U of M’s insect collection numbers in the millions

Dr. Robin Thomson is the curator of the U’s insect collection, although her family simply calls her “The Bug Lady”.

ST PAUL, Minnesota — Not far from studio KARE 11 at the University of Minnesota’s entomology department, there are millions of dead insects lying around in storage.

So, naturally, we just had to find out why.

Dr. Robin Thomson is the curator of the U’s insect collectionalthough her family simply calls her “The Bug Lady”.

She says the collection has grown to more than four million individual specimens.

“It’s literally another world, just kind of hidden right in front of our noses,” she says. “It’s basically the pinnacle of biodiversity.”

Thomson sifts through a vast archive of binders and picture frames covering everything from beetles to butterflies, a collection she says began in 1879, putting her at just over 140 years old.

“I think we have insects from every continent except Antarctica.”

Understandable, but wait, there are bugs in Antarctica?

“Yes…it’s definitely not the hotbed of biodiversity, but there is.”

Thomson later shares a curious beetle with brown and gold stripes.

“I’ve always thought with those brown and gold stripes it should be the ‘U’ mascot but I don’t think the ‘U’ wants a Carrion barrier”, which is obviously good enough to take care of the little ones dead animals. “I think he’s a very charismatic bug, especially for Minnesota…he’s a beautiful beetle.”

Thomson says insects play a major role in life as we know it.

“If we didn’t have insects, life would be completely different.”

Enter the native bee population, which the Minnesota DNR really cares about according to Thomson. “Something caused these bees to change their range or disappear from the state.”

And specimens like those in the university’s collection help paint the big picture.

“These historical specimens are what led to our conclusions about what is happening now and whether or not we should pay attention to it.”

And it’s not just the bees.

“So if each bug in this collection is a unique data point, you can start to paint a big picture of what it was or is becoming.”

And with new discoveries always made, the story only grows.

“I don’t get bored because I always have something new…The world of insects is so big and diverse, and there are so many bits that are so amazing. I really love seeing new parts of and watch others do the same.”

To help Dr. Thomson and his colleagues in their mission, you can make a donation to the Insect Museum Fund at the University of Minnesota, here.

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