August 01, 2014

Pinning It Down

Sometimes I like to do something or go someplace just to take pictures of it.

Sure, it might be interesting in and of itself, but somehow the thrill, for me, comes out of the documentation of it.

Let me show you what it's really like.

I mean, how many people get to learn how to pin insects? How many people have held real butterfly wings in their hands, and gotten the dust of their scales all over their fingertips?

Traditionally you would imagine these tiny silver pins with little flat silver pinheads, but we were using pins topped with a circus blue ball, making for a particularly spectacular carnival affair...

...even if the specimens looked a bit drab from the outside.

Before any pinning started, the first thing we had to do was hold the moth by its thorax (sort of the middle of its body) and pull all of its legs off. 

The legs were then cast aside, and oh God, the carnage.

We had styrofoam boards for mounting, and gently eased a pin through the thorax... we used our fingers and heavy paper stock to ease the wings open, and reveal a bit more color.

I had a feisty one, so I had to cross-pin its rear end down to keep it from sticking straight up.... addition to pinning just outside of each wing in four corners to create that perfect "V" shape.

Finally, the antennae were also cross-pinned down so that they would lie flat, being careful not to yank them off (which meant you'd have to glue them back on).

Those pins suddenly looked huge with an even smaller specimen, whose wings were more likely to tear and whose antennae just would not lie flat.

Finally, I got to choose my last specimen: a reddish and green shiny beetle...

...with an impressive wing display...

...but which was shockingly wet, and rather stinky to smell.

With such a pronounced body and such tiny legs, it's hard to pin a bug like this without making him look like he's been thrown into a ball pit.

Maybe I should've spread his wings. Maybe I should've laid him on his back?

I left my specimens behind at the workshop, because once I'd pinned and mounted them, and once I'd taken all the photos I could muster under low lighting conditions (saved only by the torch on my cell phone), I was done with them.

It felt like a waste, those dead bugs sacrificed, only to be discarded. I was embarrassed for them, their wings and legs being repositioned, body parts being torn off, or falling off on their own. The humiliation seemed to serve no purpose but my own temporal pleasure. I wasn't doing it for science, as many insect pinners have before me. I wasn't really even doing it for art.

I was just doing it to say I did it, as I have done many other things before.

And for what?

Related Posts:
Photo Essay: The Birds of the Western Foundation of Vertebrate Zoology
Photo Essay: Moore Laboratory of Zoology, Closed to Public

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