Who’s Minding the Entomology Collection?

One in the series “Who’s Minding the Collection?”

By Christine Sellers

The Academy maintains an impressive Entomology Collection of more than 4 million specimens and 13,000 specimen types which are studied by researchers around the world.

It provides worldwide coverage on all major insect orders—particularly water-dwelling and tropical insects—and is also considered the world’s best collection of grasshoppers and crickets from the Western Hemisphere.

To learn more about entomology, the collection, and why “insects rule,” I spoke with Entomology Collection Manager Jason Weintraub.

Collection Manager Jason Weintraub holds an unusual butterfly with both male and female charateristics, a condition known as bilateral gynandromorphy. Photo by Doug Wechsler

I was drawn to the Academy because… of its amazing Entomology Collection, the oldest insect collection in the country. I’ve spent most of my life studying insect taxonomy and evolution, and this requires access to very large research collections of insects.

I knew I was interested in studying insects when… I graduated from bird-watching and fossil collecting—my main pursuits in grade school—to my lifelong passion: collecting and studying insects. By the time I finished fifth grade, I was hooked.

My favorite type of insects are… Lepidoptera, or “scaly-winged” insects like moths, butterflies, and skippers. Their color patterns are formed by the tens of thousands of tiny scales that cover their wings.

I have conducted research on… several different families of Lepidoptera, including a group of nocturnal moths (taxonomic family Geometridae, the inch worm moths), a group of diurnal moths (Callidulidae), and various groups of butterflies (Nymphalidae and Papilionidae).

Scientists anywhere in the world can search the digital index of every specimen in the Entomology Collection. The collection is worldwide in scope and contains many beautiful insects with spectacular morphology and color patterns. Photo by Jason Weintraub

I hope to pursue future research on… a pretty obscure family of small, colorful, diurnal—or day-flying moths—known as the Callidulidae. They are found primarily in tropical Asia, but also occur in northern Asia, and there are a few species found only on the island of Madagascar.

I think studying insects is interesting because… insects rule! They are the dominant form of life on our planet, and their diversity of size, shape, coloration, behavior, lifestyle, and habits far exceeds every other type of living thing.

If I could describe the Academy’s Entomology Collection in three words, I’d choose… grasshoppers, crickets, katydids. The Academy’s Orthoptera collection is among the world’s three largest research collections of this insect order.

This box from the Peale Butterfly and Moth Collection contains a sampling of the butterflies occurring in the Philadelphia area in the early 1830s. Peale was an early North American naturalist and the youngest son of the large family of artists and naturalists headed by Charles Willson Peale of Philadelphia. Photo by Robert Clark

 

One thing I’ve learned about entomology is… that the “eureka moment” when an entomologist discovers a new insect species almost never happens in the field. Species that are new to science are normally discovered by entomologists studying insect specimens already housed in research collections.

When I meet other people who like insects, I… jump for joy at finding those rare kindred spirits who love all things six-legged.

A fun or interesting fact I can share about insects is… there are more beetles than anything else. If you lined up one example of each species of organism that has been formally named since Carl Linnaeus started the binomial naming system for plants and animals in 1753, every fifth species would be a beetle.

My favorite thing about the Academy is… my colleagues and the dedication and passion they share for research, education, and the preservation of this very old museum’s truly amazing biological collections.

For information about the Entomology Collection, visit our website. If you would like to support entomology research and the collection, please contact Monica Cawvey Gallagher, vice president of Institutional Advancement, at gallagher@ansp.org. Better yet, donate now by clicking the blue box above.

 

To read previous posts in this series, visit:

Who’s Minding the Malacology Collection?

Who’s Minding the Ornithology Collection?

Who’s Minding the Ichthyology Collection?

Who’s Minding the Botany Collection?