How to store soft bodied insects

Example of different stages of bee larvae and pupa collected in the field.

In my last blog I explained how to pin and label bees. In this blog I am going to talk about another way to store and preserve soft bodied insects or larvae. This is particularly useful when you want to store the larvae or pupae of bees. There is an image above of different bee caste I found in clay soil over the summer of 2010. For larvae, I like to use Pampel’s solution, a general purpose preservative. Two other common fixatives are KAAD larval fixative and Peterson’s solution. They are available from These are a bit more expensive than what we store common soft bodied insects in. Commonly used chemicals for soft bodied insects are ethyl alcohol and isopropyl alcohol. If I am using ethyl or isopropyl alcohol, I will dilute it to 70% to prevent the insects from drying out. There are other chemicals used to store insects but these are the most common and easy to find.

Vials with soft bodied insects inside them.(2006)

When collecting, I usually take one large 4 oz. container filled with 70% ethyl alcohol if I am planning to collect soft bodied insects. If you forget the alcohol you can always add it a few hours later to preserve the insects. Once you put the specimen into one type of fixative, stick with that fixative or you may have clarity issues from the two chemicals mixing. Once your specimen is in the vial of choice, you can place the label in the vial. When adding the label, make sure that it is the same as on your pinned insects. Read the blog on this site “How to pin bees” for more information on insect labeling. I use tweezers to place the label inside the vial. Now you are ready to add the fixative of choice for long term preservation. The fixatives should be changed as needed over time. Some people like to store these in drawers like pinned insects. Other entomologists will store these specimens in the freezer to prevent degradation over time. Freezing them is the best way to store them if possible.


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