New Paper out on how to Quickly Relax Insect Specimens
The article copied below was sent to me by John Plant....looks like it is a nice addition to the suite of techniques used to relax specimens.
I will send a separate email with the PDF attached.
Sam Droege sdroege@...
w 301-497-5840 h 301-390-7759 fax 301-497-5624
USGS Patuxent Wildlife Research Center
BARC-EAST, BLDG 308, RM 124 10300 Balt. Ave., Beltsville, MD 20705
Have you ever seen
in your life
than the way the sun,
relaxed and easy,
floats toward the horizon
and into the clouds or the hills,
or the rumpled sea,
and is gone--
and how it slides again
out of the blackness,
on the other side of the world,
like a red flower
streaming upward on its heavenly oils,
say, on a morning in early summer,
at its perfect imperial distance--
and have you ever felt for anything
such wild love--
do you think there is anywhere, in any language,
a word billowing enough
for the pleasure
that fills you,
as the sun
as it warms you
as you stand there,
or have you too
turned from this world--
or have you too
- Mary Oliver
Relaxing bee specimens: A quick and easy method
J. PLANT & A. DUBITZKY
A b s t r a c t : A method is described for relaxing dried bee specimens – quickly and
easily – for pinning and mounting, for preparation of male genitalia, hidden male
sterna, the mouthparts, or to reposition appendages and other body parts. The
procedure subjects specimens to hot steam for a short period, about 10 to 20 minutes.
The steam and high pressure in the tightly shut container relax specimens more
quickly than in a conventional moistening chamber. Conventional methods generally
require 12-24 hours and carry with them risk of mold developing on the specimens.
All kinds of bees and many other Hymenoptera have been successfully softened by
this simple and effective treatment.
K e y w o r d s : Relaxing jar, insect specimens, insect collections,
The relaxing jar or chamber is a valuable piece of equipment for entomologists and hobby
insect collectors. Relaxation of dried bee or wasp specimens is a necessary procedure for
mounting and pinning. Furthermore, to examine male genitalia and hidden sterna, the
mouthparts, and other structures of bees, the dissection or preparation of specimens is
usually unavoidable. To accomplish this without excessively damaging specimens, they are
softened in an incubation chamber or a relaxing jar/chamber. The desire is to restore moisture to
the integument making it less breakable and brittle, and to the joints so that they become bendable
Materials and Methods
Relaxing jars and chambers assume many different shapes and sizes. They can be
constructed of simple household items or involve expensive incubation cabinets with time
and temperature controls. Most often, water is the agent providing for the high humid
environment. A conventional relaxing chamber using lukewarm water in an aquarium
outfitted with a wooden cover was described and illustrated by EBMER (1987).
The system to relax insects described here was initially devised and extensively practiced
with success on bee and wasp specimens by the first author for numerous years, improvements
to it were implemented by the second author. The method received brief
mention in DUBITZKY (2005), and it is fitting to devote it to a more detailed description.
Equipment and procedure (Fig. 1): Glass, plastic or metal container to hold boiling water.
This may be a wide-mouthed jar, bowl, pot or other watertight receptacle. A tight fitting lid or
screw cap work best but most any covering, even if loose, will suffice. The floatation block may be
a piece of Styrofoam or other floatable material on which the specimens can be pinned or laid
out. A large pin placed in the center of the block serves well as a handle. To prevent water
droplets formed by condensation from running onto the block or the specimens, the block can
be kept at a safe distance from the inner side orwalls of the container by inserting one or more
pins horizontally into each side of the block. Specimens which have already been mounted are
simply pinned into the floatation block. Specimens which are unpinned may be laid out on the
floatation block. To insure that they do not easily fall off the block, they can be placed on a
paper tray or within a barrier of pins.
Steaming or boiling water is poured into the container, after that the floatation block with specimens
on it can be placed in. The water level should not be so high that the pins and specimens on the
floatation block touch the cover. Cover, shut or close tightly container. After about 10 to 20
minutes open container and test for pliability by gently touching, for example, the legs with a pair of
forceps. If further softening is needed, the process can be simply repeated. The lid should be
carefully removed so that water droplets do not accumulate and fall onto the block. This can be
avoided easily by slanting the lid when lifting it off.
In summary, an airtight system for example a simple glass jar with a screw cap is effective
since the steam and high pressure relax specimens, in principle, like in a pressure cooker. A
loosely covered system, in which steam can escape, such as a metal or glass cooking pot with
cover, is entirely sufficient but the softening process may need to be repeated.
With this method of treatment most bee and wasp specimens can be quickly and easily
relaxed. Occasionally, specimens resist softening or some body parts, for example, the
mandibles or proboscis remain stiff and difficult to manipulate. In these cases, it is sometimes
helpful to saturate the area of the joint and structure in question with no more than a drop or two
of diluted ethyl alcohol, and repeat the softening treatment.
Cover of container
Floatation block with
central handle and
cushioning side Pills
Fig. 1: Diagramofa relaxing-chamber systemutilizing steaming water.
Results and Discussion
Insects, like bees and wasps, if not prepared on the day of collection usually become too hard and
brittle to pin. Dried specimens are therefore generally softened in a relaxing chamber before
pinning or mounting. Conventional methods of relaxing insects are time-consuming (requiring
12-24 hours, if not days) and risky, due to development of mold which can be detrimental to
The uncomplicated method of relaxing dried specimens described here uses steaming hot water to
provide for a very humid environment. It is a time expedient method, lasting up to about 20
minutes, depending on the size and age of specimens. Repetition of the procedure is entirely
possible. There is no risk of specimens developing mold, decomposing or rotting, and thus no
need for application of disinfectants or Naphthalene (possible carcinogenic and other health
effects associated with its use are known). For each particular construction a test run should be
conducted to ensure that condensation water does not touch specimens or labels, especially if
type specimens are to be treated. In most cases it is advisable to remove the label or labels from
the pin, or to protect them on the pin by enveloping them with folded wax paper since moisture
or droplets reaching the labels may cause the label to warp or water-soluble ink markings to smear.
The relaxing treatment is also ideal for quickly improving the appe