Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Behind the Scenes - The Insect Collection

We have a secret. What you see when you come here to the Bean Life Science Museum is only a fraction of what we actually have stored here. On display we have a few hundred animals for you to see. Behind the scenes, we over a million plants and animals! Want to see what is behind those closed doors?

The insect collection houses over 2 million insects! That’s a lot of creepy crawlies. The insect collection is just one of eight scientific collections here at the Bean Life Science Museum.
Why do we have so many insects? When Dr. Shawn Clark (the entomology collection manager) is asked this question, he reminds people that when you are talking about insects, you are dealing with a lot species. In fact, when you count all named species across all living things, there about the same number of insect species as everything else combined! We need a lot of insects just to get an accurate representation of what is out there.

This insect collection is used primarily for research.  Most of that research is on systematics which is the study of understanding how living things are related to each other.

How do we keep these specimens safe? Insects are collected and stored a variety of ways. Typically an insect is collected with nets or different kinds of traps.

Most insects are stored on pins. This works really well for insects since they have an external skeleton. The external skeleton won’t shrivel up when it’s dried. This means that a dried insect specimen on a pin looks just like the insect did when it was alive! It is, however, extremely fragile so they are never touched directly. If they are not stored on pins, insects can also be preserved in ethanol, envelopes, or microscope slides.

You can start your own insect collection easily at home. It’s fun and interesting to see the variety of insects all around us! Visit our museum store for supplies.

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