Going where the wasps are.


On the previous post we talked a bit about visits to the Museum of Biological Diversity and more specifically to the Triplehorn Insect Collection. Today I want to turn around and show you what we see & do when we put our ‘research scientist‘ hats and go visit other collections.

There’s no walk-ins when it comes to visiting research collections. Setting up an appointment with the curator or collection manager is a must. That allows the staff to prepare for our visit, to set up work stations for us, to review the material we are interested in, and to do curatorial work ahead of our visit if necessary.

Collections welcome research visitors because that fulfill their mission of providing service to the scientific community. In return, visiting scientists add value to the collection by providing expert identification to specimens in the collection, and many times helping out with curation and organization of the collection.

When we get to a museum or collection, the first thing we see is, of course, the door. While most public museums have imposing entrances, many times the access to very important research collections is a modest door on the side of a building. The size and type of door absolutely does not reflect the quality of the collections inside.

Once inside, we have access to the inner sanctum of the collections: rows of cabinets filled with drawers filled with dry specimens carefully separated by group; vaults containing insect specimens preserved in ethanol, waiting to be sorted to family, genus, species. And that’s when our work begins!

During a research visit we usually: 1) examine (lots and lots of) specimens, dry or wet, under the microscope, 2) add identification labels to specimens that we recognize, 3) database the specimen label data, and 4) take photos of specimens (and specimen labels). Sometimes we do only 1 and 2, other times we do mostly 3 and 4. It depends on the collection and what we are hoping to accomplish during our visit.

Over the years we had the opportunity to visit many (many!) amazing research collections in various countries. Besides the collections, their rich treasure of specimens, and their dedicated curatorial staff, we also learnt a lot about the places and the people who live there. Looking forward to our next research visit to a collection!


About the Author: Dr. Luciana Musetti is an entomologist and Curator of the C. A. Triplehorn Insect Collection.