By Richard Levine
An Entomological Collections Management Workshop was held July 18-20, 2016 at the Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of Natural History. The purpose of the workshop, which was co-sponsored by the Entomological Collections Network (ECN) and the Entomological Society of America’s Systematics, Evolution and Biodiversity Section, was to train museum curators and others on the best practices for pinning, storing, moving, cleaning, documenting, and databasing specimens. The participant list included collection managers from as far away as Denmark, Mexico, Puerto Rico, and Colombia, as well as many from public, private, and university collections around the continental U.S.
The instructors were Floyd Shockley, collection manager at the museum, and Dave Furth, who recently retired from the museum. Ten years ago, Floyd was one of the first ESA members I ever met. I had just started working for the Society and was assigned to the information booth at the annual meeting that year in Indianapolis. Being brand new, I hardly knew anything so I wasn’t much good at answering questions. Luckily, Floyd joined me as a student volunteer, and he knew just about everything. Since then I have watched him win the Comstock Award and serve as president of the ECN and of the Entomological Society of Washington, DC. I got to watch him metamorphose from a student to a bad-assed entomologist.
Dave has also been incredibly active, working as a curator at museums in Israel and the U.S. since 1972. He has been to 36 consecutive ESA meetings and has been to nine International Congresses of Entomology.
A lot of the workshop took place in a lecture hall, with Floyd and Dave showing powerpoint presentations, but they also did some hands-on demonstrations. For example, in order to illustrate the importance of packing specimens correctly, Dr. Furth packed one box properly and one improperly, and then threw both boxes from a platform on the sixth floor, as you can see in this video:
Another hands-on example involved drawers of insects and a pizza bag, the kind you’d see a delivery man carrying. Floyd pulled out a pizza bag and showed how the drawers fit perfectly inside. In addition to making them easy to carry, the bag of drawers can also be placed in a freezer to decontaminate specimens.
Freezing specimens and other materials is important because of dermestid beetles, which are known to feed on insects in museum collections. Freezing objects for the right amount of time, and at the right temperature, will kill any dermestid stowaways that may have gotten into packaging materials. The museum even freezes styrofoam peanuts before using them.
The Entomological Collections Network was founded in 1990, and each year they hold their annual meeting just before the ESA meeting begins, and in the same location. So if you’re into systematics and insect collections, and you’re already registered for the ESA annual meeting (this year it is the 2016 International Congress of Entomology), you might want to consider getting there a a couple of days early so you can also attend the ECN meeting.
One thing you are likely to see at an ECN meeting is people meeting and exchanging boxes. The first time I saw it, it looked like something you see in the movies when spies exchange documents, except they are out in the open and there are a lot of them. The objects of exchange at ECN meetings are usually insect specimens, as curators from different parts of the U.S. — or from other countries — loan them to each other. They do this because it’s risky to send fragile specimens through the mail, and there is less chance of damage when they carry them themselves.
Symposia at ECN meetings also tend to focus on collections and best practices for maintaining them, as well as different methods of collecting insects in the field. In the following video, Dave and Floyd talk about the worksop and about the ECN:
Richard Levine is Communications Program Manager at the Entomological Society of America and editor of the Entomology Today Blog.