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Buzz About Town: USU’s Bug Collection Grows By 1.2 Million

Waichert and Pitts

A collection of insects 80 years in the making is heading to Utah, and bringing over a million specimens with it. The American Entomological Institute is relocating from its long-time home of Florida to Utah State University.

Biology Professor James Pitts said the collection, which was started in 1934, will increase USU’s insect holdings by 50 percent.

“This moves our collection into the…top 10 collections in the United States,” Pitts said. “We’re no longer out in Logan in a small town and people wonder if they should come and visit the collection or not. Now, we’re a huge collection and people will be coming from all around the world to study at this collection.”

Alan Savitzky, head of the Department of Biology, said about half of the current USU collection of 3.5 million specimens are members of the class of insects including bees and wasps.

“What this collection does it adds to that another 1.2 million specimens that represent one of the largest groups within the bee and wasp group, the ichneumon,” he said.

The ichneumon and other groups of wasps lay their eggs in arthropods, including spiders, and butterfly and moth larvae. When the egg hatches, the young wasp feeds on the immobile arthropod. Savitzky said the insects may give clues to the future of pest control.

“Many of those larvae, the caterpillars, are actually herbivorous,” Savitzky said. “They feed on plant material and some of those are crop pests. Some of these ichnuemon are important in normal, natural biological control of those plant eating insects.”

Credit Mary-Ann Muffoletto/USU
Professor James Pitts and graduate student Cecilia Waichert.

The current director of the AEI, David Wahl, will be joining the faculty at USU and continuing his research on the collection.

Savitzky said the transfer of the collection will raise the profile of USU.

“The collection of the American Entomological Institute tremendously expands our capacity and our visibility in the area of systematic and evolutionary entomology,” he said.

The transfer includes a $1.8 million endowment.