How to Make a 4-H Insect Collection

Exhibits and Rules

Click here for 4-H Entomology Project.

Supplies and Equipment

Display Box
Spreading Boards
Card Points
Box Cards
Order Labels
Specimen Labels

Answers to common 4-H Entomology questions

Below are several of the most common questions and answers relating to the state Entomology project rule changes.

  • Do insects ever have to be re-pinned to accommodate grade level progression? Wouldn't that destroy the insect?

    Answer. We never ask that insects be re-pinned. This would definitely destroy them. Rather, insects are mounted on pins so that the pins can be moved around in the box. Higher grade family level identification rules only ask that collectors group their insects by family, with the family name label (placed on the floor of the box in much the same way as the order label is). We suggest making the family labels smaller than the order labels to assist in organization and appearance. The label on the pin (locality, date collector) should always stay on the pin and, like the insect itself, should never be removed. Common names can be put on the pin as a second (bottom) label. These labels are easily changed without harming the insect.

  • What is the proper way to arrange insects in a box?

    Answer: The following figure is a good example of how to arrange insects under the appropriate lables of order and family.  Grouping ‘like insects’ together is always a good strategy.

    Suggested arrangement of an insect display box.

  • Why do the kids have to identify common names when these are much more specific than the order and family level identification?

    Answer: There is not a lot of scientific merit in assigning common names to insects in a collection because common names are very subjective. We understand your concern that one common name may occur for two very different insects and some insects do not have a common name at all. However, common names have always been a part of the insect collection requirements in Indiana. The last time I suggested removing the common name requirement it was met with significant resistance. Many said it was part of the fun of collecting. I certainly do not want to remove the fun!

    In addition, the state judging event (CDE) is also based upon identification of insects by common name. Many 4-Hers participate in both the 4-H Entomology Project as well as the Entomology CDE. For these reasons, we will maintain the common name requirement. Rest assured, however, that judges are a bit relaxed in this requirement. We do not want collectors to not include an insect because they cannot find a published common name for it. Remember that like scientific names, common names occur at several different levels. We also accept the common names of both family and orders.

    For example, all insects in the order Diptera are commonly called ‘flies’. Fly is the common name for this order. The common name for one family of flies is mosquito (family Culicidae). This is also correct. The common name of one species of mosquito (Aedes (Stegomyia) albopictus) is either ‘Asian tiger mosquito’ or ‘forest day mosquito’. Judges should accept any of these common names, fly, mosquito or Asian tiger mosquito. I expect the earlier divisions to know the common name ‘fly’, middle divisions to know that it is a ‘mosquito’ and the more advanced divisions to know it is an ‘Asian tiger mosquito’. So, you can see that judges need to be very flexible in reviewing common names. But if it makes collecting more fun – we’ll keep the rule in place.

  • The family and order names differ, depending upon which text book we use. Which names do you want us to use in the collections?

    Answer: You are correct. The science of insect taxonomy is fluid and what is accepted one day, may change the next. That is part of the beauty of this field of science. I personally still become frustrated at having to re-learn things that I thought were one way and now taxonomists have changed them. Young collectors must also get used to this. It is part of the science.

    Having said that, we have compiled a list of 24 common orders that we would like 4-H collectors to use. These are published in the Awesome insect collection book as well as on-line. We believe that sticking to these orders will add more equality to the collections and allow judges to compare collections more easily. So, the rules are that only these orders are to be used. Until we have a similar text and list for family names, judges will have to be flexible in how the insects are identified. Rest assured that if it is not flat-out misidentified, there will be no point deductions for using either a ‘new’ or an ‘old’ family name.

  • Why are educational cards and boxes required?

    Answer: Entomology consists of much more than just naming insects. There are many things to learn about the science of Entomology. What we do want to see is that the students learn something new each year and find a way to display that knowledge to the public. For that reason we have implemented a general educational component to collections in every division. This begins with the early divisions assigned to include a prepared card. For grades, card numbers, and and exhibit requirements see Entomology Exhibit Requirements.

