How Are Dead Butterflies Preserved?

Lisa Williams/CC-BY-2.0

Although the technique and method of preservation varies depending on the life stage of the butterfly, preserving a butterfly typically involves placing the specimen in preservative fluids and then storing it in rubbing alcohol to keep its wings moist and relaxed. Pupae are generally first preserved in alcohol, then frozen and mounted on insect pins, while adults may be placed in antiseptic solutions or tight-fitting boxes until they relax enough for proper mounting and display.

Regardless of life stage, butterflies, like most insects, become quite brittle after dying, so collectors must follow proper preservation techniques to ensure they can be displayed properly. At home, a simple relaxing chambers for specimens can be created from a plastic box or jar. This process requires placing a small piece of folded paper towel on the bottom of the jar or box, then moistening it with water. An antiseptic can be added to the specimen (usually applied by spraying the wings and torso) to prevent the growth of mold and to keep butterflies from drying out. Generally, it takes around two days for small specimens to relax and five to seven days for larger ones. After letting butterflies relax for up to a week, they are ready for mounting.