Ah, the smell of mothballs. That’s been the perfume scenting many entomologists’ experiences for the last 40 years or so. You always have to protect your collections from the attacks of dermestid beetles.  Those little suckers are so efficient at eating dead things, they are commonly used to strip dead animals to their skeletons by museums. (You can watch a video of them devouring a pig carcass here. Not for the squeamish.)

Except…it turns out that mothball stuff is really bad for you.  So, if we can’t fumigate things anymore…what do you do to protect your collection of preserved animals from insects?

Well, for bird skins, you put them in a plastic bag and freeze them.  This photo is proof that there is a baggie for absolutely anything you need to bag up–including a 80 cm long preserved bald eagle.

Pretty much anything you might want to know about preserving a specimen–whether it’s clothing, a dead animal, or papers–can be found at the National Park Service Conserve-o-Gram website.

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A different kind of “horny”

Posted by Gwen Pearson

Writer. Nerd. Insect Evangelist. Have you heard the good news? BUGS!


  1. We still use formalin for many marine critters – unfortunately there aren’t too many other options that preserve the morphology. I always kinda wished I could dry them out like beetles.

  2. Conserve-o-gram?? Ha! Sounds like something the Landshark would use as a ruse to get you to open the door…

  3. I checked the Conserve-o-gram site and there was nothing about bird nests. How would you preserve a 1500 pound Bald Eagle’s nest? We at Jackson Bottom Wetlands Preserve had just that question. We consulted the Smithsonian and they recommended freezing the nest, twice. Freeze once for 10 days (at zero F.), thaw, and then freeze again. Thanks to a friendly commercial freezer company, we did just that, and in about 2 years on display there have been no bugs.

    Jackson Bottom has the only real Bald Eagle nest on display. You can check out their site at http://www.jacksonbottom.org

  4. Thanks! I needed this link. I curate invertebrates UVI and we were trying to figure out the bug and crustacean dilemma ofter random mites and things ate away a mounted deep-sea isopod. Now we have a lot in jars but this is not effective at all.

  5. Open mounts are really difficult to protect.
    We are going to build some sealed Plexiglas boxes for our larger birds on display.
    Once we freeze them and get them pest free, we’ll seal them in their own box.

    hexane + plexiglas = instant seal :)

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