Anne teaching a bug class.

So, you’re thinking about making a bug collection? Hooray! I’m super excited and wish I could be there to make it with you. Bug collections are great fun and help us learn more about the natural world.

Making a collection needn’t be complicated, and if you want to jump right into it you can read my post Create Your First Bug Collection to jump right in. If you want to know more about the different kinds of bugs and pinning methods, keep reading!

To get started I recommend you learn some basic entomology, which is the study of insects. Start by reading the State Fair Insect Collection Guide and the Insect Order Key documents on the 4-H Entomology website from University of Kentucky. You can also download and print the Entomology units at the bottom of the page.  Another neat website is the Purdue University 4-H and Youth Entomology website which has some really advanced videos of insect pinning done by students. Here is a list of possible questions you may have about getting started, such as:

  • “Is it really necessary to learn about entomology?
  • “Can’t I just stick some pins in a few bugs and call it a day?”
  • “Why are some bugs pinned and others in vials?”
  • “What’s the difference between bugs and insects?”

To answer the first question, I would say “yes.” Humans (especially scientists) like to categorize life forms. Knowing these categories is helpful when you attempt to identify unknown insects. This categorization is known as biological nomenclature and goes like this LIFE= DOMAIN→ KINGDOM→ PHYLUM→ CLASS→ ORDER→ FAMILY→ GENUS→ SPECIES.

You may recognize the phrase “Homo sapiens,” which is the genus and species of humans. In entomology, there are insect orders. The largest order are the beetles, known as Coleoptera. It’s not necessary to learn the family, genus or species (and is difficult unless you’re an actual entomologist). A professional collection has insects labeled with who found the insect and where, the date found, and course, the Order. For gardeners, it makes more sense to label each insect by common name, and to organize them in the case by Order. In the post Anne’s Initiation,the photo collection shows groupings of insects together. I’ve identified a few of the basic Orders at the end of this post.

Some insects have softer bodies than others, and the life-stages are soft and can easily crumble if pinned. In some cases, the choice of whether to pin or preserve in alcohol is up to you. There are several sizes of vials and pins available. Pins that are size 00 are tiny and useful for small insects, while larger sizes are more appropriate for larger insects with bodies that may be harder to pierce with a pin.

Use 70% rubbing alcohol to preserve soft-bodied insects you have already killed in the freezer. In many cases, it’s difficult to preserve the vivid colors of soft-bodied insects such as the bright green tomato hornworm. I’ve followed the direction of dropping them in boiling water for 1-2 minutes only to have the color bleach out. If anyone knows a secret to this method, please let me know!

Bugs vs. Insects

A bug is a particular type of insect. Bugs are in the order Hempitera which contain stink bugs, cicadas, plant bugs, leaf hoppers and aphids. Hemipterans have mouthparts capable of piercing tissues (usually plant tissue) and sucking out sap.

All creepy crawlies are called “bugs” by most people, but a better term is arthropod, which is actually the Phylum. Phylum Arthropoda includes insects, bugs, spiders, scorpions, millipedes, ticks, crabs, lobsters, and trilobites. What they all have in common is an exoskeleton.

Here are some of the basic Orders to remember for your collection:

  • Hymenoptera: bees, wasps, and ants
  • Lepidoptera: moths and butterflies
  • Diptera: flies and mosquitoes
  • Odonata: dragonflies and damselflies
  • Orthoptera: crickets, grasshoppers and katydids

Get these main groups down and you will be more than on your way to being an amateur entomologist!

Happy Bug Collecting. 🙂