selling insects for conservation

christian thompson cthompson at SEL.BARC.USDA.GOV
Mon Jul 16 13:47:47 CDT 2001


An interesting question and one that needs an open response.

One must be very careful  and to first separate consumers into their
appropriate classes!

1) those who are interested in biological samples for commerical
(profit-making) purposes;
2) those who are basic scientists interested in only increasing our
knowledge of the biota; and
3) those who are interested in insects as recreation, fun, hobby, etc.

Now I do believe that "selling insects for conservation" is an excellent
idea, but one must sell differently to each of the above groups. AND the
most critical factor today is that the legal regulations in the country of
origin in regards to biological samples, etc. are followed. Unless the
appropriate laws of Guatemala are followed, the necessary permits obtained,
etc., you will find the US Fish & Wildlife will close down your whole
operation very quickly.

(yes, I did notice you wrote that the necessary permit would be acquired,
etc., but this needs repeating as you don't know who is reading TAXACOM!)


For commerical buyers, like Merck and any other pharmacial company, one
needs to get a basic collection costs plus have a profit-sharing agreement,

For basic scientists one needs to again get the basic collection costs plus
have an understanding how the scientific results are going to be shared for
both the benefit of the country of origin as well as the scientific
community as a whole. Such questions as the proper deposit and dissemination
of type specimens needs to be formalized.

But for the recreational collector, assuming that is what the buyer really
is, then one needs only to sell the insects.

Now for myself who fits into 2 & 3, I probably won't be much interested in
"Bulk" samples unless they were real cheap as there is a high cost in
extracting useful material for our collection from them ($50-200 per malaise
trap samples is far to high for what one gets from them). And, hence, I
would recommend a return to the old professional collector model, where you
train the locals on how to properly prepare and sort insect material for the
different types of specialists (paper butterflies and moths; field pin
flies, separate beetles into high value groups (scarabids, cerambycids, etc)
and the rest, etc.

Years ago I paid Fritz Plaumann (Brazil, Nova Teutonia) $0.10 per pinned
fly sorted to family level. Naturally, today I would pay Fritz much more,
say $0.25-30 per pinned specimen, plus I would add a bonus for diversity,
etc. For almost 40 years, Fritz Plaumann supported almost the entire economy
of Nova Teutonia!

Finally, obviously all buyers will eventually drop out after they have
acquired a sample of the local biodiversity. So, sustainability can only be
based on a "sustainable" population of insect collectors. And unfortunately
if the current trend to view insect collecting as an illegal,
ecological-harming, unethical, etc., activity continues (note the switch
from butterfly collecting to watching), this will never develop.

Also, don't forget "Eco-Tourism,"  making a site user friendly so, for
example, butterfly collector can come and collect their own is another way
to earn money. And user friendly means ensuring that all the necessary
legalities are taken care of. Do that, I do suspect you will get butterfly
collectors from Europe and North America.


F. Christian Thompson
Systematic Entomology Lab., ARS, USDA
Smithsonian Institution
Washington, D. C. 20560-0169
(202) 382-1800 voice
(202) 786-9422 FAX
cthompso at
visit our Diptera site at

>>> John Shuey <jshuey at TNC.ORG> 07/16 12:10 PM >>>
Sorry for cross posting, but I'm trying to get this out to everyone I
can.  Please respond directly to me at jshuey at

Here is a hypothetical question for the entomological crowd re/
commercial collecting as a conservation tool.  I'm trying to determine
if the following scenario would have a large enough client base to be
economically viable.  If so, I may propose that we explore this as a
pilot program.

First the rational - Wild collected insects and bulk samples of insects
can be "sold" to collectors and institutions as a tool to conserve
tropical ecosystems.  Local communities would derive economic benefit
from conserving natural and semi-natural systems in conservation buffer
zones by wild collecting high quality samples and specimens and selling
them to individuals and institutions.

The conservation "site" is a major watershed in Guatemala, and includes
swamp forests, mid-elevational forests, and two isolated cloud forest
systems supporting distinct forest types (limestone and granite derived
soils).  And of course lots of ecotonal habitats as well.

I know that there is a market for butterflies - and I'm not too curious
about that (but I don't think that a butterfly business alone would be
truly economically viable at the scale we want to work).  So, the
question of the day is what is the market for "bulk" samples of insects.

Here is what I envision.

All samples would have required permits, solid "data" including habitat
description (probably with digital photos of habitats) dates, lat, long,
etc*  Samples would be unprocessed, preserved in denatured alcohol,
shipped in whirlpaks.

Sample collection stations would be "fixed" and would designed to sample
the complete array of habitat types at the site (10-20 stations
maximum).  So, if you were hot on scarab beetles, you could order a set
of baited pitfall samples from 5-8 habitat types from what ever seasons
you were interested in.  You might end up buying 20 samples total,
getting well over 2,000 scarab beetles (plus all those flies,
staphylinids, histers, ect).  Likewise for any of the other sample

Sample types (and run lengths) could include
- malaise trap - 7 days
- flight intercept - 7 days
- dung-baited pitfall traps - 7 days
- unbaited pitfall traps - 7 days
- blacklight traps - 1 night (alcohol preserved)
- Berlesey funnel extractions (don't know how to quantify this)
- lingren funnel traps
- other???

So here are my five questions.

Do you think that there is a market for high-quality bulk samples such
as these?

Would linking these products with similar sample lines from other
conservation areas throughout tropical America strengthen or weaken the
product line?

Is the bulk market sustainable for the long-term (my concern is that a
short list of institutional clients would buy for a few years, and then
institutional interest would dry up).

What do you think the market value of each specific sample type would
be?  (Keep in mind that I'm not interested in what you would like to pay
for a product like this, but rather what you would pay for the sample.
For this to work as a conservation tool, local communities need to see
real financial return from their habitats.  I'm suggesting that these
samples would be in the $50-$200 price range depending on the sample
type - cheap relative to traveling to all those sites yourself at the
correct season).

Do you have any other comments which we should consider before exploring
this as a conservation tool?

John Shuey
Director of Conservation Science
Indiana Office of The Nature Conservancy
1505 N Delaware Street, Suite 200
Indianapolis, IN 46202

phone:  317-951-8818
fax:  317-917-2478
email:  Jshuey at

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