Department of Energy Argonne National Laboratory Office of Science NEWTON's Homepage NEWTON's Homepage
NEWTON, Ask A Scientist!
NEWTON Home Page NEWTON Teachers Visit Our Archives Ask A Question How To Ask A Question Question of the Week Our Expert Scientists Volunteer at NEWTON! Frequently Asked Questions Referencing NEWTON About NEWTON About Ask A Scientist Education At Argonne Lepidopterist Tools
Name: Sondoria
Status: N/A
Age: N/A
Location: N/A
Country: N/A
Date: N/A

what tools do a lepidopterist use?

A lepidopterist would use a variety of tools, depending on the job at hand.

For those who aren't on the track yet, a lepidopterist is a scientist who studies moths and butterflies

Being a lepidopterist involves a number of jobs and there would be different tools for each - so lets look at some of the jobs --

To CATCH butterflies - the almost stereotypical butterfly net is used. It is a soft light fabric to avoid damaging the butterflies wings. To attract butterflies scientists will also use a variety of scent attractants - honey solution, and even artificial flower smells To CATCH moths - you attract them at night with a light - often a bright lamp shining on a white sheet does the job well. Again a net is useful, but it can also be possible to catch moths by hand more easily than butterflies.

To KILL the insects - a killing jar has been used for decades - a jam jar with a pad moistened with chloroform, or other suitable anesthetic mixture which put the insects to sleep. Other more complex devices, such as automated traps are available too, but jars are still popular.

To PREPARE the insects - a work board, with fine probes and forceps to carefully arrange the legs, antennae and so on in a lifelike position (They can curl up as the animal dies in the jar. It may be necessary to treat the insect with a preservative to prevent mould or other damage later on, but usually it is just necessary to dry the insect thoroughly, so some lepidopterists might use a drying cabinet.

To DISPLAY the insects - a board of styrene foam, cork, fibreboard or similar material. Insects are carefully pinned to the board, usually with their wings extended to show them off well. Insects pins are usually long and very thin, and nowadays stainless steel is preferred. Once the display board has been laid out, it must be labeled, and is then hopefully put on display in a display cabinet in a museum or something. Most specimens will find their way into archive collections though, where the display boards are locked away in storage cabinets to be studied further, and as reference specimens.

To RECORD the insects - a camera has been a favourite way of recording the insect's shapes and patterns, but for many years detailed drawings and paintings were produced, so an lepidopterist may also have to be an artist, with a full kit of pencils and watercolour paints. Today most would probably use digital cameras, but for some purposes, drawing may still be the best way to show details.

To STUDY the insects - a hand lens, a microscope or even an electron microscope will allow the scientist to see small details. More detailed study might involve chemical study, so there could be chromatographs, electron spectroscopy, DNA analysis and a host of other top level analytical stuff. All the information has to be written down and recorded, so a computer is needed. The written information will find its way into books and scientific publications, so there may well be a library of material available. To be able to use that, a lepidopterist needs some reference tools to be able to find what other scientist have already written.

So - What tools does a lepidopterist use -
butterfly net
Honey solution
flower smell attractant
killing jars
automatic butterfly trap
work board
mould inhibitor
drying cabinet
display board
labeling machine
display cabinets
storage cabinets
digital camera
drawing kit
hand lens
electron microscope
x-ray spectrograph
DNA Amplifier
Computer / word processor

............... and I am sure I have not listed everything.

Nigel S.

Click here to return to the Zoology Archives

NEWTON is an electronic community for Science, Math, and Computer Science K-12 Educators, sponsored and operated by Argonne National Laboratory's Educational Programs, Andrew Skipor, Ph.D., Head of Educational Programs.

For assistance with NEWTON contact a System Operator (, or at Argonne's Educational Programs

Educational Programs
Building 360
9700 S. Cass Ave.
Argonne, Illinois
60439-4845, USA
Update: June 2012
Weclome To Newton

Argonne National Laboratory