Greetings! I apologize for being so long in updating, but we were moving some cyber-things around to different servers here in museum cyberspace before the holiday break, and there were a few glitches, one of which involved access to our blog. But the new year brings fresh opportunities!
Lets talk about invertebrates. The museum has an invertebrate collection that doesn’t get a lot of public attention. At present there is no full-time curator for this collection, but that doesn’t mean that it’s in mothballs, (if you’ll pardon the insect reference). In fact, it’s undergoing a renaissance of epic proportions.
The invertebrate collection includes a wide range of specimens. Insects and spiders, as we know, account for an estimated 90% or more of all life on earth. A quick reference check tells us that there are 241 species of grasshopper in Oklahoma alone
. But the collection also houses molluscs, jellyfish, corals… think of all the different types of animals without a backbone and they’re in there. There are a minimum of half a million specimens housed in this collection. And at present only about 7 % of them are cataloged.
Now, that may seem as if someone’s not doing their job, but believe it or not, most
invertebrate collections in museums around the world are not cataloged: meaning each specimen is not given an individual catalog number. Perhaps this is because of the sheer numbers of invertebrates often found in natural history collections, or possibly it has to do with the fact that many of these institutional collections grew out of personal collections organized by the scientist or hobbyist according to his or her own design. I don’t know. But Dr. Janet Braun, the museum’s curator of mammals who has oversight of the collection, assures me that it is true.
Our museum is in the process of changing that. Slowly but surely, those half- million specimens are being numbered, cataloged, labeled and stored using state-of-the-art practices and materials. It’s not a job for the faint of heart.
Brenda Smith-Patten is collection manager for Invertebrates, and must have the patience of Job and the mental focus of a yogi. She recently finished cataloging the collection’s dragonflies and one genera of bumble bees. Each specimen has been placed in an individual clear sleeve, given a catalog number, and databased (you can visit the collection’s catalog, and all of our catalogs, online if you want to: just go to http://www.snomnh.ou.edu/db2/index.htm
and you can browse Phylum, Class, Order, Family, Genus and Species). Brenda has also compiled any information she can find regarding the date and site of collection, the collector and the up-to-date species name. This involves painstaking de-coding of the sometimes cryptic hand-written field notes, labels and records dating to the 1940s or earlier, as well as research into the latest taxonomic information. Species names sometimes change over time, and both the former name and the current name must be noted.
The same has been done for the mollusc collection. More molluscs are listed as a conservation concern than any other animals in Oklahoma because they are impacted by water quality and quantity. This group was therefore given a high priority for cataloging, and a grant provided new cases and supplies. Brenda completed the necessary research into the provenance of each specimen, then created new labels, numbers and database entries for all of them and tucked them away in their nice new drawers.
So that’s three groups down… untold hundreds to go.
On my recent tour of the collection I saw drawer after drawer filled with tiny little boxes of mosquitoes, jars of dragonfly larvae and boxes bristling with pinned insects. I understand that our museum boasts the largest collection of riffle beetles in the world – some 150,000 of them – both pinned and in liquid storage. These last represent the life’s work of the late Dr. Harley Brown, former curator of the collection.
Needless to say, Brenda has her work cut out for her.
Would you like to visit the invertebrate collection yourself? It’s open to museum members, along with all the other museum collections and laboratories, one night a year: Members Night Behind the Scenes, held each year in October. All you have to do is become a museum member
and you’ll receive a personal invitation to attend.