Best way to remove old, dried insect specimens from fibrous cotton backing?

This is an oddly specific question, but I figured someone here might have advice.

A while back I was given a set of Riker boxes from an old teacher of mine that has various insect specimens in it, including several wasp species, stick bugs, katydids, etc, most of which are from the 80s. These insects have not been mounted/pinned, several are mislabeled, and they’re merely placed on top of the cotton lining that a Riker box comes with.

While some of them are beyond saving, some are in good condition and I’d like to relax them and place them in proper storage. What I’m not sure of is how to remove them from the fibrous backing without breaking any limbs. Would it be best to remove the excess cotton, then relax before removing the rest to minimize damage? Would a regular relaxing chamber work for hard-bodied insects?

Thanks in advance for any advice.


I would place any cotton that can’t be removed in the relaxing chamber and then remove the rest once the specimens are flexible.


Suspending them (on a screen, say) in a jar with water for a while should relax them a bit, but may soften the cotton. It could then be picked off. I guess that’s the idea of a relaxing jar, so go with that!

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