If you have a surplus of hand sanitizer, start an insect collection

The global COVID-19 pandemic of 2020 has made one thing clear: You can never have enough hand sanitizer stocked in your home.

But, if you were someone who scored a vat of the stuff thanks to some pioneering businesses like local distilleries who pivoted production to hand sanitizer over the last few months, you just might actually have too much.

Good news: CSU entomologist Whitney Cranshaw has an idea, which might launch the beginning of new hobbies nationwide. Use the surplus to start an insect collection.

“I think some of you may now finally have enough hand sanitizer, and maybe were recently able to ‘top off’ with a few gallon jugs at Costco,” Cranshaw said. “And now, looking at them, you might be thinking ‘am I really going to use all of this?’”

Perfect for storing immature insects for display

Hand sanitizer is typically 70% ethanol, and the inclusion of aloe vera makes the solution a gel that’s perfect for preserving some insects in a vial.

“Many kinds of insects can be collected and displayed by pinning them, but others you can’t pin, as their body is not hard enough and they will shrivel and look terrible if you try,” Cranshaw said. “This includes all immature insects like caterpillars, sawfly larvae and borers, as well as spiders, other arachnids and centipedes. All of these are only stored well and displayed in vials of alcohol, usually 70% ethanol.

Whitney explains that with the gel solution, the specimens don’t slosh around as they do in liquid alcohol, which makes it a lot easier to view the insects you’re storing. He also goes on to explain that even if an insect is suitable for pinning, long term storage makes them susceptible to being easily damaged given the inherent fragility of the specimen. The gel proves a durable way to display insects of interest and allows handling without breaking.

“Of course, not all insects are well suited to storage in alcohol,” Cranshaw said. “Butterflies, moths and most bees would all look terrible. And supplies of hand sanitizer may still be a little short in some areas now, although that likely will change soon as supply catches back up with demand.”

Considering how many people have taken advantage of these pandemic circumstances to start a new hobby, now might be the perfect time to launch an insect collection of your own.