LOGAN, Utah (ABC4) – It started small in the early 1900s, but the Utah State insect library has grown to six million species.
Utah State University (USU) says that as insect populations start to decline, the collection may help determine how species evolved and if their populations are changing over time.
“Winding through a labyrinth of hallways in the basement of the Biology and Natural Resources building, the Utah State University Insect Library appears just when one feels entirely lost,” Kristen Munson, Utah State University, states.
Rows of tall metal cabinets hold wooden drawers containing boxes and boxes of spider wasps, velvet ants, and bees suspended in air by fine steel pins.
The collection began with “agriculturally significant” specimens such as grasshoppers and other insects, but as the collection evolved, entomologists (a person who studies or is an expert in the branch of zoology concerned with insects), began collecting all kinds of native Utah insects.
By the 1960s, the collection moved into neotropical specimens, and the USDA Bee Biology and Systematics Laboratory started sharing more species.
Fast forward to today, and the collection has more than doubled in size and has more than 70% wasps, partly because the American Entomological Institute, a private collection of “ichneumonid wasps” in the U.S., relocated to USU.
Currently, during the summers, students from USU add around 50,000 specimens to the collection.
In 2019, the “first global review” of insect populations found that “nearly half are declining and nearly a third may go extinct” within a few decades, due mainly to habitat loss and pollution.
This has major consequences, as many animals depend on them for food, and plants require pollinators to fruit, as well as the presence of agricultural pests going unchecked.
Curator James Pitts, a professor of biology, says that although scientists are aware of at-risk bee populations, many ants and wasp populations “remain practically unknown to this date,” which means that as insect populations begin to disappear, many will perish without being described or understood.
One species, “Anthophora pueblo,” a bee first described by USU student Michael Orr in 2016, was discovered to have burrowed into sandstone walls, potentially providing protection from microbes, flooding, or erosion.
Pitts has a huge back log of specimens, with around 200,000 specimens waiting to be defrosted, separated, and pinned.
Many of the specimens are capture in malaise traps that attract bugs “by the hundreds,” snagging them in pouches mounted at the top of the trap.
There are so many different species captured, that many do not have a name.
The collection is located in Room 240 of the Biology and Natural Resources Building, phone number (435) 797-0358.