  • I’m wondering why there is conflicting information about cockroach nomenclature? While reviewing the insects before the Entomology CDE, I learned that some resources list the order of cockroaches as Blattodea or Blattaria but that the Purdue reference guide lists it as Dictyoptera. Which is right? And what is a superorder? My main references, The Audubon Society Field Guide to North American Insects and Spiders, contains the same information as the table I found on Wikipedia. Other references I found online confirmed what Purdue’s guide said. It was split about 50:50 on which was right. I went with Purdue’s determination for the sake of the contest, but I’m still left wondering. Thanks, Stacye

    Answer: Stacye, There is no one right way and entomologists are divided. We have chosen to include mantids, walking sticks, and roaches into one order Dictyoptera. Others break up the order into two. It is just a matter of preference (much like spelling a name – Stacey, Stacie, or Stacye). For purposes of the 4-H collection exhibits as well as for the insect judging CDE will follow the reference books (How to Make an Awesome Insect Collection and How to Manage Radical Insects).

  • Recent changes in insect classification are different than what is given in the resources for this project (How to Make an Awesome Insect Collection and How to Manage Radical Insects). Which is correct and what is acceptable?

    Answer: Occasionally changes in classification systems are necessary such as when new insect groups are discovered, such as the recently discovered order of insects (gladiator insects) from west Africa (2002). These have been classified as an entirely new order called Mantophasmatodea.

    Changes in insect taxonomy and classification also occur when existing orders are either separated (split) or combined (joined). For example, the previously recognized order Dictyoptera, is no longer in use, raising each of the two groups that were previously part of Dictyoptera (Mantodea and Blattodea) to ordinal levels.

    In contrast, three previously recognized orders Neuroptera, Raphidioptera and Megaloptera are now all considered part of the single order Neuroptera.

    Similarly, termites (previously recognized as belonging to their own order, Isoptera) are now joined with their close relatives into the single order Blattodea.

    Sucking and chewing lice are no longer separate orders (Anoplura and Mallophaga), but rather belong to the common order Phthiraptera. The long embraced, 2-order classification for all ‘true bugs’ (Hemiptera and Homoptera) has been recently reduced into a single order called Hemiptera.

    Changes at lower levels (Family, Genus and Species) occur more frequently. For instance, the family Lygaeidae recently has been split to form 10 separate families, whereas insects previously known as Cicindellidae are now part of the family Carabidae, Lyctidae is now included in Bostrichidae, Buchidae is considered part of Chrysomelidae, Nymphalidae includes Danaidae as well as Satyridae and Apidae now includes both Anthophoridae and Bombidae.

    These are but a few of the recent family changes to contemporary insect classification. Genus and species level taxonomy is even more fluid. The ever-changing science of Taxonomy and Systematics makes Insect diagnostics both challenging and rewarding.

    However, in order to give some order to the 4-H exhibits, we will stick with the system that existed when the book was printed. Rest assured that judges will also accept the new nomenclature as long as it is accurate.

  • Where can I find a place for ‘pollinator protection” or ‘native pollinator conservation” projects?  These are both critical education gaps in our society. 

    Answer: The bee keeping project has an ‘Independent study’ for topics such as pollinator protection.  In addition, education boxes (required in the upper grades of the 4-H entomology project offer ideal places. 

  • Where can I get help with entomology poster development?

    Answer:  Insect posters must adhere to the poster guidelines.  We are seeing entries with interesting and valuable information but are not presented properly.  There are workshops available to teach how to make a poster and written information can be provided that should be reviewed by all contestants and coaches. Video on How to Make a Poster.

    Also, a publication 4-H Poster Hints is extremely helpful.

  • Mounting insects is difficult.  Any tips to help?

    Answer: Mounting insects is always a challenge for beginning students.  Spreading butterfly and moth wings is especially difficult.  Expertise only comes with direction and practice. Workshops are invaluable.  There are several YouTube videos that illustrate these techniques including “The Insect Hunter’ videos produced by our department (see link in this site).  In most cases, early grade judging differences come down to this more often than identification.

  • Where do I find specific rules and resources for making a collection?

    Answer: Please refer to the ‘Awesome Insect Collection’ ID 401 booklet for detailed descriptions on how to make a collection.  This should be the written resource that all students refer to when making a collection.

  • Judges took points off for improper labels.  Where do I find tips and rules for making labels?

    Answer:  Many of the deductions judges make have to do with improper labels.  Here are some tips: Labels should conform to a certain and consistent size.  Making a computer template with pre-sized labels is a great idea. Labels should be placed on a pin using a pinning block.  This keeps labels straight and at the correct and standard position on the pin. Correct information is found in the ID 401 book, and also on the 4-H Youth and Entomology website at Purdue University. 

