Which collection within the Frost Museum is the most “used”? That is, which collection sees the most handling and observation? Anyone affiliated with a department of entomology or who has matriculated through an entomology program can tell you: the teaching collection. (The collection that students use to learn the insect orders and families.) And yet these collections are often the least respected, comprised of student collection cast-offs and bulk samples with no data and left, unmanaged and poorly curated (and usually taxonomically out-of-date), in some closet on the other side of the building.
On one level I can understand the lack of investment. The people who teach courses that rely on teaching collections are very busy. They have students to mentor, grant proposals to write, research to conduct, courses to teach, service to provide, papers to write, etc. Curating a teaching collection to the nines is probably not going to score you many points in the promotion and tenure process, and so these instructors curate on the fly. Fair enough! These specimens also experience higher levels of wear—appendage and tagma loss—than most other specimens, so why bother with labels, identifiers, wing-spreading, proper preservative levels, archival preparations, etc.? I’ve been there. I understand completely.
So, what about Penn State’s teaching collection? Here’s how I found it in June 2012:
Behold! Non-standard (and non-archival) storage system, located in the back of (and also closet and hallway next to) some isolated, infrequently used room. It was not considered part of the Frost Museum, and therefore it was not under any kind of management regime. The result? Behold!
Yes, it’s very bad. That’s why we’ve initiated a near-total rebuild, and we could use your feedback. What taxa should be included in a teaching collection? Of course we should have exemplars of the taxa we require students to identify by sight. And we should have other bizarre, interesting, and evolutionarily relevant taxa. Here’s a spreadsheet of taxa I intend to cover next fall in ENT 432 Insect Biodiversity and Evolution: ENT 432 teaching collection spreadsheet.
I feel pretty strongly that specimens should be high quality preps, with full locality labels, determination labels, and unique identifiers (even if they aren’t properly databased). It’s important to show students the right way to mount and label a specimen. The preps should be perfect – wings spread, appendages appropriately placed, etc. A high quality teaching collection is more likely to be respected by the students, which should result in less damage.
Anyway, this is an ongoing process that just started today. Watch for more posts and for taxon requests. We need ice crawlers (Grylloblattodea), for example!