How long do dead insects last? Visitors often ask this question
when they see our collections containing specimens from the late
1800s. The answer is that they can last hundreds of years or even
longer if properly preserved, protected from light, humidity and
pest insects. The oldest pinned insect specimen is a butterfly
collected in England in 1702 and still preserved in good condition
in the Oxford
University Museum of Natural History.
Museum Curators are actively pursuing collection-based research
projects, working on specimens to investigate questions about
evolution, discovering new species, or resolving problems about the
identity of species. DMNS sends loan to scientists all over the
world. Likewise, DMNS Curators borrow material from other Museums.
In an effort to resolve the species identity of a few European
bumblebee beetle species, DMNS Curator Frank Krell searched for
over a year for a type specimen of Trichius zonatus. Ernst Friedrich Germar used this specimen to
describe the new species Trichius zonatus from Sardinia,
Italy, in the year 1831. It wasn't in the Museums that hold most of
Germar's specimens, but was finally found in the collections of the
history museum in Geneva, Switzerland. Dr. Krell got it on loan
for study, and it became the oldest zoological specimen ever to
enter the premises of DMNS.
While there may be objects that are older than this
beetle in the Museum, none have been a "museum specimen," that is,
"living" in a museum, for as long as this Sardinian insect.
There are even older, non-museum, preserved specimens such
as mummies in ancient Egyptian tombs dating from well over 3,000
years ago. You can see many of these ancient folk today in the
Cairo Museum. Museum Collections Managers, working with Curators
and Conservators, are going to go for this record: come back
in 3,000 years, and you will be able to find Dr. Krell's beetles at
DMNS, only not the Sardinian bumblebee beetle, which will have to
be returned to the Geneva Museum after Dr. Krell finishes his
research and publishes his results.
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