We used to have a series of shadow boxes in the public area of the Frost, each filled with pinned specimens and small placards presenting their taxonomic names. Several boxes exhibited insects native to the great commonwealth of Pennsylvania. István and I spent an hour one afternoon discussing these exhibits and how they could be more informative, more interactive, … more interesting. István noticed that these boxes seemed to have been composed from specimens raided from the research collection. One of the darkling beetles (Coleoptera: Tenebrionidae; see the yellow circle in the image below), in fact, was, according to its label, collected in Pennsylvania in 1880.
This episode got me thinking—just what is our oldest specimen? 1880 seems ancient for a collection that was largely built upon Stuart Frost‘s efforts (1920s–1970s). Was this darkling beetle our oldest?
Well, after perusing the collection this summer I’ve determined that this Boletotherus cornutus specimen (Tenebrionidae; the forked fungus beetle), collected in Bethlehem, PA in 1878, is the oldest specimen in the Frost Entomological Museum:
And it turns out that we have a lot of specimens from the late 1800s, most of which are beetles (especially Tenebrionidae and their relatives) collected by G. Caffrey. Next step for me: dig deeper by visiting the Frost Museum historian, “Butterfly Bob” Snetsinger. Who was this G. Caffrey character? Stay tuned …
UPDATE: Faithful reader and former Frost intern, Sal Anzaldo, rightly pointed out that our mummy head lice specimens are really our oldest specimens => probably at least twice as old as this forked fungus beetle! So maybe we should update the title to the “specimen with the oldest date of collection”. Thanks, Sal!