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Preserving invertebrates

Discussion in 'Scorpions' started by tabor, Jul 14, 2009.

  1. tabor

    tabor Arachnoprince Old Timer

    OK so you have a sudden death on your hands and dont just want to toss the poor little dead dude aside. what do you do??? well, for the possible benefit of biologists or just your self in the future, here are two methods for preserving your newly deceased specimen.

    the first will be the "by the book, scientist method", which involves hard to get products, the second will be the more practical method, the one i used to preserve the scorpions in these pictures over 3 years ago. (keep in mind it is completely possibly to use the first method, just requires more effort, and money. if you intend to send them to a repository of insects, or a scientist, or just keep them for yourself, the second method is cheaper and effective enough).

    Method One: The Scientific Way

    Take the dead specimen (from henceforth referred to as the DS), and if they are still limp submerse them in near boiling hot water, until their tail goes completely straight.

    Next, submerse the specimen in a mix of the following: 12 parts Formalin (formaldehyde is super hard to get these days in the US outside of a university setting), 30 parts Isopropyl (rubbing) alcohol, and 58 parts distilled water.

    (A)During this time make sure the scorpion is as "spread out" as can be. Make sure it's tail is straight, claws are open, and in basically a position that you or anyone else can observe any part of the scorpion.

    Any glass container will do up until this point... now is when you need to pick its final "coffin". I recommend 1/2 pint mason jars for small specimens, larger mason jars for larger specimens. anything made of glass.

    Now, wash the scorpion down after 48 hours in this fixative in rubbing alcohol and put them in a glass container of your choosing. DS should be stored in glass jar, and 70/30% Isopropyl (rubbing) alcohol/water.

    now on to the more "practical" method, i.e. the method you can conduct with no red tape and no hassle for cheap.

    Method Two: Practicality

    The specimen will be dead. Take the DS and wash them off with hot water, if rigor has set in, then gently open their claws and straighten their tail. if not, dont worry, if it is just for you then who cares, if a biologist will be handling it in the future, they will be able to examine the claws just fine.

    so, the DS is nice and clean, make a mixture of 85% Ethyl alcohol (best if you can get some grain alcohol, such as Everclear the highest proof you can get). Add to that some over the counter rubbing alcohol (or distilled water). in 2-3 days the scorpion will be "set". See (A) above as to what sort of container to use.

    I have used this second method to preserve over 20 scorpions and they are all still nice looking, i can either admire them from outside the jar, or if science calls for it, pull one out and do a quick ID or granulation drawing.

    this second method is the one most of you should use, it is better than trying to preserve the specimen in resin (RESIN should not be confused for method one, resin is what makes paperweights etc.) for many reasons: it takes lots of practice to get the resin process correct, quality resin ingredients are expensive, and finally once the specimen is in resin, that is it. You cant take them out for further study. I mean, in theory, you could preserve one in liquid and then ten years later preserve it in resin. The opposite is not possible.

    here are some pictures using method two, these specimens are AT LEAST three years old:

    A mix of various parabuthus species

    A C. elegans couple

    C. meisei (0.0.1)
  2. Nomadinexile

    Nomadinexile Arachnoking


    Awesome info! Thank you very much. :clap: I have a couple of questions if I may.... 1. Is it important to get to 85%? Or is that minimum % needed?
    2. Is it better to mix in rubbing alcohol or water? And is this important? Or just cheaper "cutting" agent? 3. After it is set, and it goes in final jar, should it stay in 85% ethyl or does it go in 70/30 iso/water like example A?

    Sorry if these are stupid questions. I am a virgo. :) ryan
  3. Thank you for posting this!!! It sounds easy to do and will be an awesome leaning experience!!
  4. tabor

    tabor Arachnoprince Old Timer

    honestly, you can either make a mix of rubbing alcohol and distilled water (say 70 iso, 30 water) OR my preferred method pure grain alcohol, aka Everclear, depending on what state you live in this will either be 150 proof or almost 200 proof (100% alcohol), if it is the latter, you can just use Everclear, if the former, use about half everclear half rubbing alcholol. Those are the easiest methods.

    if you are under 21 and cant buy alcohol, get some rubbing alcohol and do the 70-80% rubbing alcohol, the rest water.

