Ok, I’m a couple of days late to this, but that’s mostly because I had to wait until I could stop cussing and breathing in a bag to calm down. If you haven’t already heard, Anthony Cognato got sandbagged by Fox News when they sent Tucker Carleson in to interview him about a grant he received from NSF to upgrade the MSU insect collection facility.
They called it wasted stimulus money! OMGWTF?
I think the issue of why keeping historic specimens is important has been addressed elsewhere, and Anthony had a pretty good answer in the video–it’s a library of the past, that we need to preserve. Aside from just knowing what species occurred where, the genetic material in those specimens is invaluable. How have insects changed since the introduction of different agrochemicals and introduced competitors? It’s all in this library of dead insects.
I’m sure my friends at the NCSU Insect Museum can provide a better and more detailed explanation of the value of insect collections. (*cough* HINT!) Their blog makes their work more public, which is a great idea! People don’t value what they don’t understand. Witness: The Fox “news” story.
Those of you who have not worked with historic collections (insect or otherwise!) may not be aware that dead insects and other animals are very fragile things. It is a constant battle to keep them from being eaten or decaying. The primary culprits are dermestid beetles–little larvae that can wreak havoc on everything from a 200-year old insect specimen to your favorite sweater.
In fact, dermestids are good enough at eating things that they are commonly used by museums in another context–to clean off all the remaining flesh from a vertebrate skeleton.
Many, many students have made fabulous insect collections, but not listened to my admonitions to use a tightly sealed box with moth balls or other repellents …and ended up with a box of brightly colored dust. It is very, very difficult to keep dermestids out, because they are so tiny. You need specially sealed cabinets. And that is why MSU applied for, and received, a grant to upgrade their storage for a collection that dates back to 1867.
An additional issue is human health: everything that is commonly used to repel insects from collections is toxic to people. While I find the aroma of mothballs relaxing and homey, most people recognize it as a carcinogen. And keeping those vapors sealed tightly in a cabinet is healthier for entomologists.
Want to know more?
Check out this National Park Service publication for horrifying photos of the kinds of damage that dermestids (and other insect pests) can do:
Anthony explains what the grant was for…without the entomophobia hype or anti-gubmint crap:
Want to skeletonize something at home? How to Skeletonize a mammal with Dermestids (UofM Museum)