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Posts tagged ‘museum’

Smithsonian, synonyms, and specimens

Eleodes compositus Casey 1891, Holotype

Eleodes compositus Casey 1891, Holotype

This week has been the most productive of my summer so far. While it is wonderful and necessary to spend time in the field, the same amount of time spent in a collection allows you to benefit from the generations of workers who came before you. This week I have been imaging the type specimens of Eleodes Eschscholtz held at the USNM (Smithsonian Natural History Museum) insect collection.

The value and importance of natural history collections cannot be overstated. Even specimens which some would assume have very little value often turn out to be quite important to future work. One such instance is the story of Eleodes compositus Casey 1891, pictured above.

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Collecting from collections when the field doesn’t play nice


Drawer of Trogloderus specimens in the Aalbu Collection.

Franz lab members Andrew Johnston and Andrew Jansen took off on the summer’s first collecting trip last Wednesday, May 7th. And the first two days were a bust!

The goal of this trip was to collect the somewhat rare and enigmatic genus Trogloderus LeConte. Trogloderus is a sand-dune-dwelling tenebrionid endemic to the Western United States. The plan was great – spend a night at each type locality and hit dune systems in between; collect specimens from as many places as possible for sequencing in hopes that a molecular phylogeny would help to sort out the complicated morphology of the group.

So far we are 0/3 at type localities. Not only are Trogloderus elusive, it seems there is no insect activity at all right now, our Mercury Vapor light traps have only netted a single insect specimen (Hyles lineata) each night. There seems to be a low pressure system we are following North through California, suppressing insect activity. The good news is that there is high pressure system pushing its way North now, so we are calling an audible and straying from our scheduled road map and getting in place to follow the high pressure system to the rest of the type localities. Hopefully things will turn around!

While the field has been entirely disappointing, we just borrowed what is almost surely the world’s largest representation of Trogloderus from the collection of Dr. Rolf Aalbu (partially pictured above). Fresh specimens are incredibly important and worth the effort, but the amount of specimens and data contained in Natural History collections cannot be overvalued.

When collecting in the field doesn’t work out, collecting from other collections might save the day!