frames could be used, but aside from our desire for a fine appearance, we also want consistency. We want your future specimens to match your older specimens as closely as possible, especially if you’re building your collection over time.

Now comes the important part---the specimens!!! Butterflies are EXTREMELY fragile, especially when dried. Therefore, handling butterflies is a very delicate task. Not only are the wings susceptible to tearing and chipping, but the colored wing scales can be smudged and scuffed off easily. Most butterflies are shipped from around the world, dried and in paper envelopes. A dried butterfly can last indefinitely in this condition, but it cannot be displayed like this. And more importantly, it cannot be processed while dry. The body of the dried butterfly has to be rehydrated so that its wings can be repositioned for display, and then re-dried in its final position. This is accomplished usually with water, either in a hydration chamber over a period of a day or two, or by injecting a small amount of water directly into the dried butterfly’s body with a syringe. Water can NEVER touch the wings, because it can stain them forever. When rehydrated, a butterfly is again flexible enough to move its wings, legs, and antennae. It will never be totally flexible, so even in this “relaxed” condition, it is very easy to damage. The relaxed butterfly must be repositioned and “pinned” onto a “spreading board” and remain there until totally dry again. Usually this takes from a few days to a few weeks depending on the humidity in the surrounding air. There are numerous good “step-by-step” descriptions of this process to be found on the internet, but we have included a few pictures of the process as examples. Generally it can take anywhere from five to ten minutes to get the butterfly into its final position on the spreading board, assuming there are no unforeseen problems.

For the purposes of eventual framing, the following guidelines are customary: The forewings should be pulled forward so that the back wing margin is horizontal and perpendicular to the body. The hind wings are pulled forward just enough to be slightly overlapped by the forewings, leaving a “V”-shaped notch between the wings on the outer edge. The antennae should be as straight as possible and evenly spaced. And for best appearance, the wings should be flat with the body, not raised or drooped, and also symmetrical right to left. If it sounds like there are a lot of things to look for, there are!! But there’s nothing worse than a beautiful butterfly that is improperly spread.

The procedure for beetles and other insects is similar, except often being more complicated. Most insects are slightly less delicate, but there is usually a lot more repositioning necessary. It is sometimes necessary to use as many as 80 pins to reposition a specimen for drying!!!

We have simplified our explanation of the process for ease of understanding and for the sake of giving you an appreciation of how much effort goes into making our beautiful framed butterfly and insect specimens. Starting with the finest quality insect specimens is a prerequisite. We then hand select our specimens for size, vibrancy, and overall appeal. And the result is a spectacular piece of “natural art” that will give you pleasure for many years to come.

We hope you enjoyed this week’s edition of Friday Flyers. We love sharing our interest in butterflies and insects with you. Please enjoy the photos we have posted with this week’s edition, and be sure to see all the previous pictures in our Friday Flyers album. Remember to “like” our Wonders Of Nature page, and be sure to pass it along to all your Facebook Friends. We hope you’ll visit our Wonders Of Nature department soon, and we look forward to seeing you.


Dried insects in the rehydration chamber

A large leaf katydid that we found on one of our research trips, pinned on the spreading board to dry

Butterflies, properly positioned pinned on the spreading board to dry

Morpho butterflies ready for framing! These spectacular gems live in South America, and are perhaps the world's most stunning butterflies. They have wingspans of over 8"!

A series of Helicon butterflies ready for framing!


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