    For hobby purposes the exact percentages arent that important. i just tried to offer the optimal options in the original post, but more practically there are many ways to preserve your invert, DO NOT immediately assume you can cast them in resin and it be a piece of cake. the ingredients are expensive, and the process takes practice, and ultimately if you want to preserve your specimen for either personal or scientific research LIQUID preservation is the best choice.

    if down the road you want to cast your DS in to a paper weight or other resin trinket (practice on dead leaves to get the technique down), you can always pop the specimen out of the liquid and do whatever you wish with it.

    basically, for immediate preservations liquid methods, in any form, are superior. I have only cast 2 specimens in resin. A C. sculpaturus in resin for a key chain, and an A. bicolor for a paper weight for my dad. Let me tell you, resin is a PAIN IN THE BUTT, it took me more than a month to even be able to cast a simple dead leaf without bubbles or imperfections and still, to get 100 percent clear resin is expensive.

    I would say my best resin cast is 80% clear, and not useful at all scientifically. However, even my worst liquid preserrvations are still holding up and useful 3 years later.

    basically, liquid preserve your specimen no matter what. this leaves open the options of personal inspection/admiration, scientific value, AND future resin casting (if you so desire).

    throwing it in cheap resin immediately will only result in an unclear, hardly visible, stinky mess.

    if you want to resin your stuff, practice with the required ingredients (available in any hobby store, just ask) on leaves or crickets, and then when you get it perfected remove your specimen from the liquid and cast it.

    but to be honest, i will never resin cast anything again, any specimen worthy of preservation goes straight in to liquid. this way either I or a scorpiologist may study them in the future. :eek:
  5. tabor

    tabor Arachnoprince Old Timer

    i should add that the pictures dont do the specimens justice. first of all, getting a pic through glass is super hard, let alone trying to capture the details and colors. but i will tell you this. i can easily remove any of those scorps from their jars and them still be almost exactly as they were alive, and still make useful observations about them.


    thats how old those are. if i can find the one in resin, you know what you will see of an A. bicolor? simply a blurry black outline resembling a scorpion. with each of the above i can still identify the species and sex.
  6. Obelisk

    Obelisk Arachnobaron

    Thanks for the info. What if I wanted to display it in a picture frame type of thing? What do you think of leaving the DS in a spot where ants will be able to pick the scorp clean for the purpose I just mentioned?
  7. tabor

    tabor Arachnoprince Old Timer

    bad idea with the ants, you want to dehydrate them in this case. leave them in a jar of sea salt for a month or two, after the liquid purification, if you smell ANYTHING other than alcholol than it isnt ready. after they have been "cleaned" by the liquid, you want to dehydrate them for framing, which involves one or two month long cycles of salt.

    trust me though, liquid is the first step, as contradictory as it may seem. it gets the "living" out of them, and makes them easier to either resin cast or dry out and mount.

    the mounting thing i have only done once, was a lot of work, i did liquid first, after a few days i made him a mummy out of salt and paper towels.

    i changed the salt three or four times over 2 months, i will post a pic of the result in a few minutes... have to grab the camera.

    either way the message of the day is: liquid preservation allows you to do ANYTHING with the DS's corpse, even years later. years and years,some specimens my scorpiologists friends look at are in a jar over 50 years old!
  8. tabor

    tabor Arachnoprince Old Timer

    ok here is the mounted "mummy" of an H. spinifer. lots of salt, lots of time, lots of glue to eventually get it in this pose. not worth it in my opinion, you can buy one cheaper than what it cost me to make this, although, if you want a hands on hobby, this certainly is a treat!

  9. tabor

    tabor Arachnoprince Old Timer

    you can see how the mounted, dehydrated form, is of less value to science and the hobby than the liquid method. its fun to try with a common species, but i would never do it again.
    you defnitely have to make sure the insides are cooked before trying this, anything in free air like this, you want to make sure you clean it, de-stankify it, and finally have the touch to make its exoskeleton look like that.

    trust me just, mason jars and liquid are the way to go. people love picking up the jars, rotating them, and hearing the stories of what this "dangerous" animal meant to you.
  10. Obelisk

    Obelisk Arachnobaron

    Thanks for the feedback, and yeah that's exactly what I want to do. I just want to frame it so I can put it up somewhere in my room. I already have several type of fish and frogs in jars with isopropyl alcohol. I've always been too lazy to buy that other stuff you mentioned, though all the specimens look great even though theyve been dead for years.
  11. tabor

    tabor Arachnoprince Old Timer

    the key with framing is DEHYDRATION x 1000, seriously, if your bug isnt completely dehydrated expect annoying flies and such.

