There may not be a single live bee but the place is still abuzz.
An insect in an entomology collection may no longer be alive, but its presence, together with thousands of other deceased insects in institutions around the world, moves science forward.
The Academy of Natural Sciences, where I have worked for 6 years, houses approximately 4 million insect specimens and about 100,000 species. This is about 10% of the known insect species! The collection is managed by a group of curatorial staff and researchers and it is visited throughout the year by dozens of students and scientists from around the world.
Insect specimens are preserved either in ethanol (if they are soft-bodied), on slides (if they are microscopic), in envelopes (if they are dragonflies), or pinned.
Since deceased, dried insects are brittle, the pin enables curatorial personnel and researchers to handle specimens without touching the insect itself, minimizing risk of damage. Labels with information about the specimen’s collection event are placed on the same pin as specimens.
In order for an insect to be research grade, it must be labeled with the date and location of the its collection event. With this data, scientists can keep track of changes in insect populations and learn about changes occurring on our earth.
Insect drawers are typically kept in large cabinets that roll back and forth on a track. It is a compactor system that allows maximal use of the space.
At left you can see collection manager at the University of Michigan, Erika Tucker opening a cabinet to access insects.
The lines on the ground are tracks for the cabinets. In the bottom right corner, are the handles used to roll the cabinets back and forth on the tracks. In this way researchers can switch the aisle and access a different row of cabinets.
Curatorial staff are working to make digital versions of the physical insect specimens. This is a way to make the specimen data more accessible to science and big data projects. Digitization also helps with specimen management, making the process of fulfilling remote researcher’s requests for specimen data and images much faster.