Thursday, November 18, 2010


One of my tasks here at the lab is to curate the teaching collection of insects. They are used for entomology related classes, so they aren't the best or most valuable specimens, in fact they are typically procured from student collections.

The curation is no small feat... two tall cabinets of drawers which are full of disintegrating specimens. The specimens themselves are haphazardly strewn about the unit trays, with only a hint of some past organization. Some orders are worse off than others, the Lepidoptera were decent but the Diptera and Hemiptera were a total disaster. I don't think anyone has tried to reorganize these drawers... ever? At least not all in one go.

So I, along with some of the undergrads of the lab, have been tackling the collection one order at a time. Our instructions: throw away broken specimens, or specimens without labels. Straighten out rows of specimens in the trays. Put everything into phylogenetic order. Type up consistent labels for every unit tray, and for the outsides of the drawers.

This is one of the "reject" trays for Diptera, where we were collecting specimens before throwing them out. The insects and labels were all pulled off so we could keep the pins.
Some of the chaos in progress.
It is rather sad to throw away specimens - no one wants a life to go to waste, especially one that was collected and curated with care. But a fly is only so useful to research or teaching if its head is missing, you know? The fact is many specimens are prepared quite poorly, often to an extent that makes them unusable (pinning through the wrong body part, broken wings/legs, using too much glue on points, etc.). And often it is simply the ravages of time and handling that cause fragile insect bodies to fall apart. Some families have very few representatives so those are kept even if they're in bad shape, but hopefully we will be able to collect more. And now that the specimens have been curated, there is indeed room to add more!
Ahhh, completed insect drawers. Feels good. Still a few more orders to go! I hope that now the collection will be treated with more care and be of more use for future students.


Anonymous said...

I was doing the exact same thing earlier this week... Rather satisfying when you're done, don't you think?

Weird Bug Lady said...

Oh yes, incredibly. We're really flying through the teaching collection, should be done before the end of next semester.

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