  • What information goes on a label?

    Answer: See resource above for information requirements. Judges deduct points for incomplete label information.  In general, more detail should be provided on labels.  For example, just listing a county as the location is not correct.  It must also include the state.  However, the state alone is also insufficient.  Detail provided on the label makes the specimen more valuable.  Likewise, just having a year listed as the collection date is not specific enough.

  • What do you mean by a duplicate specimen?

    Answer:  Two of the same insect species should not be used in a collection submitted for judging.  Even if specimens appear differently, for example, submitting two specimens of a swallowtail butterfly (even though one is a male and one a female) is likely to lead to a small point deduction – especially at the higher grades.  The judges are looking for the ‘most’ ‘different’ insects possible within the grade levels.

  • The order Homoptera listed on 4-H 743D-W and 743E-W scorecards for Entomology it not an order, but a suborder according to some websites.

    Answer: There is no one right way to list orders and entomologists don’t always agree. We have chosen to include Homoptera as an order. Others, including the website you found, list it as a suborder. It is a matter of preference. Because of these disagreements and changes that have occurred over the years we publish an official reference that is to be used for the 4-H exhibit: How to Make an Awesome Insect Collection. ID-401, page 57 and pp 194-199. (See “Nomenclature” section for more on this topic.)

  • How should a label, identified to family, look?

    Answer: The collection information should be closest to the insect, with the family name below. Insects are grouped by order, so the order label is generally at the top of the group. The perferred labeling is shown on page 43 of the resource book, How to Make anAwesome Insect Collection! (ID-401). The book shows a "host" label, that we don't require.

  • On the entomology web site is a set of order labels, is there a set of family labels somewhere?

    Answer: We do not have a list of family labels because there are just too many families to provide labels for. Youth will need to make their own. Computer print is advised.

  • When a specific number of family names are required - depending on grade, will I be penalized if I identify more or all insects to family?

    Answer: No, the specific number is a 'minimum'. You will not be penalized if you identify more than the minimum.

  • Do family names need to be in italics?

    Answer: No, family names do not need to be in italics. Normally in scientific work only genus and species are italicized.

  • We want to know the appropriate way to label the pinned insects in the 5th grade project. It appears that we are only required to label them with the common name. However, if the insects are to be used again in 6th grade they need the collector label also. Therefore shoudl the 5th grade project also contain the collector label, or will this count against the project at this level?

    Answer: Youth exhibiting in the 5th grade can include the collector label if they wish, or they can add this information next year (to the specimens that they choose to use for the 6th grade). If the collector label is included it will NOT count against them.

  • Identification continues to be confusing. Insects are listed under different orders, families, and common names depending on which book you look at. For example:
    • In Insects: How to Study, Collect, Preserve and Identify, A Walkingstick is in the order Dictyoptera and the family is Mantidae. A Cicada is in the order Homoptera and the family name is Cicadidae.
    • In the National Wildlife Federation's Field Guide to Insects and Spiders of North America, a Walkingstick is in the order Phasmida and the family name is Diapheromera Femorata. A Cicada is in the order Hemiptera Homoptera and the family name is different. How do we know which one to choose?

    Answer: Entomologists disagree and have changed the classification of some insects over the years. We choose to use the new resource, How to Make an Awesome Insect Collection (ID-401) as the official 4-H reference (page 57 and pages 194-199). this book is available through Purdue's, The Education Store (for purchase ($15.00) and online at <>. (The book is listed just under "Home" in the left hand column.) Note that the Indiana State Fair exhibit guidelines, <>, state: use the orders listed in the reference material (page 57, ID-401).

  • The order Homoptera listed on Entomology scorecards is not an order, but a suborder as per some current websites. Which should we use?

    Answer: There is no one right way to list orders and even entomologists don't always agree. We have chosen to include Homoptera as an order. Others, including many websites now list it as a suborder. It is a matter of preference. Because of these disagreements and changes that have occurred over the years we have an official reference that is to be used for the 4-H exhibit: How to Make an Awesome Insect Collection, ID-401, page 57 and pages 194-199. (See "Nomenclature" section for more on this topic.)

