Category Archives: Pinning the Specimen

Identify, Pin and Label Insects

Identifying Insects for your Collection

Once you catch your insects, you will need to identify them for your collection. In some cases, identifying to the order is sufficient, but in other cases you might want to be more specific. I typically identify my insect specimens down to the family and common name. I recommend you invest in a good set of field guides that identify to the major families. I like 1The Peterson Field Guide Series1 because it uses specific anatomical identifiers like tarsal segments and wing ventilation. I also recommend a field microscope with a magnification of 60x to 100x. Another excellent resource for identifying specimens is In fact, is probably the resource I use most in identifying insects down to the genes and species.

Once I have identified the specimen, I then prepare the labels. I use 2 labels on my pins. The first label, just below the specimen, contains all of the collecting data ie, date found, location, and who collected it. The second label contains the common name. I seldom use a third label, but when I do it contains the genes and species.


Diversity of life

Our living world is filled with diversity. At least 1.7 million different living organisms have been discovered, and more are being discovered every day. Of all the different types of living organisms discovered, more than half of them are insects, Some scientist believe that there could be as many as 10 million different species of insects. With all this diversity in, on, and around our world, there needs to be an efficient way to categorize the

How Do we Categorize Living Organisms?

identifying insects to the Family is sufficient
For most insect collections, identifying insects to the Family is sufficient.

Taxonomy is the science of the classification. Each discovered living organism is given a scientific name and that is the name used by scientist world wide. Some organisms are also known locally by one or more common names. and some common names describe more than one type of organism. A water Bug, for example is used to describe both the Smokey-brown Cockroach and a type of water insect. Scientist use scientific names to avoid confusion. Below is an example of the scientific classification (the taxonomy) of a type of Honey Bee found in North America North of Mexico.

  • Kingdom – Animalia
  • Phylum – Arthropoda
  • Class – Insecta
  • Order – Hymenoptera
  • Family – Apidae
  • Genes Apis
  • Species – mellifera


Variations in Labeling your specimen

How an insect specimen is pinned has a lot to do with your own preferences. Certain projects like 4-H collections or school project collections have very specific guidelines that are usually spelled out in their handbooks or handouts. Many professional collections have very tiny print on tiny labels so they  can hold more specimens in one display box.

I use 2 labels. The top label contains the date collected, the location collected and the collectors name. This is the top label because it contains the first and most important information that I know about a specimen I have collected.The top label is most important because it contains information that can be easily lost forever. Information on the bottom label can be looked up at any time as long as you still have the specimen. Later, when I have identified the specimen, I put on the bottom label. The bottom label contains the Family and common name.  One variation for me is sometimes I use the scientific name instead of the common name. Sometimes I use both common name and scientific name using a 3rd label.


Pinning the Specimen

 Size of insect mounting pin

There are a number of sizes of pins (from 00 to 7) which are used in the process of pinning insects. I like Ento-Sphinx pins  available through Do not use common pins when pinning the specimen because they can rust ruin valuable specimens. Also, they are much to short and thick. Insect pins come in several sizes, but sizes No. 2 and No. 3 are most often used.  Below is a list of example of what size of pin might be used with each listed specimen.

  • 000 – Leafhopper
  • 00 – Sharpshooter
  • 0 – Spotted Cucumber Beetle
  • 1 – Butterfly
  • 2 – Yellow-jacket Wasp
  • 3 – Dogday Cicada
  • 4 – Rhinoceros Beetle
  • 5 – Large Dung Beetle
  • 6 – Cecropia Moth
  • 7 – Goliath Beetle
Hand position while Pinning the Specimen

Grasp the insect between the thumb and forefinger or lay it on a Styrofoam pad and press the pin gently but firmly just through exoskeleton. Pause and examine the angle of the pin. Will it poke through at a critical or inconvenient point on the insect’s bottom?

Example of pinning the specimen for a Tarantula Hawk.
Example of pinning the specimen for a Tarantula Hawk.
Pin Angle

Will the insect be pinned at an unusual angle? If so, pull the pin back out slightly and preposition for the final push through. Be careful not to enlarge entry pin holes or to create too many holes. When completed examine the specimen again for desired pinning effect. Be careful not to prick your fingers when pinning the specimen.

Pinning the specimen - side view
Pinning the specimen – side view
Pinning the specimen - top view
Pinning the specimen – top view

Proper pin positioning is very important. Insects are not all the same. Where a pin is inserted into the insect body may affect or damage a leg on the other side of the insect’s body  Use the illustration to the below as a guide for where to insert pins in the various types of insects.