Preserving a butterfly for eternity
June 9, 2014 1:31 PM   Subscribe

So, I found a mummified, perfectly preserved butterfly on my window sill. Its beautiful and I want to preserve it and look at it and may be show it off to people. See if I can make a brooch or something out of it and give it as a gift to people close to me. But I cant do any of this as the butterfly is quite fragile. How can I preserve this butterfly forever ... or if that's not possible, a very long time?

I have explored Google about this ...and I discovered two techniques: Lacquering the butterfly or entombing it in resin.

I don't know much about either of the two techniques apart from the YouTube videos or tutorials on the web. I had couple of questions:

1. What technique is best for a noob like me? I don't have any experience of lacquering or casting in resin. But I am skilled in internet shopping and can order stuff through the tubes, provided total cost is below $60- $70 or so.

The primary objective is to preserve the fragile beauty of the butterfly. The secondary is making it into a brooch or a showpiece (a la John Hammond in Jurassic Park). But if there is something else I can do, please do share.

2. How much time would the suggested technique take? I would like to gift the item to someone and for that I would need to complete it in couple of weeks.

3. I might want to take this up as a hobby if this works out well. Hence, feel free to provide your thoughts about having this as a hobby.

Any tips and tricks, details of links and kinks would be welcome.
posted by TheLittlePrince to Sports, Hobbies, & Recreation (7 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
Point to consider: If you lacquer the butterfly or slather it in resin, any iridescence of the wings will probably be lost.

I have a lot of pinned butterflies that I pinned myself (all of them died of natural causes). It's not terribly difficult, but it's not the kind of thing I'd want to try to learn in a few weeks on an already-mummified butterfly. The rehydration process might not go well.

Hope someone can give you a really cool answer that helps you figure this out, though.
posted by Coatlicue at 1:39 PM on June 9, 2014

Mount it inside a bell jar.

You won't be able to press it flat; it'll break. The people who catch butterflies and mount them in albums do the mounting while they're still soft.
posted by Chocolate Pickle at 1:54 PM on June 9, 2014

Yes, look into pinning. I don't know anything about how to do it, but here's a resource that looks good:

The lacquer or resin methods both sound kind of awful.The color and iridescence will last just fine in air. To protect the wings from physical damage, a small glass-lidded box with a stiff foam bottom would be ideal. If you really want to go full museum, you could print the collecting locality and species ID on a small piece of paper and pin those next to the butterfly or on the same pin. Post a picture here and I bet someone can help you key it out to species level.
posted by sleevener at 2:00 PM on June 9, 2014

I don't know anything about lacquering/resining, but I do know about pinning and I wouldn't recommend it. Butterflies are a bitch to pin in the best of circumstances, when you've already had a lot of practice, and it works best when they're fresh (and therefore much less fragile), not mummified.

If your butterfly died with its wings nicely (and conveniently) spread, you might consider a riker mount, which is essentially a box with a window on the front and a bunch of fluffy stuff inside. You just stick your insect in there and close the top down over it. The downside is that you might break off its antennae if they're poking up towards the window, and you wouldn't be able to see the underside of the wings, but it's an option.
posted by gueneverey at 4:54 PM on June 9, 2014

I have two butterflies that I caught when I was 12 or 13 (I'm 47 now). These are the ONLY 2 butterflies I have from the many, many that I caught and preserved. They are embedded in resin from TAP plastics. Each changed color a little bit, but as I said, they are the only ones that remained intact these 35 years, and they are likely to remain so indefinitely with no maintenance.

If you want to pin the butterfly, at this point it would need to be "relaxed" which involved putting it in a jar that had a sealed humid environment. I had a home made relaxing jar, which was a went sponge (not damp, wet) in the bottom of a pickle jar (I'd put a drop of bleach in there) and a layer of cardboard with holes punched in it that meets the inside diameter of the jar (today, I would put a chicken wire layer above the sponge.

Butterfly goes in, tight lid goes on, wait several days and it will get gradually damp and then you can pin it in the pose that you want.

In theory.

In practice, relaxing can be a really twitchy process. I've lost specimens due to both impatience and neglect.
posted by plinth at 4:57 PM on June 9, 2014 [1 favorite]

I collected butterflies and pinned them when I was a kid. They're all gone, as an unprotected butterfly is food for mites (it took a few years for some of them, many years for others). I don't know how fast yours will go if it isn't in resin, but that seems the only way to keep it from being eaten completely.
posted by Wilbefort at 5:56 AM on June 10, 2014

I looked in to pinning briefly ... but as mentioned above, the process seems to be skill and care intensive. Plus, it doesn't give any protection against fragile nature of the butterfly apart from "don't shake it so much".
posted by TheLittlePrince at 10:09 AM on June 10, 2014

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