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:

National Park Service Conserv-O-Gram: How to Identify Museum Insect Pest Damage (PDF)

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)

Posted by Gwen Pearson

Writer. Nerd. Insect Evangelist. Have you heard the good news? BUGS!


  1. Fox should know better than to mess with the entomologists, I’m going to laugh when the Fox news studio becomes mysteriously overrun with hissing cockroaches and Japanese hornets.

  2. Thanks for this; I hope someone from Fox reads this. I have a sneaking suspicion that science blogs aren’t part of their blogrolls, however.

  3. Seems this story is circulating among all the bug bloggers and enthusiasts out there. Debbie posted a great article on this very thing. Thought you might want to read it….http://insects.about.com/b/2010/03/11/sean-hannity-bugs-entomologists-belittles-bug-collection.htm#comment-32863
    Some people (Hannity and others like him) fail to see the big picture. Narrow-minded bogus garbage is all it is!

  4. Bug Girl- thanks for your support and link to that earlier video.

  5. I was SEETHING when I first heard about this. And I passed it on. Not only does this stuff lead to the perpetuation of bad taxonomy, which is responsible for, among other things, the reason we have gypsy moths causing billions of dollars of damage to trees in the US every year.

    But the other thing is, this is my current and future LIVELYHOOD we’re talking about here! A plague of locusts on all of them, they certainly deserve it.


  6. No one in this world has ever lost money by underestimating the intelligence of the great masses of the plain people. Nor has anyone ever lost public office thereby.
    H. L. Mencken

    Know thine audience.

  7. One of my first real jobs in science was maintaining and using a dermestids colony for fleshing purposes…I wish I could still do work like that…

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