Carding Insects

by Johan J Ingles-Le Nobel
Last updated August 31, 2017


Carding insects is the act of attaching insects to insect cards for preservation purposes, and is a fiddly, difficult task that takes some experience before it becomes second nature.

What You Need

  • Card
  • Crossover tweezers or jewelry spatula
  • Custom tools
  • Plastic cup
  • Setting needle
  • Water soluble glue

Carding is usually done after spreading insects, and is an alternative to pinning insects for beetles smaller than 1cm.

Carding & Extreme Macro

The reason that carding is of interest to extreme macro photographers should be reasonably obvious - it gives the preserved specimen a natural appearance and the glue can subsequently be washed off to mount the insect with a pin instead for photography.

Specimen Preparation Walkthrough

1 ➤ The specimen preparation workflow

2 ➤ How to clean preserved specimens

3 ➤ How to relax specimens for spreading

4 ➤ How to make spread specimens for setting

5 ➤ How to cure dehydrated eyes

6 ➤ How to dry a cured specimen fast

7a ➤ How to pin a cured specimen, or...

7b ➤ How to card a cured specimen

Other reading: focus stacking walkthrough

In entomology, pointing is gluing the insect to the tip of a triangle of white card which is then mounted on a pin. Pointing is typically used for smaller specimens but the downside for the photographer is that the white card does tend to remain visible in the background unless focusing on just a very small front part of the specimen.

Carding uses rectangular pieces of card either 20x9 mm or 14x5 mm to provide a stage for the insect and staging involves pinning the insect with a very small headless pin called a minuten.

Carding Insects

Black belt carding of an insect, providing a perfect pose to subsequently take a stack. Good carding is one of the most valuable skills that the extreme macro stacker can absorb from the entomology world, as it make for much better images.

How To Card Insects

  1. Identify before carding. It is always best to identify a specimen before carding it, so that underside characteristics can be seen more easily.
  2. Carding is a million times easier with properly relaxed insects whose parts move easily and stay in position once they've been moved.
  3. Start by turning the relaxed insect onto its back, and tease out the appendages to the right position.
    • A low power binocular microscope makes this much easier to see
    • Depending on the insect I'll hold it down in one of several ways. Either a thin long piece of erasor used on to hold it down, or a special tool I made which has a couple of pins twisted round to have a Y at the end that can be used to hold an insect down, rather like using a twig to pin down a snake.
    • I tend to start by teasing out the back two legs first, then work my way up to the front legs leg by leg.
    • I use a pair of home-made hook tips. There are pieces of balsa wood (pen length) with a headless insect pin glued in and hooked at the end by bending the tip with small pliers. They help me pull a leg out carefully by hooking it.
    • I also use some standard entomology setting needles if I don't need to hook something but can move it just by using a pin.
    • Another pair of my tools have parallel pins. Using the Y tool to hold the body, I slide the parallel tool down either side of the leg and twist to move and hold the leg in the right place.
    • Small paint brushes can also be used to manoeuvre the legs (size 0, 9mm tip).
  4. Turn the insect the right way up and it is now ready to be carded.
  5. To pick up an insect onto card quickly, use a wet brush.
  6. If you are hoping to keep the collection long-term, then acid free card is the best to use. Bristol card is the premium version, but 250 g/m2 (gsm) white card from art suppliers is perfectly good and at a pinch, just use the matt side from old Christmas cards.
  7. Great care should be taken not to use too much gum. Use half as much as you think.
  8. Paint a blob of glue onto a suitable area of card for the body. Use a stronger glue to glue down the body and keep it in position (ie Fish glue). You need a short, flat glue patch.
  9. As soon as the glue is down, pick the beetle up and place it onto the glue, aiming to stick between the mid and hind legs.
  10. Use different (thinner) glue for the legs, ie old fashioned gum Arabic from an artist's supply shop or Tragacanth.
  11. To arrange the legs symmetrically, if right-handed, turn card anticlockwise 90 degrees and glue the legs on the left side of the beetle first with the legs towards you. Then card the legs on the right hand side with the card pointing forwards normally.
  12. Carding antennae separates the men from the boys
    • Before setting antennae apply a small amount of dilute glue and stick the head and jaws down. This prevents the head moving as the specimen dries which distorts the antennae.
    • First extend the antennae by stroking out the terminal segment with a brush.
    • With the antennae roughly in position, brush the smallest amount of water (damping the excess off on tissue first) at and just beyond where the last antennal segment will rest.
    • With a bit of luck or encouragement from the brush the antennae will sit in position held by the last segment and the water.
    • Now you can see exactly where it needs to be glued, transfer a small amount of glue to the area just beyond the last antennal segment. It should soak back down around the segment.
    • If you can manage to card a beetle with glue on just the last segment of the antennae then you should consider yourself a carding ninja.
  13. In case of disaster, remember that you can always wash your insect in water to get off the glue and start again.
  14. To put things into perspective, it takes entomologists years to become proficient at this. Your early struggles are part of the fun.

Holding Tool

Make yourself a cheap holding tool by holding two ent pins together in a pair of pliers and twisting together with another pair. Then make a Y with one end and put into some balsa wood.