Creativity with Insects - Jewelry Part I

Besides being used for textiles and elaborate murals (see previous Creative with Insects - Elytra Part I post), beetle elytra are also used in jewelry. Most of what can be found online is also from the beetle family Buprestidae, the metallic green coloration is popular in both contemporary jewelry and traditional tribal pieces. There is actually a spectacular necklace from South America where the main component is a large buprestid (yet the label states that it's a scarab beetle, but scarabs are in a different beetle family, Scarabaeidae. The perks of being an entomologist, I know at least some things).

What I hope to bring to light in this post is how you can make your own beetle elytra jewelry. It is quite simple. I prefer to use invasive species for my work, or beetles that perished in my research traps as by-catch. Unfortunately I do not have any images of the pieces I have previously made with Japanese beetles, but there are a few species that, if you collect them, can make beautiful pieces of wearable art.

1. Know Your Insect

Try looking for the following species: Japanese Beetle (Popillia japonica), Emerald Ash Borer (Agrilus planipennis), Asian Longhorn Beetle (Anoplophora glabripennis). Japanese beetles are probably the easiest to find and collect. They have a dull orange coloration, which pairs nicely with blue accents. Depending where you are in the United States (or anywhere else), be sure to double check the species before collecting many of them. There is never a need to collect more than what you would use, or to collect many of a beneficial/native/possibly threatened beetle species.

- From an entomologist's standpoint, check to see if your county/city has records of these invasive species. If there are no records yet you are finding an invasive beetle, contact the local Forest Service headquarters and save the full specimen for verification. This will help build on the continuously growing database of invasive species distributions. YEAH SCIENCE! -

2. Humanely Collect

Again, try not to over collect. Create a few kill jars out of old mason jars. The easiest way to do this is to simply tape a cotton ball dampened with some nail polish remover to the lid, then just screw the lid on. When you do find a specimen, place it in the kill jar; the insect will take a minute or two to die.

3. Remove The Elytra

Usually pulling at the base of the elytra with tweezers does the trick. If the elytra has texture that you want to preserve, you can always coat the tweezers tips with something like Tool Magic Rubber Coating. This will create a softer barrier between the tweezers and elytra and prevent scratching.

4. Make A Hole

There are multiple ways to do this, but I prefer using metal hole punchers, which can be found in the jewelry section of most craft stores. This little tool has been very useful in making a variety of jewelry pieces since last year when I finally got my own. The cool thing about elytra is their varying shapes between species. You can make multiple holes to create interesting pieces.

5. Connect The Elytra

Using jump-rings (purchased or self-made), connect the elytra to each other or to the jewelry closures. Now this is where you can get creative and explore the various ways the elytra can hang as earrings or pendants, or how they can create a long chain! It is up to you, you are the artist here.

The best time to collect any insect is during the fall months, when most insects have laid their eggs for the next generation right before the first frost. Better yet, collect insects that are already dead! If you like the beetle elytra, try making jewelry with butterfly wings. For this, definitely collect already dead specimens.

Have fun experimenting, since after all, art is all about experimentation and finding what works and speaks to you!

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