New beginning for butterflies & moths


Butterfly backlog at Ohio State

Butterfly specimens from the 1880’s that have been just mounted and still need to be sorted

The first curator of the Triplehorn Insect Collection at Ohio State, Josef Knull, was appointed in 1934, over 82 years ago. The core of the collection at that time was mostly the working collections from faculty and students, and the large Wenzel Beetle Collection that was acquired in 1925.

Now, Joe Knull was a ‘beetle guy,’ specialized in wood-boring beetles. He collected all insects, including butterflies and moths, but his main efforts were concentrated on the Coleoptera. Joe’s wife, Dorothy, had a PhD in Entomology from Ohio State. Her interest was the leafhoppers. She studied under the supervision of Herbert Osborn and collaborated with Dwight DeLong. Together these three specialists left us a massive collection of leafhopper types that is second only to that at the U.S. National Museum in Washington, DC.

By the time Joe Knull retired the collection had grown to number over 1.5 million specimens, most of them collected and preserved by Joe and Dorothy (as a volunteer) in their 28 ½ years of service. After Knull came Charles Triplehorn, another ‘beetle guy’. He was curator for 30 years and had many students. No wonder we have such a significant beetle collection!

The OSU collection kept growing. We became one of the largest university insect collections in the country, an active research and education facility focused on insect taxonomy and systematics, and a valued resource to scientists in the USA and abroad. But we have never been known for our Lepidoptera collection. It’s just how the chips have fallen. The insect groups that were actively being studied by faculty or students, especially beetles and leafhoppers, grew faster, became well-known, were borrowed and studied by more scientists. To be fair, three significant Lepidoptera collections were added to our holdings over the years: the Tallant, the Leussler, and the Homer Price collections. But still we did not become known by our Lepidoptera collection … until recently.

Since 2011, we have received various small to medium size moth and butterfly donations, some quite important, like the Asher E. Treat Moth Voucher collection. In 2015 we received the massive Parshall Butterfly Collection (see my blog posts here  and here), with over 50,000 mounted specimens. As a result of these donations, we currently have many cabinets marked ‘Miscellaneous Unsorted Lepidoptera’ that have yet to be separated to family, genus and species. Unfortunately, we lack the expertise and the money to do that ourselves.

And there, my friends, lies my problem and the reason why I’m writing this. Our goal is to digitize the specimen data for all our butterflies and moths so the information is available online to anyone interested in Lepidoptera. But before we can do that, we need help to tackle the curation and identification of our Lepidoptera collection.

I am reaching out to the members of the Ohio Lepidopterists Society, a group that uses and understands the value of insect collections, in the hope that some of you will be interested in helping us achieve our goals.

Lepidopterists can help the OSU insect collection by providing identifications for some of our many unsorted butterflies and moths. Or by simply helping us reorganize them. There is a lot of manual labor that goes into the curation of a collection: moving specimens (sometimes repairing them), labeling unit trays, drawers and cabinets, and organization. And the final stage of publishing all the data on the Internet also takes labor in transcribing specimen labels, putting latitude and longitude values on collecting localities, and uploading to the database. There aren’t enough hours in a day that would allow me, personally, to do everything. But volunteers can have a tremendously positive impact, especially experienced volunteers.

Collections document the biodiversity that makes the world such an interesting place, and in the long run help us to understand nature and to make wise, evidence-based decisions on conservation and enhancement. Please contact us if you are interested in donating some of your time, energy, and knowledge to help improve our Lepidoptera collection.

If you’re unable to make a gift of your time, you can also do the next best thing: please consider a monetary gift to our Friends Fund. The money goes directly to the collection for the support of student workers and for the purchase of specimen trays, drawers, pins, etc.

Thank you!


This article was first published in the December 2016 issue of the Ohio Lepidopterists Newsletter as “A new beginning for Lepidoptera at the Ohio State Insect Collection.” Posted here with minor editing.


About the Author: Luciana Musetti is an Entomologist who studies parasitoid wasps & and the current Curator of the Triplehorn Insect Collection.

