Teaching collections give students the opportunity to see, touch, and experience specimens up close, which is especially important in entomology since insect identification requires close inspection. To that end, we are overhauling the insect teaching collection, drawing from student collections from Field Zoology classes past and ensuring each specimen is properly identified to family. We intend to prepare teaching collections for eight major orders of insects: Coleoptera, Lepidoptera, Hymenoptera, Diptera, Orthoptera, Odonata, Homoptera, and Hemiptera.
My name is Lena Heinrich and I’m a senior Zoology major with a Plant Biology minor. In the past, I’ve done behavioral ecology research with native bees and wasps, but I now study plants and I am currently applying to go to graduate school in labs that study plant-animal interactions! In the museum, I am working with James Grant, a recent graduate from UVM, to create an insect teaching collection for entomology courses at UVM.
For many years, students have been making insect collections as a part of these classes; to create the teaching collections, we have been sifting through these old student collections as well as materials the museum already had. Working through as many orders of insects as we can, we are picking out specimens that are in good condition, identifying them to family, and organizing them into display boxes that can be taken out and passed around in classes, giving specimens that are on pins new labels. Ultimately, we would like to have as many families represented for each order as possible to give a sense of the breadth of diversity within those groups.
I specifically worked on the Hymenoptera (bees and wasps), Lepidoptera (butterflies and moths), Odonata (dragonflies and damselflies), and Orthoptera (grasshoppers, locusts, and crickets). James is working on Diptera (flies), Hemiptera (true bugs), and Coleoptera (beetles). Hymenoptera and Lepidoptera were both very abundant in the collections, and Hymenoptera were particularly tricky to identify, so these took substantially more time. Most specimens in the teaching collection were collected in Vermont, with some boxes from South America (perhaps for a graduate student project).
This project has allowed me to develop my insect identification skills. In the future, these teaching collections will help other students gain identification skills with insects, which are notoriously difficult and often require manipulation under a microscope or with a hand lens to assess different key characteristics such as wing venation. Because of the teaching collections, many fascinating specimens will see the light of day and be used for educational purposes that otherwise would have been hidden away on shelves and in boxes in the museum—in particular, many tropical Lepidoptera and Hymenoptera that will be novel for many students in Vermont, including bullet ants, oil- and resin-collecting bees, etc. While sifting through specimens in the museum I was also able to assess the state of specimens and begin addressing different pest issues before they became too degraded. Finally, UVM’s natural history museum has a large collection of meticulously crafted framed butterflies and moths: while sorting through these specimens, I could pick out redundant specimens that lack the necessary data to be scientifically useful, allowing the museum to use them for other purposes such as decorative displays or to sell in museum fundraisers, exposing the general public to museum specimens.