Instructions for Spreading Insect Wings

Entomologists depend heavily on patterns of wing venation to identify insects in the orders Odonata (dragonflies and damselflies) and Lepidoptera (butterflies and moths).  The wings of these insects must be “spread” in order to ensure that the venation is visible.

The following steps offer guidance.  If you need help please ask instructor.

  1. Pin specimen through center of thorax, leaving ~1 cm of pin as a “handle”.
  2. Either adjust spreading board or move specimen to one end or other so central groove is slightly wider than specimen body.
  3. Push pin down into spreading board’s central groove until specimen wings are even with board surface.
  4. Put insect pin tip just behind a strong vein on specimen wing’s leading edge, then pull wing forward until its hind margin is perpendicular to the insect’s body.  Push the pin into board to hold the wing in place temporarily.
  5. Using another insect pin, repeat step 4 with the other front wing.
  6. Using a third insect pin, put insect pin tip just behind a strong vein on specimen hind wing.  Move wing forward until it just begins to slide under the hind margin of the front wing.  Push the pin into board to hold the wing in place temporarily.
  7. Using a fourth pin, repeat step 6 with the other hind wing.
  8. Cut an index card into two narrow strips long enough to extend beyond the front and hind wings.  Lay one of these strips over the wings on the left side and another over the wings on the right side.  Secure the strips with more pins placed just beyond the wing margins.
  9. If necessary, use additional pins to hold the antennae in a natural position and provide support under a droopy abdomen.
  10. After allowing the insect to dry for about 2 weeks, remove the pins and paper strips holding the wings and other body parts in place.  Carefully pull the pinned insect out of the spreading board’s groove.  Handle with care — your specimen will be very brittle.