Jan’s one year anniversary


The day after Christmas in 2015 I received an email message from a Jan Nishimura with the subject line “Do you still need volunteers to catalog specimens?”  She had read the August 2015 Columbus Dispatch article “Making a dent in a backlog of bugs” and was interested in volunteering to help us tackle the collection backlog.

Of course I was delighted. Very few gifts make a Curator happier than someone willing to invest their time, energy, and knowledge to help maintain and enhance the collection.  When Jan came over to visit for the first time I felt like I was getting reacquainted with an old friend. Her personality is so warm and welcoming you cannot help but like her, and she’s got this laugh that makes you want to relax and listen to her.

On January 13th, 2016 Jan started volunteering at the collection. In the weeks that followed, she learned about specimen databasing and also helped with a few general tasks.  She was very interested in the parasitic wasps (“so many, so tiny”).  Since the mini wasps are a very big portion of our backlog, and she was interested, I suggested that she tried her hand at mounting specimens.  She struggled a bit in the beginning (everyone does!), but she persevered and kept practicing.

One year has passed since Jan has started volunteering at the Triplehorn collection. She’s now very good at mounting parasitoid wasps and has learned how to mount beetles as well. She’s become one of the team and has been making awesome inroads into the collection’s backlog.

We cherish Jan’s contribution to the collection and her friendship. Thank you, Jan! Happy 1 year anniversary! Here’s to another great year!


About the Author: Luciana Musetti is an Entomologist and the current Curator  of the Triplehorn Insect Collection.

In memory of Zachary Franczek


Zachary J. Franczek

Last week we lost our co-worker and friend Zachary J. Franczek. He passed away unexpectedly on January 1 at the age of 22. I still can hardly believe.

I first met Zach on August 18, 2015. He was a Geology major, but had a strong interest in biodiversity and conservation. He told me he had about 8 hours available each week and he wanted to volunteer at the Triplehorn Insect Collection. He came highly recommended by my colleague Nicole Gunter of the Cleveland Museum of Natural History where he had been volunteering over the summer. I gave him a tour of the collection, and we had a lovely chat. He asked questions about curation and the kinds of skills one needs to become a curator. He liked the idea of working in a Geology collection one day, maybe even study fossil insects.  Zach started volunteering at the Triplehorn collection on Tuesday, August 20. Since he already had some experience with data entry, he breezed through our basic training. Within a month he was already taking on more advanced tasks and excelling at them.

When I asked the undergraduate students in the collection to write a quick bio that I could add to the collection’s website or to our blog, Zach sent me this:

“My name is Zach Franczek and I am a Junior at The Ohio State University. I am currently pursuing a B.S. in Earth Sciences with a specialization in Geological Sciences. Previously, I volunteered at The Cleveland Museum of Natural History helping to database their collection of parasitoid wasps. My experiences at the Triplehorn Insect Collection and The Cleveland Museum of Natural History have opened my eyes to the world of entomology, and I look forward to learning more about this discipline of science in the future.” Aug 27, 2015.

In the fall of 2015 our beetle databasing project funds became available, and my first act was to offer Zach a paid curatorial assistant position. He was a gem, the quality of his work was top notch, and we wanted him to continue working with us. Zach’s main responsibilities were specimen data transcription (copying the label information from the specimen labels) and georeferencing (finding geographic coordinates for collecting localities.) That’s tedious work, but he did not mind at all. He liked to see the result of his work, “the dots on the map.” He entered a total of 6,485 specimen into the collection’s database. That’s a whole lot of specimens!

While working side-by-side on one curatorial task or another, Zach and I had many stimulating conversations. We talked about loads of subjects, ranging from general insect biology to music to environmental activism to social justice to science policy. He was interested in science as a process. He had decided that he really enjoyed doing research, and he planned to enroll on a doctoral program after graduating from OSU. In recent months we had been discussing his research interests, his plans for graduate school, and the elements of a good statement of purpose for his application.

