Lego to help handle delicate insects

Some scientists have all the fun. A small team of entomologists have conjured up some new contraptions – devices made entirely of Lego building blocks. Their concepts, they say, will help scientists handle delicate insects.

The device is called the pinned insect manipulator, or IMp. “It references the attendant imp of folklore that is usually cast as the small, mischievous helper, associated with witches and warlocks, the academics of mythology,” says the study, published in the journal ZooKeys.

Credit: Dupont et al. ZooKeys 481: 131-138

Steen Dupont, entomologist and lead inventor/author on the paper, has always been a fan of tinkering with the popular toy. Dupont is a researcher at the Natural History Museum in London whose work focuses on a family of moths known as the Limacodidae.

In the paper, Dupont and his colleagues note the importance of needing a careful and cost-efficient means of moving the insects around.  As the pinned specimens age, they become more prone to damage when handled. But with current efforts to shift preserved biodiversity collections from museums into digital data repositories, such handling could prove too much for the centuries-old insects – especially when they have pins stuck in them.

IMp and its successors will hopefully help curb any potential damage to the specimens.

The Lego creations are easy to take apart, travel with, and reassemble again – and they are just as sturdy as the commercial devices, which tend to be expensive and cannot be adjusted based on insect size.

Credit: Dupont et al. ZooKeys 481: 131-138

Dupont’s latest Lego design incorporates a mobile phone so that researchers can take quick quality snaps of the insects and microscope slides to share to other scientists.

Credit: Dupont et al. ZooKeys 481: 131-138

A few museums are already interested in trying out the Lego contraptions for themselves.

Dupont and his team have even been kind enough to provide their DIY step-by-step instructions for free so anyone can make their own insect manipulator.

Please login to favourite this article.