  • How should a label, identified to family, look?

    Answer: The collection information should be closest to the insect, with the family name below. Insects are grouped by order, so the order label is at the top of the group. The preferred labeling is shown on page 43 of the resource book, How to Make an Awesome Insect Collection! (ID-401). The book shows a "host" label, that we don't require.

  • On the entomology web site is a set of order labels, is there a set of family labels somewhere?

    Answer: We do not have a list of family labels because there are just too many families to provide labels for. Youth will need to make their own. Computer print is advised.

  • I have questions about the new label information requirements for scientific names in entomology. They are:
    1. Is the scientific name an additional label?
    2. Can it be combined with the common name?
    3. What would be the recommended size of card that is placed in the lower right hand corner with name, grade, county, # of orders, # of insects, plus "box 1 of 3"?

    Answer: The scientific names are not required. A few years ago, the state fair jodges noted that some youth add scientific names, but were often doing it incorrectly. They asked that we give the "rules" for scientific names, which you now see added to the exhibit requirements. So, to answer your question, yes, youth can put the scientific name with the common name, if they wish. As to the recommended size for the card, they are often 3 X 5 inches, but we do not give specific guidelines, as you noted.

  • Where can I learn how to properly spread butterfly wings and pin insects?

    Answer: See the guidelines for proper pinning and spreading of wings using the book, Insects, How to Study, Collect, Preserve and Identify (4-H 764) or online: How to Make an Awesome Insect Collection.

  • I have a question from a 4-H member concerning the correct way to mount a rhinoceros beetle into a box. How should he mount it? With a longer pin? Two pins? Does it matter?

    Answer: The proper way to pin a beetle is to have a single pin go through the beetle on the right elytra. See How to Make an Awesome Insect Collection (ID-401), How to Display Insects, for additional information about pinning insects.

  • What can we use to kill insects? My book recommends ethyl acetate but I can't find any.

    Answer: Freezing insects is often the easiest way to kill insects. Ethyl acetate can also be used and may be purchased at a pharmacy. You can also use finger nail polish remover, although it does not work as well, but it is much more readily available, and cheaper. Remember to use something in the bottome of your killing jar to soak up the ethyl acetate or nail polish remover. You can use plaster of Paris, cottom balls, cut up rubber bands, sawdust, or paper towels, Cut a circle of cardboard to place on top to separate from the insects. The cardboard will not be necessary with the plaster of Paris if you pour off any excess.) Label your jar "Poison - insect killing jar".

  • What is the recommended preserving fluid for vials?

    Answer: Ethyl alcohol can be used to preserve soft bodied insects. It can be purchased at a pharmacy, and diluted to 70% with water.

  • An adult insect and a nymph insect look different sometimes. Would they be considered different, or should you only put one or the other in an exhibit?

    Answer: Nymphs should not be exhibited. The Indiana State Fair exhibit guidelines require: All insects must be in the adult stage and be properly mounted on insect pins or be contained in vials as directed.

  • The kids found a Dobson fly larvae. Is this good enough to exhibit, or is an adult (fully grown) specimen needed (and they can't find one)?

    Answer: No, they need to find an adult for the collection. A larvae may be exhibited in the educational box, however.

  • Is there a web site or some other way to identify insects that I have not been able to find?

    Answer: Try either of the following:

    • Purdue's Department of Entomology, 4-H and Youth website
    • Publications and Professional Societies
    • Websites (see Resources section)

  • My son participates in the Entomology project every year and last year he captured 2 walking sticks in the process of mating. Unfortunately, they did not separate before they passed on. Can they be displayed in his project in this position or do they have to be disengaged? If they have to be disengaged, how does he go about doing this without damaging the walking sticks?

    Answer: While I cannot tell you for sure what any given judge would rule on displaying walking sticks in the process of mating, it is my belief that most (if not all) would not accept this as a proper display of an insect. The primary intent for collections is for youth to collect, correctly identify, and correctly display insects so others can see them and learn from them. Your son should not try to separate the walking sticks because that would probably ruin the specimens. He may want to keep this pair to use in the 9th grade educational display box (with an insect behavior theme). The mating pair is an unusual find - I don't think that many people have seen that so it would be educational!