I have many memories of Zach, and some of the ones I cherish the most are related to his study trip to Utah in June 2016. For the two months before the trip we did not talk about anything else, it was all about the trip. We went over the academic goals of the trip, exchanged ideas on potential itineraries and stops along the way, and talked about all the gear he needed to get. Every week I would ask him if he had everything he needed, and he’d tease me (he knew I’m an early packer) by saying ‘Oh, no! I’ll be packing until the evening before‘. We even came up with a soundtrack for the long drive out west. When he left I asked him to send photos and to keep us updated on his adventures, and of course he did (photos below by Zach Franczek).

Zach wrote this when he sent the photos:

“I hope everything is going well! Here are some pics from our campground in Moab, Arches National Park, and Dead Horse Point State Park!

I climbed up on some places where I probably was not allowed to get some of those pics, but it was worth it! We hiked for almost 15 miles on the day we went to the parks in 100 degree weather. Only got a little bit of sunburn*! The only bugs I have seen are big colonies of ants, but I’m sure I will see more soon! Feel free to use any of the pics too! I’ll be sure to keep you updated with how everything is going!” June 5-6, 2016. 

* The reference to sunburn is Zach teasing me for telling him probably 500 times to watch for sunburn in the desert.

zachf-secret-santa-2015

Working and interacting with Zach was a privilege. He had a sharp mind and was keen to learn all he could. He was kind, easy-going, and smiled frequently. He was an excellent employee and a cherished co-worker, always respectful, attentive, and helpful. He was generally quiet, but loved a good debate. Zach Franczek was one of us, part of our family, and we miss him greatly!


About the Author: Dr. Luciana Musetti is an Entomologist and the Curator of the Triplehorn Insect Collection. All photos by the author unless credited otherwise.

Happy 1 Year Anniversary, Lauralee!

Today is Lauralee Thompson’s one year anniversary as a volunteer in the Triplehorn Insect Collection.  It all started on September 2, 2015. Lauralee sent me an email message inquiring about volunteer opportunities.  She had seen an article on the Columbus Dispatch about our efforts to catalog our specimens and wanted to know if she could help us deal with our backlog. The next day she came to visit and the next Monday, Sept. 8, she was starting as a volunteer.

Since then Lauralee has come in three times a week and worked on various curatorial projects, from transferring specimens to newer, safer storage units, to inventorying a donation of fossil specimens (with Jan Nishimura, another of our volunteers), to moving all the Aphididae slide collection to safer, temporary storage boxes, to cataloguing all the species names for some beetle families in the collection. She also cleaned a lot of insect drawers and cabinets, helped with the move of the Parshall butterfly collection, and volunteered to help during the Museum Open House back in April.

Lauralee at work

Lauralee Thompson working on our beetle species catalog.

For the past few months Lauralee has been knee-deep in our old loan records, going back to 1950s! She’s digitizing and organizing those records and finding some very interesting information about the history of the collection in the process. Her experience as a sociologist is proving to be very advantageous in the understanding of all the ins and outs of collection loan practices in the olden days.

Besides the top-notch quality of the work that Lauralee is doing for the collection, and her willingness to help with whatever needs to be done, she’s a great lab mate. Yesterday Lauralee brought a big plate of cookies to share with the staff and students of the collection in celebration of her 1 year anniversary with us. Today it’s our turn to say “Thanks, Lauralee! Happy Anniversary! May this be the first of many!

 

About the Author: Dr. Luciana Musetti is and Entomologist and currently the Curator of the Triplehorn Insect Collection.

 

Chalcidoidea: Minute “Gems of the Woodlands”

Unidentified chalcidoid wasp (Pteromalidae) from the Amazon Basin

Unidentified chalcidoid wasp (Pteromalidae) from the Amazon Basin; image by the author

I have always been fascinated by insects, but it was not until, at age 15, I took a week-long field insect taxonomy course at the Ohio State University’s Stone Laboratory. There, I learned the conventions of arthropod collection and preservation and something of proper curatorial practices. Ever since, I have steadily accumulated a collection with pretensions made modest by the limited resources of a teenager; and collection and identification remain an exceedingly enjoyable activity for me.

