LOGAN, Utah (ABC4) — It all started small in the early 1900s, but Utah’s state insect library has grown to six million species.
Utah State University (USU) says that as insect populations begin to decline, the collection can help determine how species have evolved and whether their populations are changing over time.
“Winding through a maze of hallways in the basement of the Biology and Natural Resources Building, Utah State University’s Insect Library appears just when you feel completely lost,” says Kristen Munson of Utah State University.
Rows of tall metal cabinets hold wooden drawers containing boxes and boxes of spider wasps, velvet ants and bees suspended in the air by thin steel pins.
The collection began with specimens of “agricultural importance” 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 manner of insects native to Utah. .
In the 1960s the collection shifted to Neotropical specimens and the USDA Bee Biology and Systematics Laboratory began to share more species.
Fast forward to today, and the collection has more than doubled in size and has more than 70% wasps, in part because the American Entomological Institute, a private collection of “ichneumonid wasps” in the United States, moved to USU.
Currently, during the summers, USU students add approximately 50,000 specimens to the collection.
In 2019, the “first global review” of insect populations found that “nearly half are in decline and almost a third could be extinct” within decades, mainly due to habitat loss and of pollution.
This has major consequences, as many animals depend on it for food, and plants need pollinators to grow fruit, as well as the uncontrolled presence of agricultural pests.
Curator James Pitts, professor of biology, says that although scientists are aware of bee populations at risk, many ant and wasp populations “remain virtually unknown to this day”, meaning that when bee populations insects will 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, has been found to burrow into sandstone walls, potentially providing protection from microbes, flooding or erosion.
Pitts has a huge specimen book, with about 200,000 specimens waiting to be thawed, separated, and pinned.
Many specimens are caught in malaise traps which attract the insects “by the hundreds”, hooking them into pouches mounted at the top of the trap.
There are so many different species caught, many are unnamed.
The collection is located in room 240 of the Biology and Natural Resources Pavilion, telephone number (435) 797-0358.