Introduction to pinning insects

Author: Joe Spagna: Lesson Plan Week 3, Sept 14 2004

Objectives: Students will be able to produce labels for collected insects according to the proper format, and to attach the specimens and their labels to insect pins using the correct technique.

Grade span: 9-12


  • 30-40 fresh, dead insect specimens that can be pinned (no larvae or soft-bodied animals)

  • Styrofoam blocks, 2.5 cm2 * 0.5 cm for pinning

  • 3 dozen insect pins, sizes 0&2 work fine for most specimens

  • Labelling paper cut to field label size (30-40 labels)

  • Optional: paper points and elmer's glue for small specimens


Motivation (5-10 minutes):
What are the most important things to know about an insect that we collected if we, or anybody else, wants to study it later?
It is similar to what you put in your field notes, but must be much "smaller." See if you can get students to come up with: date, locality, & collector. Those are the main things that go on the basic insect-pin label. It is also good to pass around a small unit-tray of more-or-less properly curated insects, like from a teaching collection.

Direct Instruction: (10 minutes)
Show students the following steps in a demonstration, outlining the important points in picture-form on the board:

  1. Make a label with all the information, written in pencil. Example:

    CA: Richmond High School
    Outdoor Science Classroom
    coll: J. Spagna

  2. Prepare a specimen-- pin properly through the right side of the top of the body. Diagram how this looks on the board, both side-view and top-view before doing it.

Guided student practice:

  1. Given some collection data, let the students write the data down on a largish piece of paper (3*5 card would work) of similar relative dimensions to a label, in proper label format. (2 minutes)

  2. Now pass out 2 labels to each student. Have them practice on one. Walk around and find out where they are having trouble, helping both individuals and giving group advice on how to line things up so you don't run out of room, etc. Let them keep the second one for their "real" label.

  3. Pinning an insect. Pass out specimens, styro-blocks and pins to each student. Remind them of the basics of pinning, and have them pin their insect and the better of their 2 practice-labels properly on the same pin. (10 minutes). Walk the classroom, help the struggling students. Some who finish first may do another, if you have enough specimens and pins.

Optional-- time remaining
Students may either pin additional insects, for practice.
Alternately, you can demonstrate how to "point" a small specimen by gluing it to the tip of a paper point, then pinning the wide end of the paper triangle, and labelling. The demonstration is impressive-- the students may not believe there's a way to "pin" bugs "that small"-- say, a gnat or tiny wasp.


2 possibilities, either/or/both:

  1. Discuss what was difficult about the process, and talk about ways to make it easier.

  2. Collect specimens and arrange into a Schmitt box (box with pinnable bottom) to show students their collective efforts.