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Accessioning a Donation: Part 2


Continuing from Part 1, this post documents the ongoing process of accessioning a large donation corresponding to the Ira Nadborne insect collection. Having frozen all donated material for an entire week, we can now safely sort through the specimens and curate them into our main collection. The first part of this journey is to determine which specimens we are keeping, and to move them out of their dermestid frass-filled boxes.


Starting with a box of specimens like the one pictured above, we have to assess the original labeling scheme and organizational structure. The physical order of the beetles in that box contains valuable information which we do not want to lose. For instance, determination labels (labels with a species name and the name of the person who identified the specimen) are often pinned (once) underneath a specimen in a row of specimens (jointly) identified to a certain species. We need to make sure that we keep the correct specimens with the intended names, which is not always a trivial matter when you have very similar species pinned in a group and the vertical lines are not always completely clear.

As specimens are being transferred, each insect must be inspected for damage. Many are too damaged to keep (see image below) while others are in rough shape, but need to be cleaned up. The damage seen below, as previously mentioned, was caused by dermestid carpet beetles. Their larvae get into the collection and bore into the insects and eat all the dried tissues within, before boring back out to pupate into adults. This leaves dead larvae, larval cases, and pupae attached to many of the specimens. While they are dead from being frozen, they are still contaminants that we do not want in the general collection.

ira_nadborne_damage1 ira_nadborne_damage2

After picking off any dermestid remnants, many of the insects are incredibly dusty, and so we gently brush them off before transferring them to new, clean, unit trays.

ira_nadborne_cleaning1 ira_nadborne_cleaning2

The final result looks something like this:

ira_nadborne_curated1 ira_nadborne_curated2

I must admit, that it is no accident that these pictures involve almost entirely beetles, since I made sure to stack them above all the Lepidoptera cases…which unfortunately I may not have time to help with now that the semester is about to begin.

After what amounts to probably 200 hours of work, we currently have over 40 drawers of material sorted and processed. Approximately half of which is identified to species.


Many of the specimens in these drawers are unidentified, or identified only to the level of family. Nearly all of the insects are from the United States, with large amounts of material collected by Ira Nadborne from Arizona, Southern California and New York (among many, many other localities). There is also quite a bit of material from Kansas collected by B. Smith, as well as huge amounts of beetles from Wisconsin, collected and identified by Robert L. Otto. It is likely that Mr. Nadborne traded material with these other collectors.

We do not yet have a tally of the total number of specimens, and have only processed perhaps half of this donation (with a second, similarly sized, donation just a few days away!), but I did tally the number of identified species of beetles.

We received identified specimens of 934 species of beetles from more than 30 families. To put this into perspective, there is something like 914 species of birds known to occur in the USA. [NMF edit: must resist urge to spin this into stem-winder about concept taxonomy.] The actual number of species represented in this collection is much higher. For instance I have seen about 40 species of darkling beetles that he did not have identified, and the 30 drawers of unidentified beetles surely contain many more species to add to this number. I would not be surprised if there are over 2000 beetle species within this collection. Oh, and we still have to go through the Lepidoptera (Ira Nadborne’s specialty) as well as the rest of the insect orders.

Moving forward with this project, the identified specimens will be curated into (placed with their closest relatives) the ASUHIC. The unidentified specimens will be left at the end of their respective families, awaiting visits from experts on those taxa to be identified and used in future entomological research.

Every insect specimen tells a story, and our collections are anthologies of generations of natural history observations which need to be properly cared for and passed down to future generations of researchers.

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