  • Do the male and female of the same insect species count as two insects or one insect? I have a 4-H member who has a female fish fly and a male fish fly. He would like to know if he can include both sexes in the collection for 11th grade?

    Answer: The male and female of any species would count as two insects. But count only as one species. Thus it is best to only enter the nicest one for upper divisions.

  • I heard that that Monarch butterfly is protected by the federal government. Is that true?

    Answer: No, it is not true.

  • Is the praying mantis or lunar moth endangered? Is it OK to collect them?

    Answer: No they are not endangered. The praying mantis is a beneficial insect, so some people are reluctant to collect it, but you may do so, if you wish. Note: there are no insects that 4-H members ar likely to find in Indiana that would be illegal to collect (praying mantis and lunar moth are both OK) althought there are some that are nationally protected (see next question).

  • Are there any insects that we should not collect?

    Answer: Yes, there are 4 insects that are nationally protected because they are endangered. They are:

    • Karner blue butterfly (Lycaeides melissa Samuelis), which is found in the Indiana Dunes area.
    • Mitchells satyr butterfly (Neonympha mitchellii), not known to occur in Indiana but has been found just across the Michigan line.
    • American burying beetle (Nicrophorus americanus), not seen in Indiana for 80 years or more.
    • The Hines emerald dragonfly (Somatochlora hineana), a species of special concern known in Michigan and Ohio but not currently in Indiana.
    NOTE: If 4-H members see an endangered insect they should look carefully at the habitat where they saw them and try to improve it for the insect to help increase the population.

  • Should we do anything when we see invasive insects?

    Answer: There are some regulated insects that should be reported to the IDNR. If you find an invasive insect, contact the IDNR, Division of Entomology.

  • Can I exhivit an insect that I found when on vacation outside the U.S.?

    Answer: No, Itg is illegal in many areas of the world to collect insects and the laws change often enough that it is difficult to know what is legal. the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service "Lacy Act," is intended to stop poaching, and has been interpreted to include all wildlife including insects. Do not collect insects when traveling outside the U.S.

  • We are working on a butterfly program. Is there any way to order larva through Purdue that will grow into moths or butterflies?

    Answer: Purdue does NOT have insects for sale, but some may be purchased from Carolina Biological Supply or Wards Natural Science.

  • My entomology leader wants to know if insects may be purchased rather than captured? The question is for her son who has captured many of the insects he will be using for his display. The matrials I hae found do not address this topic. Can you help?

    Answer: All insects must be caught, preserved, and displayed by the 4-H member. Please remind your entomology leader that there is a line on the specimen label that requires the collector information (state, county date, collector name). The collecting and identification is the educational part of this activity.

  • Do you know where I can get an entomology box?

    Answer: Entomology display boxes (and pins) are available through Purdue's The Education Store. Plans and directions to make entomology boxes and spreading boards are also available at the website. Professional boxes may be purchased from BioQuip (BioQuip, enter "box" in the search box on the left hand side).

  • We have plans for a display box that tells us to use a 1" X 3" board that would give a 3/4" X 2 1/2" final dimension. In some of the literature sent with the project the box plan calls for a 3 1/2" high board (a 1" X 4" board). Which is correct? All boxes we got from the Extension office are 3 1/2" tall. We are going to make a new box since the old ones are in very poor shape.

    Answer: The measurements for entomology display boxes may be either depth. The judges know that there are various plans out there. Boxes made that are not deep will not work well for some insects. Specimens are not as likely to be crushed if the box is deeper (3.5" tall). (The major concern is the length and width, so the boxes fit on your display shelves.) Note: The plans given on the 4-H entomology website have been updated to use a 1" X 4" board.

  • Where can I get more in-depth information about entomology?

    Answer: Two books from Purdue entomologists are:

    1. Arthropod Collection & Identification, Laboratory and Field Techniques is an excellent resource for 4-H entomology members that are interested in collecting insets. The authors are Purdue Entomology faculty, Dr. Chris Oseto and Dr. Tim Gibb. It is a great resource - Very comprehensive, including chapters on: Equipment and Collecting Methods, Agents for Killing and Preserving, Storage of Specimens, and a whole section on Classification. ISBN-13:978-0-12-369545-1, ISBN-10:0-12-369545-7.
    2. How to Make an Awesome Insect Collection (print, online).
    3. Publications & Professional Societies
    4. Websites