Tuesday, March 19, 2013

The value of teaching collections

When I first arrived at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga five years ago, I did not expect to find much in the form of an entomological collection. To my surprise, our little Natural History Museum had a descent teaching collection (~48 drawers) with many of the families of insects found in the Southeast. Like most teaching collections, specimens are collected by students, identified (typically) to the family level and the locality labels can be problematic (e.g. on non-archival paper, with non-archival ink) without enough details. I bet most specimens in the collection have labels in the following format:

TN: Hamilton Co.
Chattanooga, date
collector.


Yet despite these problems, teaching collections can contain real gems. Last week we had a visitor from Alabama (Steve Krotzer) who wanted to examine our collection for tiger beetles. Tiger beetles are particularly hard to collect and if you don't care much about them (let's say you study rove beetles) you don't collect them, so our research collection did not have any. The teaching collection contained 31 specimens (10 species) and among those they were 13 new county records (!): ten from Tennessee, one from Alabama, one from Georgia and one from Florida.

Anybody else want to examine specimens?