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LEGOs Help Keep Bug Nuts Sane

Feb 09, 2015 10:24 PM EST

Handling insect specimens can be maddening work for experts, especially since one wrong move could fold wings or crumple delicate exoskeletons that were painstakingly collected over years of field surveys. Now entomologists are turning to an unusual means for safe observation: custom LEGO contraptions.

That's at least how things are going for a team of three experts at the Natural History Museum of London, who used LEGO Technics building-blocks to construct a series of contraptions that can safely house a delictate bug specimen even as it's turned and tilted for a better view.

The designs were built specifically to function under a microscope without getting in the way of researchers and improves on other insect sample manipulators (yes, you can actually purchase non-LEGO versions of these things) because a DIY setup is far cheaper and customizable.

With standard manipulators, an expert has to purchase multiple sizes to encompass all kinds of pinned insect specimens, and even then some may not fit or could even be damaged by the rig. In the case of these LEGO designs, however, a researcher can add or subtract parts as they see fit, as long as the overall function of the design remains unchanged.

The researchers have since made their designs available in three basic variants online, as published in the open source journal ZooKeys(Scroll to read on...)

The researchers added in their study that each design can "meet the full range of pinned insect specimens, is fully customizable, collapsible, affordable and does not require specialist tools or knowledge to assemble."

As LEGO would probably put it, all a builder needs is a little imagination and they will be observing bugs with ease.

The museum will reportedly be using these contraptions as they continue to fully digitize their entomological collection, snapping macro shots of their pinned insects from some impressive angles without fear of snapping an antennae to boot. And that's all thanks to what was once considered just a children's building toy.

For more great nature science stories and general news, please visit our sister site, Headlines and Global News (HNGN).

- follow Brian on Twitter @BS_ButNoBS.

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