Entomologists do more....

Bruce Neill bneill at LCLARK.EDU
Mon Aug 7 12:24:45 CDT 1995

At 16:40 8/4/95, Peter Rauch wrote:
>>Date:         Fri, 4 Aug 1995 16:06:39 -0700
>>From: Bruce Neill <bneill at LCLARK.EDU>
>>Subject:      Re: specimens examined lists, again
>Certain insect studies may start out by collecting specimens in (large)
>lots, but sooner or later these specimens tend to be sorted out into
>lots of size one. In addition, many (millions of?) specimens were and
>are collected in lots of size one or a few.

Of what purpose is a lot of one?  Hopefully entomolgists are not using
single specimens for taxonomic and systematic purposes.  I recognize the
historical baggage of single specimen collections that must still be dealt
with, but I hope that we are getting out of the business of working with

>Entomologists, especially systematists but also ecologists, observe and
>record information about single specimens, both in the field and
>later.  E.g., they make observations on host plant and feeding
>behavior, on mating, on predation/parasitism, time-of-activity,
>immediate weather and microhabitat conditions, and a long string of
>other data.
>In the lab, individual specimens may be kept alive to rear
>parasites/hyperparasites, to rear immatures to adults, etc.
>In order to associate the observations with the organism that was observed,
>it makes sense to mark the individual specimen with its unique identifier
>(or more traditionally, to put some of this information on the printed
>labels (yes, as small as they are, there is some great data to be
>had from insect labels!).

I think that the problem of marking living creatures is a different
problem, but again, I am stumped at the utility of single specimen
observations.  Anecdotes are perhaps the cornerstone of ecological,
behavioral and systematic works, but it seems to me that such observations
are the basis for further investigation and need not be published and
referenced per se.
>Perhaps marine invertebrate collections don't have such individually-focused
>observations as the norm?

As I stated earlier, historical marine work was very individually focused
on individuals, but I think that inductive-based approach is being replaced
with a more deductive approach to learning.
>As I noted in an earlier message, insect collections seem to be in the
>between-world where it's not totally obvious that the individual
>specimen should be uniquely labeled, and some disciplines where it's
>quite obvious that lot-labels for (e.g., jars full of) specimens are the
>way to go. In any case, it is certainly recognized that much data entry
>for insect collections can be done on "lots" of insects, before they are
>broken up into single-specimen preps and additional data entered.
>For the millions of single-mounted specimens from already-broken-up
>lots, data entry will have to work from the structure it has available
>now (or in the future when next the specimen(s) are handled).

I have a great deal of admiration for curators who must geal with near
microscopic organisms.  It is indeed a difficult task and I would venture
that at some point, the information will require more time, space and
effort and money to curate than the organisms themselves.  But I guess that
we are actually attempting to curate knowledge rather than critters.


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