Newsletter of the Biological Survey of Canada (Terrestrial Arthropods)

Volume 25 No. 2, Fall 2006


Lost collections – fate or fault


General information and editorial notes

News and Notes:

Bio-Blitz 2006

Canadian Journal of Arthropod Identification

Summary of the Scientific Committee meeting

Project Update: Briefs and Similar Documents Prepared by the BSC

Lost Collections – Fate or Fault

The Quiz Page

Canadian Perspectives: Life-cycle Types in the Arctic

Web site notes

Arctic Corner

Update on some Insect Biodiversity Activities in the Arctic during 2006

Invertebrate Community Structure in Lakes of the Central Canadian Arctic

Selected future conferences

Quips and Quotes

Requests for Material or Information Invited


Many arthropod collections have been lost over time though floods, fire and war, through carelessness or neglect (and hence destroyed by dermestids, for example), and for other reasons. Specialized collections built up in a small institution by a single individual who then retires are at particular risk of neglect, but large and well established collections have been destroyed too. Here are a few examples:

Thomas Say collected extensively in North America and described many species of different taxa. Upon his death in 1834 at the age of 47, his collection was given to the Academy of Natural Sciences in Philadelphia. In 1836 it was sent to T.W. Harris in Cambridge, Massachusetts, but most of the material was destroyed by dermestids and by the rough stagecoach ride, and relatively few specimens remain.

Asa Fitch (1803-1879) described many species from galls, but some of the type material is lost. For example, deposited in the United States National Museum is a pin that has no insect but carries only Fitch’s original label for the type specimen of the cynipid gall inquiline Ceroptres quercusarbos.

B.D. Walsh (1808-1869) collected about 10,000 specimens for the Illinois Natural History Survey starting in about 1860. Most of his collection was sent from Springfield to Chicago in 1871 for safe-keeping, but was destroyed later that year in the Chicago Fire, and only the synoptic collection left in Springfield survived.

J.J. Kieffer assembled an extensive personal collection of Diptera, especially through the early 1900s, but most of it has been destroyed, including all of the neotropical type specimens of Tephritidae described by Kieffer and Jorgenson for example.

The collection of the German lepidopterist G.A.W. Herrich-Schäfer was deposited in the Zoologische Staatssammlung, Münich, but apparently most of it was destroyed by bombing during the second world war.

The Norwegian taxonomist Sig Thor described many species of mites, but – apparently in anger at criticism by some colleagues – his will specified that his collection including all of the type material should be incinerated, a wish duly carried out by his wife during World War II.



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