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University of Kentucky Department of Entomology

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Paper Mache Insects

by Stephanie Bailey,
Entomology Extension Specialist

Materials needed:

  • mixing bowl
  • flour
  • water
  • all-purpose glue
  • hot glue gun and glue sticks
  • paint in various colors
  • coat hanger or similar wire (florist wire is too thin!!)
  • combinations of feathers, pipe cleaners, nerf-or other soft balls, toothpicks, foam, party favors, etc.
  • plastic wrap, window insulation wrap, or crepe paper (membranous wings) or construction paper, tissue paper or thin fabric (colored wings)


Step 1: Group students into manageable sizes, and either let them decide what bug they're going to make or tell them what to try. They could even take some time to look in books for models of the exact insect species they want to make.

Step 2: Rip up newspaper (you'll need a lot) into thin strips about six to eight inches long, and 2 or so inches wide.

Step 3: Balloons make excellent molds for paper mache insects. All sizes and types of balloons are useful: long, skinny balloons are good for butterfly, dragonfly, walking stick, praying mantis, caterpillar, and cricket bodies; long but wavy balloons are excellent caterpillar bodies; and even the normal round balloons make good insect heads, fly and beetle bodies, depending on the size. Balloons of all shapes and sizes can normally be found at either drugstores or stationery stores. Depending on the model(s) you're planning to make, blow up balloons, and then tie them off.

Step 4: Make paste - there are several recipes for paper mache. A simple, tried-and- true method is to start with a few cups of flour, add a little water at a time (it will be very thick at first) and stop adding water when it feels like glue. Some directions also advise to include glue in the paste, but flour and water will do the trick.

Step 5: One piece at a time, dip strips of newspaper in paste, and squeeze off excess paste with fingers. Apply to balloons, until the balloon is completely covered. Put several coats of newspaper on, and then allow to dry. You will probably have to repeat this step several times, to mold and shape the body to specification, but make sure the insects are completely dry (a couple days) before putting on the next layer. If more than one balloon will make up the final insect (e. g. head, thorax, abdomen), glue them together after the first layer is dry. Once the body is fully formed and totally dry, Apply at least one coat of paint, and preferably more, to protect the insect from moisture. This can also be the first step of decoration.


Insect eyes made from nerf balls
S. Bailey 1995
Painting is the main way to decorate the insect's body, and can be as simple or detailed as the artist wants. Besides paint, other body decorations might include glitter-painted or nerf-ball eyes, feather or pipe cleaner antennae, party favor or pipe cleaner mouthparts, and cut up coat hanger wires or pipe cleaner legs, etc. as imagination allows. With a little creativity, these bugs will look amazingly real!

The final touch is the wings. Overhead projectors allow easy enlargments of illustrations to the size needed. Have students use ratios to determine what size enlargement of illustrations or specimens is needed by measuring the length of the body in the picture compared with the paper mache body, and calculate the length of wings that will give the correct ratio for the size of wings in the picture or specimen.

Transfer the projection to window insulation film (e. g. 3M brand), clear contact paper or plastic wrap for membranous (see-through) wings for dragonflies, flies, or wasps. Use crepe paper or thin fabric for butterfly, moth or grasshopper wings. Trace the wings with a permanent marker or pen (temporary or water-soluble markers won't work on the plastic).Model of bee
S. Bailey 1995

Finally, use coat hanger wire or something a little thinner (florists' wire is too thin), shaped and glued to the outer margins of the wings to give the wings the rigidity they need. Finally, hot glue the inner wire portion of wings to the body. Regular glue will not hold them. With very heavy wings, you may have to cut a notch in the body wall for extra glueing surface area.

Extra hints:

For butterflies or moths use colored feathers for the bodies (moths especially are very hairy). Long feathers make great moth antennae. Use pipe cleaners for legs and (coiled up) mouthparts. Color in wing patterns with markers, fabric paints or glue cutouts of tissue paper to wings. These insects will look better if the body is no more than 2/3 the length of wings. They also look better when there is a 'notch' between front and back wings.

Dragonflies, damselflies, mayflies, and dobsonflies all have long, thin bodies and big, membranous wings. Dragonfly model
S. Bailey 1995
Using a balloon as a base for the body
S. Bailey 1995
Use a long, thin balloon, but build up sections for the head and thorax a bit more than the abdomen, to make it more realistic. Dragonflies and damselflies have thick legs with spines for catching prey -- use foam legs with toothpicks glued into them.
Mayflies look similar but have very thin legs, antennae and cerci (tails). Use twine or rope, dipped in the paper mache to stiffen them. Male dobsonflies have very large mandibles (jaws), which can be made from molding rolled newspaper in paper mache or simply cutting out foam.

Praying mantises and walking sticks have thin bodies as above but walking sticks have no wings. Use pipe cleaners, twine or rope for the legs and antennae, dipped in paper mache and bend the legs to dry. Additionally, praying mantis front legs are thicker, use foam wrapped around coat hanger wire, then glue in toothpicks to look like the thick spines. Praying mantid model
S. Bailey 1995

Completed bee model
S. Bailey 1995
Flies, beetles, bees, wasps, and bugs all would need the regular, rounded balloons. For beetles, build up the wing covers on either side of a pencil. The groove will not be too big, but will be enough to separate the wings. Toothpicks or pieces of yarn glued to the body will simulate the hairy bodies of flies.

Use long wavy party balloons for caterpillar bodies--they're already segmented! Look up strange and wild caterpillars for models, e. g. hornworm, hickory horned devil, monarch, cecropia, spicebush swallowtail, etc. (See EntFact 003--Stinging Caterpillars and EntFact 008--Saturniid Moths--for pictures of some of these caterpillars.)

Photographs courtesy of S. Bailey, University of Kentucky Department of Entomology

Last updated: 15 January 1999

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