Trip to the Canadian National Collection

Monday I took a trip to the Canadian National collection if Insects (CNC) at Agriculture and Agri-food Canada to see the Papiliondae and Sphingidae caterpillar specimens. They have a massive collection of adult Lepidoptera, but the curated larvae specimens for Papiliondae and Sphingidae species was limited. It was still a great experience and I did collect some good data.

Caterpillars were preserved either in jars of ethanol or "inflated". Eyespot markings were still clearly visible in after both types of preservation, and yes, by inflated I mean caterpillars that were inflated like a balloon and then dried. They are usually glued to a piece of wire extended from a typical insect pin. Other times the inflated larvae are glued to branches or leaves of their host plant which produces an aesthetically attractive look. This process actually retains the colour and body shape of the caterpillars amazingly well - many these specimens date back to 1900! Here are a few examples:

Papilio glaucus specimens (with some canadensis)

Papilio glaucus (just before pupation, inflated specimen)

Papilio glaucus (inflated specimen)

Sphinx kalmiae (inflated specimen)

Now compare those beauties to these specimens preserved in alcohol:

Papilio troilus (preserved in alcohol) 

Papilio troilus (preserved in alcohol)

Papilio glaucus (preserved in alcohol) 

I have many photos from many more specimens from the CNC and my next few posts will be a species-by-species account of those specimens. Stay tuned for a brief return of Caterpillar of the Day!


  1. I LOVE those inflated caterpillars! I wonder if that's a skill that's worthwhile at all to learn (I'm a sucker for old techniques). I'll have to check some collections to see if they have any inflated Acronicta.

  2. Let me know how it goes! I am going to try it this summer too. They look so great when they are finished and it preserve the body shape and colour much better than alcohol.

  3. I've seen caterpillars preserved like this, but I never understood how it was accomplished (mental images of balloon artists come to mind, but I doubt that's correct...)! I hope you'll share a step-by-step guide if you decide to try this summer, because I think it'd be fascinating!

  4. Hi Morgan, I definitely am going to try it this summer and I will share the associated trials and tribulations here on my blog. I suspect they use a syringe for the inflation, I just wonder how they keep the air inside once they inflate them - I dont think they 'tie off' the end of the caterpillar ;)

    If you or anyone picks up any tips on how to do this please let me know!

  5. Hi,i blow all my own larvae,the process is easy but can be messy