I'm sure many of you use hand sanitizers after handling insects, but did you know that gel hand sanitizers could be used to preserve insects? Gerald S. Wagner reported in a recent issue of the American Entomologist (Winter 2004) that antibacterial gel hand sanitizers preserve insects just as well as alcohol. He tested three brands of instant hand sanitizer, Dial, Purell, and Meijer, and all three preserved insects wonderfully.
Compared to alcohol, hand sanitizer is inexpensive, readily available, and will be less likely to leak during mailing. Hand sanitizer can be used in place of alcohol when mailing to preserve soft bodied arthropods such as aphids, spiders, insect larvae, (including caterpillars), and termites. It is important to preserve these insects in alcohol because mailing and warm temperatures are hard on the insects and they arrive in the clinic as brown slime in a vial.
Hard bodied insects like beetles, wasps, ants, and flies do not need to be preserved prior to mailing, but it will not harm them if you do use alcohol or hand sanitizer. It is best not to use alcohol or hand sanitizer with moths or butterflies because it washes the scales off the wings and makes them very hard to identify.
It is very important to prevent the insects from being crushed in the mail. If you are not using hand sanitizer or alcohol, you can send the insects in any container that will prevent crushing, such as a pill bottle. However, if you are using alcohol or hand sanitizer you should transfer the insect into a vial so it does not leak.