Beetle Collecting 101: Collection Space Saving Tip

In any insect collection, space is expensive and, thus, almost always at a premium—especially a large, self-funded, private collection such as mine. As a result, I am constantly looking for creative ways to maximize space efficiency. The photo here shows a technique I’ve adopted that works especially well for “leggy” beetles. Rather than lining them up “knee-to-knee” and wasting space between the specimens, I line them up “knee-to-elbow” by orienting every other specimen head downward. Of course, one can always simply tuck the legs and antennae underneath the body. However, this manner of mounting not only obscures the underside, but, in my opinion, looks rather sloppy and aesthetically unpleasing.

Unit trays of Plinthocoelium suaveolens.

I have a few other tricks I use to maximize not only space in my collection but also its athletics that I may show here in future posts. However, if you have tips and tricks of your own, I’d love to hear them in the comments below.

©️ Ted C. MacRae 2021

4 thoughts on “Beetle Collecting 101: Collection Space Saving Tip

  1. Knee to knee’ is a great idea for those insects with long legs and antennae. My collection room (former son’s bedroom!) is filled with cabinets and shelves of beetle boxes (like most entomologists’ collections), plus my natural-history library, so space is also a major challenge for me. On my collection trips around North America, I save most arthropods, not just beetles (my main interest), since museums are wanting additions to their general collections. Due to the large number of specimens being processed (currently over 10,000 species of coleoptera; not all yet mounted), I have given up on placing each species in their own boxes, and simply line up specimens according to species, and families in separate trays. This procedure does not generate a collection as orderly as a boxed collection, but one saves major space this way. Plus I donate a couple of thousand labelled specimens annually to five major Canadian museums (which offer tax receipts), so some new space appears for the next generation of specimens. I know I should specialise on a couple of beetle families or genera, but it seems impossible for me to leave behind other beautiful insects and spiders appearing in my net, and during night-lighting forays.

    • I’m a lot like you in that, while I focus on Coleoptera (and certain families of beetles at that), I am fascinated with all insects and have difficulty restricting my collecting activities to just the families that I actively study. As a result, I have a tiered approach to how I organize my collection. The families that I actively study and other families of which I have large holdings are organized in Cornell drawers with unit trays. Fully-curated specimens in groups of which I have smaller holdings are stored in wooden Schmidt boxes. Finally, all partially-curated specimens (pinned but not labeled, or labeled but not identified) are stored in pressed board Schmidt boxes and moved to Cornell drawers or wooden Schmidt boxes when they are fully curated. Currently, I have 172 Cornell drawers (all stored in steel cabinets), 40 wooden Schmidt boxes, and 40 pressed-board Schmidt boxes. Then there is my library (98 linear feet of bookshelf space), bone collection (real and fossil replica), and untold shelf space for borrowed specimens (both incoming and outgoing). I’m fortunate to have a finished lower level that I can dedicate entirely for my “study.”

  2. This method works well for lepidoptera with long, narrow wings like sphinx moths. I overlap the wings of other leps. The best solution that I found is to buy another cabinet which I did this year.

    • I use that method for my few drawers (a half dozen or so) of large moths and butterflies. Congratulations on your new cabinet—I was able to get another one last year (along with drawers and unit trays). I now have four 25-drawer cabinets, three 12-drawer cabinets, three 10-drawer cabinets, and one 6-drawer cabinet. I figure this will hold me until I finish processing all the uncurated specimens I still have in backlog. Probably by the time that happens I will have collected another 25-drawer cabinet’s worth of specimens!😝


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