Therefore, it was only natural that I gravitated to the Triplehorn Insect Collection upon commencing my undergraduate career. Sorting unidentified specimens was easily my favorite task there. Although the collection contains the full range of insect diversity, those specimens that I was tasked with identifying almost always belonged to the order Hymenoptera—often casually referred to as “ants, bees, and wasps”, but technically including far more taxa than simply those that happen to have colloquial names.

Being one of the four most diverse insect orders, the variety of Hymenoptera is considerable: and I encountered much of their phylogenetic span through this process, while becoming intimately familiar with Goulet and Huber’s tome Hymenoptera of the World: an Identification Guide to Families (1993) (PDF), the monochromatic line drawings within which—printed on thick, coarse paper—have caused hymenopterists to nickname it “the coloring book”.

As an exemplar of the many taxa with which I thereby became familiar, I have chosen to briefly discuss the superfamily Chalcidoidea herein. These parasitoid wasps (using what is a phylogenetically useless term) are one of those aforementioned many prominent insect taxa that have no name in the vernacular—understandable, given that the vast majority of these particular parasitoids are a few millimeters in length or less. (Indeed, the smallest insect known to science—the 0.13-mm.-long male of Dicopomorpha echmepterygis [Mockford, 1997]—is a chalcidoid.)

This diminution has also resulted in a lack of taxonomic attention from entomologists, and chalcidoid systematics is by consequence a frustratingly opaque matter—something one is immediately impressed with while attempting to identify the miniscule things: keys are peppered with qualifiers like “usually” and “most”, not to mention annotated with lengthy footnotes elucidating the exceptions to each couplet. The fundamental problem at hand, as Goulet and Huber point out, is that chalcidoid families are often defined by combinations of characters, as opposed to singular traits that are unique to that taxa and none other (synapomorphies, in cladistic terms). This has resulted in a superfamily littered with taxa whose boundaries are under constant debate (e.g., the Agaonidae) or that do not hold up to scrutiny whatsoever (the grossest wastebasket taxon of flagrant wastebasket taxa, the Pteromalidae).

Chalcidoids are hardly deserving of this neglect, considering their ecological and numerical diversity (they possibly constitute 10% of all insect species; Noyes, 2003). I would have impartially respected this significance regardless of my work at the Collection, but parsing through unit tray after unit tray of nigh-microscopic specimens representing untold numbers of species—each one a chalcidoid—gave me a concrete grasp of that abstraction.

I still have strong visual impressions of many of them: the subtly turquoise, spatula-shaped abdomen I swiftly came to associate with the Tetracampidae; the minute serrations on the inner rims of a stocky chalcidid’s femora, making its thighs appear like chitinous razors; the oar-like forewings of many an insubstantial mymarid, fringed with haloes of setae; the metallic, spindle-shaped abdomen that accounted for two-thirds the length of a sycoryctine. I am not the only one to have thought them often quite showy under sufficient magnification: Alexandre A. Girault, a notoriously verbose chalcidologist, spoke of the tiny wasps as “gem-like inhabitants of the woodlands, by most never seen or dreamt of” (Thomer & Twidale, 2014).

Suffice it to say, without my work at the Collection, I would not have seen nor dreamt of so many chalcidoids.


Mockford, E. L. (1997). A new species of Dicopomorpha (Hymenoptera: Mymaridae) with diminutive, apterous males. Annals of the Entomological Society of America, 90, 115-120.

Noyes, J. S. (2003). Universal Chalcidoidea Database. Retrieved 5/18/16 from http://www.nhm.ac.uk/our-science/data/chalcidoids/introduction.html

Thomer, A. K. and Twidale, M. B. (2014). How Databases Learn. In: iConference 2014 Proceedings (pp. 827-833). Retrieved 4/8/15 from https://www.ideals.illinois.edu/bitstream/handle/2142/47268/409_ready.pdf?sequence=2

 

About the Author: Zach Griebenow is an undergraduate majoring in entomology at the Ohio State University. You can read his personal blog on entomological matters here.