2019 sort session #11

spiny orb weaver on web between tropical trees

Gasteracantha cancriformis in Quito, Ecuador. Photo (CC BY-SA 4.0) by Ugosan. Click for source

My sorting yesterday focused on salvaging spiders from somewhat poorly preserved lots. One might wonder whether it was worth the effort, to work with partially degraded specimens instead of our recently collected material that’s still languishing in Whirl-Paks. Well, the material was collected by our own Stuart Frost in 1937, during a sabbatical in Panama and Ecuador. We’re putting together an exhibit on his life at Penn State, and this was a great way to connect to his legacy.

One specimen was a Gasteracantha specimen, like the one above, collected in Baños, Ecuador. Given what I’ve learned about this genus of spiders (*cough* Wikipedia *cough*) it is probably Gasteracantha cancriformis (Linnaeus, 1758). This species is broadly distributed in the New World, while pretty much every other species is Old World, often in restricted ranges. Spiders are amazing! And I bet this one didn’t kill four men. 😉

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A recent donation of stag beetles to the Frost

As part of a recent donation from the family of Dr. Kerv Hyland, The Frost Museum was gifted a display case full of stag beetles in the family Lucanidae that includes some neat specimens from all over the world. Stag beetles are really striking in appearance, with features that are often associated with interesting mating behaviors. Unfortunately, though, this display case had been sitting in storage for a number of years where it was clearly exposed to the elements and showed signs of some pretty serious deterioration.

Angle 1 of the stag beetles showing their poor state prior to treatment

Case of Stag Beetles

Angle 2, a close up, of the stag beetles showing their poor state prior to treatment

Close up

You can see in the photos above that mold had grown inside the case and all over the specimens and tags. We really wanted to restore these beetles, which led to some discussion with others in the museum community and looking around in the literature to find ways to address the issue of molding specimens. Andy was suggested this method described by C. Brown in 2015 that treats moldy specimens in entomology collections, so, we gave it a shot! But first, we tested it on some bees that had also grown mold. We felt okay about testing this method on the bees because we already had representation of this bee species from the same year and location in our collection. So, in the event that the method didn’t work as described, they were lower stakes than the stag beetles. We were pleasantly surprised because the method seemed to work really well!

Because it worked so well on the bees, we used it to begin restoring the stag beetles. One at a time, the beetles were pulled from the affected case and treated. Some of them were in pretty rough condition to start:

Example of stag beetle and specimen tag covered in mold

Example of a specimen completely covered in ick

The tags were carefully removed from the pin with forceps and wiped down with a cotton ball. The beetles were treated with aerosol sprayed Lysol and then wiped down with a Q-tip. After being treated, they were left under the fume hood to completely dry out. While the beetles’ tags were removed, we digitized the label information before reuniting them with the beetles. This was my first curatorial project at the Frost and the entire process was super rewarding.

Here are some before and after pics!

Before image of beetle covered in mold


After image of beetle, with mold removed and lookin' fresh









Before image of beetle covered in mold


After image of beetle, with mold removed and lookin' fresh










Before image of all the beetles prior to treatment


After image of all the beetles post to treatment












In total, there were more than 85 individuals from Central America, South America, Africa, Asia, and parts of Oceania. All of the specimens had already been identified and contain collection locality information. Some of them even have the date or year they were collected! It would have been so easy for the Hyland family to just throw out the display case of beetles when they found them molding in their family storage. I’m so glad they didn’t, because now these specimens can be used for teaching, outreach, or possibly even research in the future. Thanks, from the Frost!


If you are interested, you can find a previous post from 2013 about Dr. Kerv Hyland and a separate generous donation here.

Method Citation:

Christopher G. Brown; Effective Use of Disinfectant Spray to Combat Fungal Growth on Preserved Insects, American Entomologist, Volume 61, Issue 3, 1 September 2015, Pages 149–150, https://doi.org/10.1093/ae/tmv048

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2019 sort sessions #9 and #10

Sort session #9 took place during spring break and was shortened a bit by the presence of my 6- and 8-year old. I wanted them to enjoy the experience and to be effective team members, so we created a very simple task: while looking through a microscope, separate all the things you could recognize as arthropods from a sweep sample that was totally polluted by plant parts.

