Friday, October 9, 2009

Death and Nature Study

I really like the old naturalists, John Muir, John Burroughs, and John John James Audubon, who weren't afraid to approach animals, and who didn't wait for a government permit to touch a species for the purpose of study. John Muir made his own gun to shoot Sea Gulls. John Burroughs hunted, and he dug up the den of a weasel to see its burrow (although he regretted that choice). John James Audubon captured swallows and tagged them. Many people today seem to think it's okay for university students and government employees to make these kinds of choices, but they think children should learn about nature from the safety of the path, without physical contact with the plants and animals God made.

I have taught my children not to ever kill an animal, including an insect, just for fun. But for the occasional study, we have put insects under our homeschooling scalpel. We have learned more about butterflies, their names, their habits, and their habitats, then I had initially thought we would. They know a Gulf Fritillary and a Queen butterfly from a Monarch, they know a Giant Swallowtail from a Tiger Swallowtail, they can identify Grey Hairstreaks, Cloudless Sulphurs, American Ladies and Mourning Cloaks. And all without me sitting my children down for one lesson! That is may favorite kind of homeschooling.

Here is my process for mounting our butterfly specimens:

In my freezer:

After it's dead, the specimen goes in a butterfly envelope, and into a jar with damp paper towels and a little Pine Sol. It stays in the jar for two days, so the wings get soft:

After two days in the damp jar, The insect is pinned to a mounting board. The wings are spread out with insect forceps, held down with a little strip of paper on each side, and the paper (not the insect) is pinned to the mounting board. It dries this way for two days:

The finished product!


  1. Jen thanks so much for posting this! I love, love, love your butterfly collection and I can't wait to start one with my boys. We have a lot pf monarchs visiting our yard these days and our favorite Tiger Swallowtail. We are going to get a net and start going. This tutorial will really help.

    I also really loved the picture Naomi posted of you catching the butterfly. What an amazing example to your kids of joy in learning. So inspiring!

  2. Jen, Look how that giant swallowtail completes your gorgeous collection! What a thrill to be there and see the process. I've ordered my supplies. My butterflies are frozen, awaiting the next steps! Thanks for the tutorial!
    I loved reading about those curious naturalists in Last Child in the Woods. We have our own budding naturalists as they get in touch with creation.

  3. Wow! Thanks for all the timely info. We found a Tiger Moth this morning that was dead. We brought it home and I had no idea where to start. I have seen some pics of your collection and was inspired! If you get a chance would you mind telling me where you purchase your supplies? Are they easily found or do you need to go online? Thanks - Katie S

  4. great insight. beautiful collection. thanks for the how to!

  5. I bought everything at Home Science Tools. I bought butterfly nets, pins, envelopes, forceps, a mounting board, and exhibit case. Look under Life Science on their website, then under Insects.

  6. Jen I love your post! Now I know what you meant by mounting board - I was having a hard time picturing it. You always go the extra step and look at what a treasure you've captured now! Thanks for the inspiration!!