New Year’s resolutions

I used to post an annual list of New Year’s resolutions for the collection when I was director of the NC State Insect Museum, complete with an assessment of how we did with last year’s resolutions. Not sure why I dropped this habit when I moved to Penn State, but I think it’s time to resurrect it in some form. Here goes …

Overall I think we’re doing pretty well at the Frost, at least in terms of maintaining good policies and procedures, digitizing the collection, and making upgrades to storage infrastructure. We’ve come a long way since 2012, when we started a big effort to modernize the Museum. That said, here are two things I want to work on in 2019:

Resolution 1 – Grow the collection

One activity where we are underperforming is collecting. Not just collecting but actually making proper specimens and accessioning them into the collection. I.e., we aren’t growing the collection at a sufficient rate. Here are the concrete steps I intend to take to make it happen for us this year:

  1. Collect regularly on my property. I live on >13.5 acres of woodland, which has yielded all kinds of crazy taxa, just from my haphazard collecting. Time to set up a transect of pitfalls, a Malaise trap, and regularly sampled pan traps.
  2. Establish a regular sort session. Wednesday afternoons (negotiable) are reserved exclusively for specimen sorting/prep’ing/curating. All are welcome!
  3. Coordinate with PDA entomologists to capture, sort, and prep specimens from residues that result from extensive sampling across the commonwealth.
  4. Take advantage of my state parks permit! The Entomological Society of Pennsylvania organizes these permits, but I had only one species to add to their list for 2018. Whipple Dam, Greenwood FurnaceBlack Moshannon State Parks are some local favorites, and they are localities Stuart Frost frequently visited. More on that later.

Given the emerging reports on dramatic biodiversity declines — e.g., in HaitiPuerto Rico, Canada, and Germany — it’s critical that we collect more data and specimens now.

wooden drawer filled with small cardboard trays. each tray has a foam bottom into which insect specimens are pinned. This drawer is about 80% full of weevil specimens

Room to grow! Most of our drawers now have 25% expansion room, and we’ve added an additional 500 or so empty drawers for expansion, all thanks to our NSF CSBR grant (DBI-1349356). Photo (CC BY 2.0) by Andy Deans. Click for source

Resolution 2 – Make progress on moving the Museum

This resolution is a bit more difficult to characterize and establish benchmarks for, but we need to relocate the collection and public space ASAP. The CAP assessment last June revealed serious deficiencies (none really surprising) in Headhouse III, a building that was not designed for natural history collections storage. The good news is that we appear to have our administration’s ear, and there is an active search for new space. The bad news is that we’ve put our re-opening on ice … indefinitely. Relocating a collection of this size is not a small undertaking — we could use your help! — and I still have a lot of lobbying to do. I’d like to see us make it into the next Penn State Capital Plan, maybe as a combined collections storage building? I think we all could use help!

New photos of insects hang from wires against the wall; there is a placard with information about the photographer, Matt Bertone

New exhibits at the Frost. Will they see a public audience soon? Photo (CC BY 2.0) by Andy Deans. Click for source

Of course I have many other goals for 2019, including one to post more frequent updates here on this blog. We do have some big news already, but I will save that for later this month or maybe February, when it’s finalized. If had to add one more resolution it’d be this:

Bonus resolution – Collect (or at least see) Atypus snetsingeri

Pennsylvania hosts the only species of Atypus, a group of purseweb spiders, in the New World. It happens to live only in greater Philadelphia. Hmmmm … (looking up and stroking my invisible goatee) Anyway, it’s an incredible species, named after the late Bob Snetsinger, a former arachnologist and jack-of-all-trades, who was on faculty in our department. We just digitized and recurated our collection of paratypes (below). Now I need to see this critter in real life! This species has had me obsessed with spiders for the last nine months. Seriously. SO COOL.

to glass jars filled with small glass vials and alcohol. each vial contains a spider specimens and some paper labels

Largest collection of Atypus snetsingeri in the world. These spiders apparently occur only in greater Philadelphia. How weird! Photo (CC BY 2.0) by Andy Deans. Click for source

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