How to submit voucher specimens

How to prepare and submit voucher specimens of adults
(See this post for info on how to collect, prepare, and submit exuviae. Coming soon: on how to prepare and submit voucher specimens of nymphs)

For Odonata records to be considered valid and used in the Atlas, a voucher specimen must be deposited in the UMMZ insect collection. There are a few exceptions of easily identified common species for which photographic records will be considered. See this post for details.

While anyone is welcome to submit any Michigan specimens to the MOS, we are primarily interested in certain species from certain locations. See this page for our current Want List.

Generally, collecting of insects is permitted in most public parks. A future post will provide details on where you can collect and how to obtain necessary permission to collect on some public properties.

This post outlines how to prepare your specimens, what data to collect, how to record it, and how to submit your records.

Some additional resources:

On the day you collect your specimen(s)

High quality specimens, with all their parts and colors preserved, are easy to achieve, but care must be taken right from the time your adult dragonfly or damselfly is collected.

Immediately after collection, while you are in the field, you should take your dragonfly from your net; hold it by folding the wings over the back of the insect and holding them in a folded position.

Some larger species, such as this Spatterdock Darner (Rhionaeschna mutata),
can  nip a little bit. Don't be startled, they can't break the skin. The wings of
odonates, once completely dry after emergence, are very tough. They can
be held safely this way.

Place your insect, with the wings still folded over the back, into a glassine envelope. They come in various sizes (available from the MOS -- contact mfobrien AT gmail DOT com and he'll send you some). Each individual insect should be placed in its own envelope; occasionally small damselflies can be put together, but it's best to avoid this.

Note a corner is torn off.
More on that below.

It's important to fold down the top of the envelope so the insect can't escape. Multiple envelopes can be placed in any sort of hard-sided box or container carried in your field pack. Here are a couple of examples:

If you collect in more than one location, you'll want to devise a way to segregate what was collected where. For each specific location, write down GPS coordinates if possible. These can be determined using Google Earth or Acme Mapper later on, it's important to obtain the most specific, accurate location as possible. It's also useful to jot down other notes, such as habitat, number of individuals present, etc. This information can be included with your specimen and provide valuable insight for others in the future. Just take a look at the wealth of data that was jotted down on this specimen from 1929!

When you are finished collecting, your insects need to be killed in a way that is quick, safe, and preserves their colors. This is done by submerging the envelopes in a jar of acetone, available at any hardware store. Please work with acetone in a well-ventilated area. This should be done as soon as possible after collection. Once a dragonfly dies, decomposition and other processes occur that distort important features, and color fades. Poor quality specimens with compromised identifiable features, or those that may be contaminated with molds, etc. may not be suitable for the MOS collection.

We use one or more wide-mouthed jars that are large enough to place the envelopes in without jamming them together. You can separate different collecting locations, or different sized envelopes. It is helpful to have a very small corner of each envelope snipped off so that they fill up with acetone without the insect floating out the top.

Insects typically die within a few seconds after being submerged in the acetone. It's best to check the orientation and reposition the adult's body position if necessary. It's best to straighten the abdomen, move the legs so they don't cover the secondary genitalia, position the wings if needed, and be sure the ode won't slip out the torn off corner (this can be an issue with damselflies).

Acetone not only preserves colors, it removes fats from the insect that are the source of decay. Large dragonflies should be ready to remove from the acetone in 24 hours. Small damselflies may take only 10 hours. You can't really tell when they are "done," so we just leave damsels in overnight and wait another half a day for dragons.

At that point, use some sort of flat-tipped tweezers or tongs to remove the envelopes. Hold them over the container for a few seconds to drain the acetone, then place the envelopes in a glass or ceramic holder to allow them to air-dry. Acetone will evaporate relatively quickly, but we typically let them dry for at least a day. Again, use a well-ventilated area.

Acetone will evaporate relatively quickly, but we typically let them dry for at least a day before transferring the specimens to clean, unsnipped glassine envelopes. The envelopes you used for collection and dunking can be re-used.

The acetone will eventually turn yellow from the fats. It should be discarded and replaced with fresh acetone.

This acetone in this jar is getting
 yellow from fats, and doesn't
fully cover the envelopes. Time
for a change.


Proper documentation of your specimens is essential. Once your specimen is in a clean envelope, you should place a tag inside the envelope that identifies that specimen, and fold over the top of the envelope.  Your tag will contain, at a minimum, some sort of identification number (of your choosing) that will correspond with all the data that needs to accompany the specimen. We also put the Latin name on the tag.

(This presumes you know the identification of the insect. Some species may represent significant identification challenges, and we'll be happy to identify or confirm identification on your speciemns. However, we discourage indiscriminate or unnecessary collecting. We have therefore focused on particular species and locations to minimize over-collecting. See this page for our current Want List. If you you feel you lack the experience to target particular species, it might be best to go collecting with a more experienced field worker.)

On the standard MOS data entry template (available as an Excel spreadsheet or Open Office spreadsheet on the download page), enter all the requested data for each specimen. There is an example of how to enter the data on the template, and instructions are given for each column on the second worksheet in each file. "Coll No" is your personal coding of each specimen -- that's the number you included on your tag.

Finally, store your specimens in a box that you can close and which is relatively air-tight. Carefully place the envelopes to that they won't be crushed, and insects or tags won't accidentally slide out. We also put a couple of silica gel packs in the box.

Getting your vouchers to MOS

You can submit your vouchers periodically throughout the field season, or once at the end of the season. You should include a printed copy of your spreadsheet with your specimens.

When you are ready to submit your vouchers, email a copy of your spreadsheet to Mark O'Brien (mfobrien AT gmail DOT com) and make arrangements for getting your specimens safely to him and the MOS. The identifications of the specimens will be checked, MOS collection numbers assigned, and the data uploaded directly from your spreadsheet to the MOS database. Finally, your vouchers will be transferred to clear envelopes, 3 x 5 data cards will be printed from your spreadsheet, and your vouchers will be added to the MOS collection.

This was a long explanation of a very easy procedure. Collecting insect specimens has great scientific value. An improperly handled or preserved specimen, or one without sufficient data, is just killing an insect.