Entomological holdings of the Alabama Museum of Natural History include pinned, papered, microscope slide and alcohol preserved collections of terrestrial and aquatic insects, primarily from Alabama. While we concentrate on Alabama fauna, we have substantial holdings from other parts of North America, including southwestern, western and northeastern states. Collections also include a substantial number of specimens from Canada, Meso and South America, the Caribbean, and Africa. The museum is home to several identifiable collections, including three valuable historical pinned collections of Lepidoptera and Coleoptera as well as extensive collection of aquatic insects, either preserved in alcohol, pinned or in envelopes.
Collection Summary and Highlights
Chermock Lepidoptera Collection
ALMNH was gifted a collection of ~34,000 Lepidoptera by the estate of Dr. Ralph L. and Ottile Chermock. This collection includes ~22,000 pinned specimens plus ~12,000 that are papered, all dating from the 1940s to the 1960s covering the length of Dr. Chermock’s career. Specimens were collected both by Ralph Chermock and Ottile Chermock. The collection spans the breadth of the US, and includes ~875 papered specimens from Costa Rica from the early 1960s.
Pinned specimens are now stored in seven metal cabinets within which are 178 very old custom-sized, glass-topped display drawers. Specimens are arranged by taxa across sampling locations to exhibit intra-specific geographic variation. Specimens from several display cases broken beyond repair have been transferred to Cornell drawers. For preservation and curatorial purposes there is a critical need to replace all of the Chermock display boxes and transfer specimens to Cornell drawers. The pinned specimens are well curated and generally well preserved, with associated ID and collection information on the pins. However, the papered specimens are in need of examination and possible conservation. We now have the papered specimens from 43 states (plus non-US countries) sorted and stored by geographic location and date, but are not inventoried.
At this time there is a limited inventory of approximately 750 specimens in the collection as well as estimates of the total number of specimens. Identifications and collection information is present on the pinned specimens. On the paper triangles identifications are noted as well as collection dates and location. In addition, some of Dr. Chermock’s field notes for the Costa Rican specimens are part of our holdings. The Chermock Collection has been accessed several times in the past 2-3 years by authors of a book on Alabama butterflies.
To learn more about Chermock’s butterfly collection, watch this behind-the-scenes video featuring Mary Beth Prondzinski (UA Museums’ Natural History Collection Manager), Jamie Bynum (Research & Collections Volunteer Coordinator), and volunteers, Katherine Zobre and Lauren Henk.
Löding Beetle Collection
ALMNH houses a highly valuable collection of Coleoptera gifted by the estate of Henry P. Löding. The collections were made in the first half of the 20th century by Mr. Löding, an amateur naturalist from Mobile, AL. Specimens in the collection are mostly from Alabama, but many are from other parts of US, as well as from Canada and Mexico. The collection has historical value in that the earliest specimen collection dates are prior to 1900, while the latest were in the mid to late 1930s. His correspondence with other entomologists of his time documents that Löding exchanged specimens frequently, as many specimens in the collection are from across North America and Canada.
Most of the specimens are still housed their original in Schmitt boxes, and the vast majority are relatively well curated with identifications and collection information. There are 15-20 Schmitt boxes in which the specimens are unidentified and not sorted or curated. Preservation had been effective as there are very few instances of insect damage. Of the original ~220 Schmitt boxes, specimens have been transferred to fill 56 Cornell drawers, but an additional 188 Schmitt boxes containing approximately 30,500 specimens remain to be transferred.
Valentine Lepidoptera/Coleoptera Collection
ALMNH houses a collection of Lepidoptera and Coleoptera gifted by Dr. J. Manson Valentine in the early 1960s. Together with the Chermock collection, these two gifts constitute the bulk of ALMNH Lepidoptera holdings. Most of the Lepidoptera gifted by Dr. Valentine are pinned and were collected in Highlands, NC and from the Caribbean. Specimens were identified by Dr. Valentine and included complete location data. The Vallentine gift comprises several thousand well-curated specimens, most of which are now housed in 26 Cornell drawers. Another 500 specimens, in need of conservation, were collected in 1935 by JMV and EAV from Figi and Hawaii. In addition, more than 1,200 specimens from South Florida, western US and from NC remain stored in Schmitt boxes as well as in a variety of cigar boxes. There is a great need to transfer these specimens to more secure storage. In addition to the Lepidoptera, the Valentine collection includes a dozen drawers of Carabidae, especially Sphaeroderus, as well as cave beetles from Alabama and eastern North America, including some holotypes, paratypes and allotypes.
Aquatic Insect Collections
A large aquatic insect collection gifted by the current curator, Dr. Milt Ward, to ALMNH contains more than 23,100 vials plus pinned specimens amassed from the curator’s own research as a UA faculty member, plus specimens from other UA faculty, students and professional taxonomists who conducted research in Alabama and adjacent states. The collection, preserved mostly in alcohol, is focused primarily on fauna from Alabama and surrounding states. It consists largely of Trichoptera, Plecoptera and Ephemeroptera, but contains examples of most groups of aquatic insects. A large collection of Alabama Trichoptera amassed by Dr. Steven Harris and students of Dr. Harris and the curator represents the bulk of our holdings that have species identifications (11,500 vials).
Identified specimens are housed in 50 vial trays stored in 5 vial cabinets in MHB 331. We have an additional 5,100 vials in three cabinets (30 vial trays) in 338 that await more specific identification and inclusion into the database. We also have specimens in another 6500 vials, not now housed in vial cabinets, donated by former graduate students that await further examination, sorting and cataloging.
Dr. John Abbott, Director of Research Collections for ALMNH, has a large collection of aquatic insects, particularly a world-wide collection of Odonata, numbering approximately 50,000 specimens (adult and nymphs) that are now part of the ALMNH collections.
People and Other Information
- Milt Ward, Curator Emeritus of Entomology
- John Abbott, Chief Curator & Director of Research
- Brooke Bogan, Collections Manager of Natural History
- Students and other volunteers
Feel free to contact the curator if you would like to become a volunteer or intern of the entomology collection to help curate the collection, learn more about insects, and acquire multiple new skills.
The entomology collections are supported by the Museum Collection Enhancement Fund. Please check it out for tax-deductible donations.