Collecting a native moth species absent from local collections

I could use a little advice from the entomologists & bug curators (?) in the crowd.

Yesterday, I spotted a moth and took a few pictures to post on iNaturalist. Nothing among the suggested taxa looked right, and having seen it still sitting on the same patch of concrete as I got home tonight, I went back and captured it to get a couple more pictures. A knowledgeable biologist focusing on moths in BC was able to identify it (thanks, dave328!), and I agreed that it’s a good match. The irony was that I’d observed & he previously identified for me as Tetracis formosa, another moth that I saw back in 2018 in the same area. I’d been uploading a few old observations to iNat. Tetracis formosa is fairly rare on iNat, so the computer vision isn’t giving good suggestions yet.

My go-to resource for checking species in British Columbia is UBC’s E-Flora & E-Fauna databases / online encyclopedias. Tetracis formosa is listed in E-Fauna, which notes only two observations in BC, both based on photos.

Incidentally to this, it has a provincial status of S3S4, which I understand to mean between 3 & 4 on this scale:

1 = critically imperiled
2 = imperiled
3 = special concern, vulnerable to extirpation or extinction
4 = apparently secure
5 = demonstrably widespread, abundant, and secure.

Preserved specimens are entirely absent from British Columbia, although there is a single specimen at the University of Alberta, according to the GBIF data for Tetracis formosa. 99.5% of preserved specimens are in the United States and about 90% of those are all located at Colorado State University’s C. P. Gillette Museum of Arthropod Diversity.

I’ve double-checked a few local catalogues: the Royal BC Museum’s Entomology catalogue and it doesn’t have any specimens of this species (though it has numerous Hemlock Looper Moths…); the Spencer collection in the Beaty Biodiversity Museum at UBC doesn’t have any; the Pacific Northwest Moths at WWU doesn’t have any.

I’m more at home with plants, so I understand how national and local herbarium collections are important to science. My guess is that it’s equally true for arthropods including moths. So instead of letting this little moth fly off tonight, I’m considering collecting it to submit to one of those local collections. Is this sensible? Would it be valuable for them scientifically? What steps would I need to take for proper collection & temporary preservation?

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Definitely agree that entomology collections are important. I would suggest getting in touch with an entomology curator at one of those museums as a first step. They’d be able to let you know their policy on accepting donated specimens as well as their preferred method of curation. They will probably also be able to let you know what rules (if any) there are for collecting insects in the area. Sounds like a cool find, good luck!

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I’ve visited the RBCM a few times over the last decade to work on their robber fly holdings, and have visited or worked with many of the other museums you list. So no experience with moths, but yes with entomologists and museums.

It’s useful to keep in mind that most museums have only digitized a fraction of their holdings so far when it comes to insects (getting millions of labels transcribed takes time, money, and infrastructure that usually aren’t abundant), so just because this species doesn’t show up on GBIF and catalogs doesn’t mean it’s not in their stacks. They just might not have had a person who’s curated that group recently. Geometrid moths are a hugely diverse mess of mostly non-charismatic species, so I can imagine things languishing there for decades unless it’s an economically important species or they lucked into a big grant. I don’t know how complete the RBCM’s database is-- it’s good for my focus group, but the previous curator there (Rob Cannings, he’s active here on iNat but not on the forum, but might have recommendations for someone local to contact) was also a specialist on them so that’s not really a fair comparison.

S3S4 isn’t very imperiled, so that won’t bring much attention. In my experience that level mostly just means the species has actually been assessed and sure enough we might be reducing some of their habitat, but it’s not really actionable yet.

For a museum to use the specimen, they’ll need it preserved properly with a good label (full locality information, date, collector, etc), and an assurance that it was collected legally. Moths usually require pinning and spreading to be useful, which isn’t trivial for non-entomologists. But if you talk to a curator who’s interested they might know somebody willing to process it (and it is often possible to relax a dried or frozen specimen to pin and spread it after the fact).

Now, don’t let me dissuade you from helping the collections out-- far from it! As you know from your plant work, they’re vital. I work on specimen-based research every week and it’s hugely important that we keep on collecting insects so we know what’s out there today and not just 100 years ago. Every few months I’m on iNat asking people to collect a specimen of some unusual robber fly species they’ve observed. And the RBCM and many of the other museums you mentioned are still accepting new accessions. But before I’d bother to collect a moth, I’d talk to either someone who cares about moths or one of the curators so I knew there was a target destination. Otherwise you’ll just end up with a private random cabinet of curiosities that will likely eventually get tossed.

Oh, and don’t be surprised if the computer vision is way off. It really struggles with insects, especially small obscure drab hyperspeciose things… From my understanding, moths have the advantage of actually having most Nearctic species at least entered in the system!

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Some advice. Collect it, and put it in a container in the fridge. It should last a week or so in there. Then get in touch with someone - either at the university, or try @mothmaniac. He knows the moths out there. The likely response will be to kill and spread it, especially if there are similar species around.

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Don’t think he uses the forum much but https://www.inaturalist.org/people/jasondombroskie has been incredibly helpful in getting me started with ID and collecting and he would likely offer a response/ opinion if you messaged him on iNaturalist.

Hi; as a curator I encourage you to collect a specimen like this that you’re pretty sure is rare in collections. We can definitely use more records like that. As long as you gather the “what/where/when” information, and it’s in good condition, it will be useful. As mentioned already, it is good to talk to the local curators to know their requirements, but one of the public collections is pretty likely to be interested.
As for tracking down existing records, you can always shoot me a private message to check the datafile that I put together when I compiled “The Lepidoptera of Canada” checklist in 2018 - I visited most of the public Canadian collections and did a quick and dirty species inventory of many of them, over the previous 10 years. Not as good as full databasing, but 20x faster to extract “species x province” holdings. For T. formosa, I recorded 1 or more BC specimens in the Spencer collection, but that was back in about 2010 so perhaps it got re-identified as something else since. In the UBC collection, keep in mind the separate synoptic collection. My records say there’s another T. formosa there but it apparently has no locality label.

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