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Santa Clarita and Northern Los Angeles County Area
Butterfly and Moth Site

Tips and ideas for conserving, collecting, preserving, and displaying lepidoptera.

Shipping mounted specimens through the mail.

As many collectors know, the best quality specimens are usually those which were mounted when still fresh at the time of capture. Specimens which are papered and then later relaxed just before mounting usually suffer some damage, and of course require the extra effort of the relaxing process.

Sending papered specimens through the mail is widely used because it's cheap, easy and relatively safe for the specimens. Mounted specimens can seem like a much riskier, difficult and expensive proposition.

However, if prepared and packaged properly, shipping mounted bugs through the mail can also be quite safe and economical. Detailed below are some tips for getting mounted specimens to their destination with a minimum of hassle, risk and expense.

Some notes on the USPS mail system:

Most shipping methods have their pros and cons, but one method stands out above the others where cost, speed, and handling matter... US Postal Service 1st class mail. I've tried a number of "premium" methods; "priority", "express", and all different carriers and found that they usually take longer and definitely cost more than 1st class mail.

There are some limits to qualifying for the 1st class mail category - most notable is the 13 oz. weight maximum. For papered specimens, this is usually no problem. However, the extra packaging needed for mounted bugs can be a challenge. If you don't care about cost or time, the same method shown below can still be used with heavier materials, and then shipped parcel post or similar.

The Procedure:

Probably the most important goal is to keep all materials as light as possible. If you have a postal scale, you can monitor the weight of the materials used as you go along. This is really helpful. Most of the materials can be made from re-used shipping/packaging materials. Keeping weight in mind, let's get started...

First, you'll need to find or "make" a lightweight "inner" cardboard box. This is the box that will contain your bugs. It should be about 2" high, and suitable in length and width to handle the number of specimens you want to ship. 6"x10"x2" is probably about as big as you'll want to go, or staying under the 13 oz. limit will be close to impossible. I chose a very thin "cigar box"- shaped container, left over from some online mail order.

Then, I found some lightweight 1/4" thick styrofoam sheet (more scrap shipping/packaging) and taped it into place as shown.

Since most specimens are only a very small part of the package total weight, load it up! I managed to get over 30 into this box. Caution - Sphinx moths may add-up to more than you think, so keep an eye on the scale if you're packing sphinx!

After adding the specimens to the box, the foam lining on the lid should make contact with the tops of the pins when it's closed, preventing the specimens from working loose during shipment. Loose specimens in the box can only cause disaster, so be sure they stay put.

Note that thick-bodied, bulky specimens such as sphinx moths, may rotate around the pin axis, so an extra pin in front of each forewing, about mid-way, will prevent that sort of motion. The image below shows a different shipping box with several specimens pinned so that they cannot rotate.

If you only need to ship 1 or a few, you can make a much smaller box, as shown below.

Now that the inner box is done and the specimens are inside, tape it closed, and let's get started on the outer box. We are going to use an outer box that's about 2" to 3" larger in all dimensions than the inner box. A much larger outer box will work too, but there's that pesky weight limit to watch. Since the packing material will absorb most of the pressure and shock during transportation, the outer box does not need to be heavy-duty. It should be reasonably strong but still lightweight. Note the thin cardboard of the outer box shown. When packed and taped closed, it's surprisingly strong.

First, fill the outer box with a 2"-3" layer of styrofoam "peanuts". These are probably the best choice for Ultra-lightweight packing material. Then set the inner box inside, add more packing around the sides, and finally a top layer of packing.

When finished, you should have the inner box packed as close to the center of the outer box as possible, with an equal space on all sides filled with packing material. The packing should be tight enough to prevent rattling around of the inner box, but loose enough to allow for some compression of the outer box during shipping. The inner box should ride in the core of the package while the foam packing and outer box take all the abuse.

The tape you use should be lightweight transparent packaging tape. Avoid heavy tapes like duct, masking or nylon reinforced tapes.

When finished, this entire package with 33 specimens weighed exactly 12 oz. and only cost $2.90 to ship. If carefully built and handled with re-use in mind, the inner box should last for many round trips. The outer box's useful life will depend on the abuse sustained in transit.

Good luck and happy shipping!

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