Museum Blog

1831 Bumble Bee Beetle - Zoology Object of the Week (July 20, 2011)

Posted 7/20/2011 12:07 AM by Frank Krell | Comments

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 natural 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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