As a rice farmer, if you’ve seen one rice
water weevil, you’ve probably seen
them all. However, when an insect
shows up that farmers, consultants,
Extension personnel, USDA or other industry folks
don’t recognize, then it’s time to solicit the identification
and diagnostic services of an
These museums house millions of specimens
that have been collected over a long period of time
and are still being collected today. This resource is
much like a big library. The individual specimens
represent pages in a giant library of books. The
data associated with those pages is the “text” that
goes along with them.
“A specimen may sit in the museum for years
without anyone looking at it,” says Dr. Chris Carlton,
Director of the Louisiana State Arthropod
Museum located on the LSU campus in Baton
Rouge. “But on the occasion that millions of dollars
worth of agricultural products may be involved,
depending on what an insect is and whether it is
harming us, then the museum becomes a very
“The identification of a pest or a potential pest is
the first and one of the most important steps in
understanding what to do about it,” he adds. “We also use the museum
to house representatives of natural habitats throughout the region.”
Correct ID Of The MRB
Consider the situation in which the Mexican rice borer (MRB)
moved from Texas into Louisiana, first attacking sugarcane, then
rice. This is a classic example of how an entomology museum is a
unique resource for agriculture.
“The MRB is part of a fairly large complex of small gray and
brown moths that, to most people, would look exactly alike,” Carlton
says. “But they have very different habits and management strategies
that go into controlling them. When the MRB began making its way
across the Rio Grande Valley and into east Texas, the problem that we
ran into is that they were very difficult to distinguish from similar small
At that time, Carlton came into the picture because of his extensive
experience in dissecting insect private parts, which he does routinely
in his research.
“The moths were brought in, and we looked at the male genitalia,
which distinguishes these species,” Carlton explains. “This allowed
us to determine, for example, if we were looking at a sugarcane borer
moth or a Mexican rice borer moth. Once a positive identification is
made, the specimen is preserved and then placed in the museum and
our large database.”
Carlton notes that the LSU AgCenter also has a graduate student
program in insect taxonomy and systematics.
“Our graduate student training includes a healthy dose of understanding
that insect identification and diagnosis is an important part
of their work even if it is not their research specialty,” he explains.
Getting Down To Economics
In California, Dr. Lynn Kimsey is the Director of the Bohart Museum
of Entomology located on the campus of UC Davis. This museum
has many components, some of which include insect identification
and diagnostic services for agricultural and non-agricultural
entities, an educational outreach program for the public and criminal forensic entomology.
Like Carlton’s experience with the Mexican rice borer in Louisiana,
Kimsey was able to assist the California rice industry a few years
ago when the rice panicle mite appeared and no one knew what it was.
“When a new insect comes in, we have to figure out if it is native
to the area and if it is something that farmers need to worry about,”
she says. “We take the insect down to species, and, if we can’t, we call
on our international network of systematists and taxonomists who can.
With the number of exotic insect species moving around the world,
it’s good to have this network of people who do identifications and
know their local fauna.”
In addition to correctly identifying an insect, it’s also important to
know the biology connected to it, Kimsey adds. This information
helps answer questions about whether the insect is going to be a pest,
a predator, or, perhaps, a natural enemy. Is it something farmers need
to worry about? The bottom line for farmers comes down to economics.
If a new insect is just “assumed” to be a problem, they may
be investing a lot of money in control measures when it is not necessary.
On the other hand, if a new insect is diagnosed as being a
potential pest, then farmers can get ahead of the game and be on the
lookout for it.
In addition to insects found in the field, Kimsey has worked with
stored product pests. For example, she examined some stored product
pests in a load of rice in which the warehouse owner had been
accused of being the source of contamination. After examining the
pests, she determined that they were too advanced to have originated
in the warehouse and must have come from wherever the rice
had been prior to the warehouse.
Tremendous Resource For Agriculture
Although the existence of these museums may not be well known,
Kimsey points out that they are invaluable resources to both the agricultural
and the non-agricultural communities.
“Most people aren’t aware of the diversity and the actual numbers
of insects in the world because we typically focus on birds,
plants and animals, which visually are more obvious,” Kimsey says.
“But there can be a family of insects that has as many species as all
of those things put together. Insects are very small, typically oneeighth
inch long, but they can cause a lot of damage. They are there,
and our job is to help people understand what they are dealing with
in order for other entities to figure out the best way to control them.”
Entomology museums throughout the United States and the world
operate in a similar fashion to the two that are featured here. And,
although the tiny specimens that are lined up in neat rows and stored in drawer-lined cabinets may look unassuming enough, each has the
ability, at the time when it is needed, to make a tremendous contribution
to the viability of U.S. agriculture.
Contact Carroll Smith at (901) 767-4020 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Bohart & Chapin Initiate Unified Collections
The Bohart Museum of Entomology was founded in 1946 with
two wooden boxes – one filled with blowflies and the other with
bumblebees. The museum was officially named after Dr. Richard
Bohart, who was a professor and well-known taxonomist with UC
Davis at the time. Today, this museum houses a worldwide collection
of more than seven million specimens.
The University of California funds three full-time staff – Dr. Lynn
Kimsey, Director; Steve Heyden, Collection Manager; and Tabatha
Yang, Outreach Coordinator, plus 10 graduate and undergraduate
student employees. However, for the most part, the museum
is self-supporting. To help pay the bills, Director Kimsey says they
charge for-profit entities for insect identification and a written
report, tours for large
groups who visit the
museum or for off-site
programs. The museum
also has a gift shop
filled with T-shirts and
“Today, we essentially
are a private institution,”
In the early to mid-
1960s, Dr. Joan Chapin
initiated The Louisiana
State Arthropod Museum.
Because she understood
the need for a unified collection, as did Dr. Bohart,
Chapin built the Louisiana museum and gathered individual faculty
members’ personal collections, consolidated those and built
them into the core of what was going to become the Louisiana
State Arthropod Museum.
“The museum experienced rapid growth in the ‘70s mainly
through contributions from agricultural interests,” says Dr. Chris
Carlton. “Also, graduate students who conducted experiments in
the field were required to deposit specimens from those studies into
the museum as a permanent record of the species. Today, this
practice has become routine.”
The Louisiana State Arthropod Museum also has full-time staff:
Dr. Carlton, Director; Victoria Bayless, Curator; and Stephanie Gil,
database management. A one-half time graduate assistant, Jong-
Seok Park, performs research on beetles in the systematics training
program. Funding for the museum primarily comes from the LSU
AgCenter and is supplemented by other research-funding sources
such as grants.