The Insect Collector’s Oath

entomologist with sweep net in prairie on a beautiful, sunny day

Dr. István Mikó, collecting ceraphronoid wasps in Hungary. Photo  by A. R. Deans (CC BY 2.0):

Last fall marked the eighth time I taught Insect Biodiversity and Evolution (ENT 432), and I genuinely feel that it gets better with age—in part because I take the constructive student and peer feedback seriously, but also because I have an amazing team of natural historians here at the Frost and through the Entomological Collections Network to help me enrich the content. The course has changed immensely since 2007, becoming more accurate, more dynamic, more active, better illustrated, and closer to something I want to share broadly as creative commons-licensed, open curriculum. I discussed this possibility already at ESA and blogged about on our lab website. I plan to start that process this spring and will write about it later.

This post is a follow-up on a suggestion one of my students made this year (Thanks Carley!). We discussed the utility of biodiversity data at length during the semester, addressing questions about how and why we collect specimens, how and why they are prepared the way they are, responsible collecting, the importance of data integrity, etc. Given that we want to use this course, in part, as a mechanism to grow the Frost’s research collection, she thought that entomologists-in-training should take an oath, similar to medicine’s Hippocratic Oath or engineering’s Archimedean Oath. It’s a great idea. Reciting these words aloud would increase awareness of collection issues while also reinforcing the seriousness with which we take their efforts. While some areas of the life sciences have called for similar constructs, and many learned societies offer relevant guidelines (e.g., the American Society of Mammalogists), I couldn’t find any “oath” for insect collectors.

My teaching assistant, Carolyn Trietsch, and I got to work over break, and here’s what we came up with (we recommend grabbing a sweep net with your left hand and placing your right hand on a Systema Naturae):

I swear to fulfill, to the best of my ability, the following ideals:

  1. I will respect the hard-won scientific gains of those entomologists in whose steps I walk, and gladly share my scientific gains and knowledge with those who are to follow.
  2. I will aid in the dissemination of scientific knowledge, both to those who study insects and those who do not.
  3. I will not discriminate against others, and I will strive to create a safe working environment, whether in the field, the classroom, or the lab.
  4. I will treat insects humanely and with respect. As a collector, it is within my power to take insect life; I will not take insects that will not be deposited in a natural history collection or otherwise made available for research and education. While bycatch is often unavoidable, I will, to the best of my ability, attempt to limit the unnecessary loss of insect life and find use for these specimens.
  5. I will consider the ecological impact of removing insects from the environment when collecting, whether the species are protected by law, known to be declining, or are considered to be of least concern.
  6. I will secure appropriate permits when needed, prior to collecting insects, and I will honor and uphold the provisions stated by each permit when collecting. I will keep copies of all permits on my person while collecting and furnish them to authorized agents upon request.
  7. I will prepare and label specimens according to standards established by professional entomologists who work with collections.
  8. I will properly store all specimens under my care, and I will not allow specimens to become damaged or degraded through neglect.
  9. I will properly use and dispose of preservatives, killing agents, and other chemicals associated with specimen collection and preparation. I will never use these chemicals to harm myself or others.
  10. I will keep detailed field notes during each collecting expedition and will make these available to the greater scientific community.
  11. I will be completely honest about all data associated with specimens. I will not create false data.

May I always act so as to preserve the finest traditions of natural history, and so long as I uphold these traditions and the stated ideals, may I long experience the joy of my contributions to the furthering of scientific knowledge.

How did we do? What did we miss? Do you think all entomologists should take an oath and that this kind of device would encourage ethical collecting? Let us know! If you want to cite this or download a PDF version of the first draft, here are the relevant details:

Trietsch, Carolyn and Andrew R. Deans (2016) Insect Collector’s Oath, version 1. figshare. DOI: 10.6084/m9.figshare.2065344.v3

It’s also available as a commentable Google Doc.

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