Today’s blog is guest authored by Dee Broomhead, Zoology Intern and current student at Northern Kentucky University.
Question: Can you guess which specimen is more valuable to the Museum?
Answer: If you guessed the little brown ones, you would be right!
The majority of the Zoology Collections here at the Cincinnati Museum Center come to us via donations from researchers and members of the public. These natural history collections are used for research, display, and education. Typically, only our specimens with data can be used for research. Data includes information about the specimen such as species identification, location found, collector, and any other knowledge we might have about a specimen. This knowledge gives us contextual information that can be used for research. However, our specimens without data can often be utilized in display or education to represent the species.
Although one might assume that the more beautiful, colorful, or exotic specimens are more valuable to the Museum, you may be surprised to learn that the most important part of a specimen is the information that comes along with it.
These butterflies’ brownish hues and miniscule size make them easy to miss, but they carry a huge amount of irreplaceable knowledge. Because of the records attached to them, we know that they were collected by Lloyd M. Martin on July 17, 1933, in Las Angeles County, California. With the specimen itself and the data, we have definitive evidence that this species occurred in this location on that date. With this information, we can also look up historical data from that date, such as weather, land use, human population data, etc. For example, we can find that on that day in 1933 when this butterfly was collected, the average temperature was 74°F and there was no precipitation. This data helps us answer questions about species migration, the impacts of agriculture and urban development on an ecosystem, and possible climate change in an area. All of this data helps to piece together an ecological snapshot that could inform both present and future researchers, students, and curious observers alike.
These butterflies and moths are truly wonders of the natural world. Their fantastic shapes and colors are absolutely captivating. However, while we can speculate, their collection origins are completely unknown, which makes them spectacular to look at but ultimately unusable for most forms of research.
The specimens in our collection vary in size, shape and origin. Overall, while any specimen may be beautiful, in the eyes of a curator, information is the most treasured characteristic!
The weather information for this article was found here.