Bugs Behind the Scenes at Natural History
Museum By Luis
June 10, 2002
Few visitors to the National
Museum of Natural History in Washington, D.C., realize
Agricultural Research Service work is
under way there. Yet ARS scientists help tend each day to the National
Collection of Insects and Mites.
Even people with a scant knowledge of insects would be impressed
with whats behind the scenes at the museum, which is located on the Mall
and is part of the Smithsonian
The bug collection is one of the worlds largest and serves
as the primary repository for specimens of insects, mites and spiders. It is
rich not only in U.S. acquisitions, but also in materials from around the
globe. Specimens range from a tiny parasitic wasp no bigger than a bacterium to
foot-long walking sticks from the wilds of Borneo.
With more than 35 million specimens, the collections sheer
size dictates that some be kept at the ARS Systematic Entomology Laboratory (SEL) in Beltsville,
Md., and at the Smithsonians Museum Support Center in Suitland, Md.
According to Michael E. Schauff, SEL research leader, having a
laboratory in the heart of Washington--especially in the National Museum of
Natural History--is ideal because it offers researchers access to world-class
SEL scientists perform biosystematic research primarily on
insects of agricultural importance and furnish identifications for USDA
agencies, state agricultural organizations, universities and the general
public. Smithsonian curators generally work on groups of bugs that do not have
such a high agricultural profile.
The museum hosts entomologists and technicians from other
government agencies as well as researchers from all over the world. On one
recent day, visiting scientists from India, Kazakhstan, Russia, Brazil and
Israel used the collections for their work.
Read more about this research in the June issue of
Agricultural Research Magazine online at:
ARS is the chief scientific research agency of the
U.S. Department of Agriculture.