Usually my attempts to integrate these kids into my entomological experiences are met with … resistance. I was pleasantly surprised this time by their frequent gasps—Cool! Look at this one! I didn’t know wasps could be so small! (Nevermind that I have been trying to teach them about insects their whole lives!) It was a good reminder that often what fascinates non-experts are the insects I find almost routine.

Sort session #10 focused on Araneae. We have an interesting collection of spiders from the caves of Pennsylvania, primarily from the early 1960s. We also have a nice collection of spiders from the 1880s that was in serious need of preservative and vial upgrades. I managed to digitize and accession a mere 24 lots.

I have no doubt we could be more efficient with some of our processes, but collection growth can be a slow process.

large spider clings to a wall

Heteropoda venatoria (Linnaeus, 1767) photographed (CC BY-NC 2.0) by Ying-Yuan Lo. Click for source. I digitized a specimen yesterday that was collected in Philadelphia probably more than 100 years ago. It undoubtedly came up in a potted plant or some other import from the south. Watch for our record to appear in GBIF soon: https://www.gbif.org/species/2161710

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Killer spider at the Frost! And other observations from 2019 sort session #8

tiny beetle, about 2 mm long, glued to a pointy piece of card stock that is skewered on a pin

Chramesus hicoriae LeConte, 1868 collected during surveys by the Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture. Photo (CC BY 2.0) by Andy Deans. Click for source

Finally a Wednesday without a snow/ice storm! Sort session #8 was dedicated to dealing with the huge volume of specimens from old (2014) Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture surveys. I’ve mounted about 200 specimens—in Hymenoptera, Hemiptera, and Coleoptera—and have been pleasantly surprised by the diversity. I’m sure we’ve added new taxa to the collection and definitely new occurrence data. The bark beetle specimen above is Chramesus hicoriae LeConte, 1868, a species known to feed on hickories. It is definitely the cutest insect I came across yesterday (or ever?), although that probably doesn’t come across in this crummy smart phone photo. It was so tiny!

I also spent a few minutes with a tarantula our volunteer, Justin, recently encountered while cataloging and digitizing our spiders. It’s in relatively poor shape:

a tarantula specimen sits in a Petri dish, completely de-articulated, almost unrecognizable as a spider. Its condition is the result of poor storage conditions

Tarantula specimen in our digitization rig. Photo (CC BY 2.0) by Andy Deans. Click for source

But check out that data label. E P I C.

small paper label that reads, in part,

Label that accompanies that poorly preserved tarantula above. Photo (CC BY 2.0) by Andy Deans. Click for source

Here is my best transcription:

Tarantula from Lurifico Peru. Said to have caused the death of 4 men. Brought on board alive after 6 mos. captivity {Mst?} Jones Pacasmayo Oct. 6 / 84

Ha ha ha. Wow. Well, I am highly skeptical that this spider caused the death of four men, but that is a great story. I love sort sessions precisely for this reason – opportunities to examine and learn about many taxa, to add our own high quality specimens and data, to dig deep into our historic collection, and to unearth compelling—if unbelievable—stories. What’ll happen next week!

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Hello everyone reading this! I’m here to introduce myself. My name is Laura, and I have just began working here as an assistant curator at the Frost Museum. I come from San Diego California, where I grew up and did my undergraduate work. I got my first taste of natural history collections through a couple of influential organismal courses, and then began volunteering and interning in the San Diego Natural History Museum’s Entomology Department. After finishing my bachelor’s degree, I moved to New York where I worked at the Cornell University Museum of Vertebrates for a few years before deciding to return to school to pursue a master’s degree at Syracuse University. Since finishing my master’s I’ve moved to Pennsylvania and am getting to know the local forests and State College. I’m thrilled to be back working in entomology collections, and hope to have an impact here at the Frost!

PS: I will be periodically contributing to posts on this blog. 

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