    also expect to use a lot of Krazy glue and such to get them in the pose you want.

    actually, putting one in resin and then framing it is easier than pure framing... but yes, if you want something to display framing is the way to go. but like i said, liquid first, let them cook in the liquid to kill off anything life like, and then dry them out the best you can.

    i wanted to use my family's fruit dehydrator but they wouldn't let me, instead i read up on mummification and used that method... im sure though you could buy one online cheaper than it would cost you to do all this but trust me, a success in this method is the most rewarding thing you can do with a dead invert!


    as for the framing you can find a cheap frame at walmart, kmart, or target, just take out the back ground and replace it with a peice of thick printer paper. let him sit on the paper for a few days to make sure there is no "leakage", if there is some, more dehydro, if there isnt any seepage around the DS then play around framing him. Be sure to label him just for the heck of it.

    i made sure mine was good to frame, ripped the picture out of a $10 frame from Target, and then printed out a new sheet with his species name on the bottom and then glued him to it. it has hung over my invert closet for 2 years with no problems. but trust me, if he isn't dessicated and completely dried you will have problems, either him rotting in the frame or worse flies and such mysteriously appearing from his corpse!
    Last edited: Jul 15, 2009
  12. Obelisk

    Obelisk Arachnobaron

    All right, this is much more effective than how I would have done it otherwise lol. So prior to the dehydration I can just use regular 90% isopropyl alcohol for a few days?
  13. RyoKenzaki

    RyoKenzaki Arachnoknight

    I have a dead Spinifer and A.Australis preserved in freezer straight after their death, have not wash in boiling water
    Can i still use this method?
  14. pandinus

    pandinus Arachnoking Old Timer

    when doing dry mounts of large scorpions like heterometrus and pandinus the best method i have found is to hydrate the animal if it has gone stif, to the point where it is still pliable. make a small incision along the pleural membrane of the body cavity, and very carefully remove as much of the tissue from the internal cavity as possible. next take some sterile cotton or mothballs and proceed to stuf the cavity to the desired girth, it takes a little bit of work to keep it from looking kind of lumpy, and then carefully close the incision with a small amount of superglue. at this point if you want to get really fancy, you can run a thin wire through the metasoma and pose it with an arched tail, but this can be very tricky sometimes. then take the cardstock on which you wish to mount the specimen and spread it out in the desired postion. at this point use superglue to attach the scorpion to the background in the position you want. use the glue sparingly, just a little drop on the contact points will be enough. i usually do a thin line down the ventral par of the body, a drop at the tip of each leg, and a bead under each claw. you can use toothpicks to prop up legs or claws at this point if desired At this point i often decide to take one extra step towards preservation and seal the scorpion with a protective layer of clear nail polish. now that the scorpion is firmly attached to the board and in the position you want it it is time to dry it out. i use the method that many people do at this point i carefully place the specimen in a safe place outside and place the shadow frame over the top ofthe specimen and allow it to bake in the sun untill completely dry. placing the shadow box over the specimen helps protect it from the elements while curing, and also acts like a sort of oven. thats my method for dry mounting. its fun but will destroy just about any scientific use the scorpion might have so best not to try with a super rare species. i may actually go ahead and do a tutorial of this this weekend as i may actually have the supplies to do it on hand

  15. MrsHaas

    MrsHaas Arachnoangel

    Someone plz help! I have a very old tarantula on his way out! How can I do this preservation process for a tarantula?? Plz respond ASAP! I may not have much time left?..
  16. laurenkane

    laurenkane Arachnosquire

    You can do the same method with a tarantula. Firstly, as soon as death has come and gone, place your spider in the freezer. Working with rotting matter is horribly smelly and you run the risk of your final mount not keeping.

    Basically what I do is thaw, boil in a pot for 30 seconds, make an incision with a sharp scalpel on the ventral side of the abdomen (removing all the viscera here). I also go ventrally below the carapace to remove as much of the meat and organs as possible. After that, I let my guy soak in a bath of acetone for 20-30 minutes. After the soak, I begin to stuff, glue and pin my specimen. Voila - they are usually dry within a week. I don't place anything in the sun as I do not want the specimen to fade. Room temp works fine.

    Good luck and sorry about your loss! <3