Correction on Forum claim re: institutional insect collections being discarded

A claim was made on this forum recently concerning the “discarding” of institutional insect collections that has no apparent foundation. Given the propensity for some to repeat what they read, particularly when it aligns with ones own personal beliefs, I think this claim needs to be nipped in the bud.

Specifically, the claim was “we hear all the time about herbariums and insect collections being discarded from research institutions for political or ‘financial’ reasons.”

Now, I had not heard that, it came as rather a surprise. So I researched it and came up with nothing of the sort. I then took it further, and queried a number of institutional collections managers, professional naturalists, and experts in the field of entomology.

“Discard” is defined as getting rid of the useless or unwanted. Depending on the source of the definition, that it not re-allocated or re-used but rather treated as rubbish, is either by inference or included in the definition.

Let’s start with the easy one, herbariums. I am not a herbarium guy, but everyone I queried replied that the above statement is not true. One researcher with TNC stated “herbaria in the Midwest have been consolidating.”

Consolidating is not “discarding”. Consolidating of collections has been happening since the beginning of collecting, with larger collections absorbing smaller collections- Medieval armor in Tower of London; insects at BMNH; and of course Smithsonian which has absorbed innumerable collections.

On insects, not a single collections manager agreed to the statement. Not in USA, not in Europe.

It is common that personal collections are discarded after the person passes. And, local (town) museums that have been gifted collections can’t maintain them and they are ultimately discarded. This is not unique to insects, it happens to many fields of study, from guns to books to Camaros. However, the original claim cited “research institutions” so this does not apply.

Some research institutes are financially pressed, particularly concerning insect collections. Funding has dwindled as focus has shifted from science for the sake of science to grants supported by agriculture and such. And some, in my observation, are on shaky ground barely able to maintain the collections. That said, in all cases of which I’m aware when a research institute divested itself of an insect collection it went to another collection, it was not discarded. An American collections manager at a significant research collection stated “But I can’t think of where one was discarded, or even an institutional collection that was sold”

Thus far, the above address the claim of “discard.” The claim about politically motivated discards apparently also has no basis in truth. One European authority responded specifically “I have not in mind any example for “political” reasons.”

In summary, it appears at this point that the claim has absolutely no merit. If there are instances I certainly would like to know about it.


I agree that this generally isn’t a major issue, but there have been a few high profile situations in which collections have been threatened at least (I’m not aware of any major collections tossed wholesale myself). A good example is the ULM collection. It was dehoused to make way for a new athletics stadium, and the University wouldn’t commit the money to build a new facility to house it. There were very serious worries that some or all of the collections would be discarded. Fortunately, a bunch of collections were able to scramble and adopt various pieces of the ULM collection and nothing ended up being lost, but it was a serious situation that required rapid grants from NSF. Moving/rehoming major collections is a serious and expensive undertaking, and most collections don’t have the capacity to absorb literally 100,000’s specimens on short notice.
Stories about ULM collections and resolution:

NSF grants (partial):


@cthawley Chris, your example is, I fear, a harbinger of things to come. It merits concern, it merits discussion and planning.

That said, nothing was discarded. I’d go so far as to (I want to say scoff) question how much ULM is a “research” institution. It really isn’t, yeah grad students have to do a thesis, and faculty have published some papers on biology, but research (particularly in biology) is not a significant effort at ULM.

Granted, the collection is significant. No denying that. This event too is but one of many cases in which regional colleges, for various reasons, fail to maintain collections and eventually pass them along. I facilitated the move of a 14,000 specimen Lep collection from a university that is known for environmental studies (but not Leps.) It suffered significant damage when the sole entomologist left and wasn’t replaced, so thankfully I was able to get a “real” institution that gladly took it in.

That said though, the ULM collection would never have been discarded, no matter what the media claimed. There are private collectors who’d have bought it up.

Ultimately, despite the seriousness of the ULM event, it does not support the claim cited.

I used to work for a small youth science center. It had a long history; and over the years other institutions (museums, colleges, individuals) donated old, no longer wanted collections to it. Some of that was displayed, some was stored haphazardly in closets. Later, downsizing was a reality; and not really being a research organization, much of it was just discarded.


so are you going to retract your claim that the statement made in the other thread was unfounded? This was a huge deal, and i also worked on a team frantically scanning and processing herbarium samples in Vermont from a small college that was going under. We also had to fight to keep herbarium samples from being stored in a flood plain, and the Pringle herbarium in Burlington, Vermont almost burned down (though that wasn’t out of lack of maintenance i don’t think). AND, an insect collection was destroyed when a pipe broke at another nearby lab. Just because you don’t know about the issue doesn’t mean it isn’t real. I don’t think this new thread here was in good taste at all, especially the way you hid it away here. Let’s avoid this sort of behavior, i don’t think it fits under the ‘assuming good faith’ rules of the forum.

There was also this:

" Museum Deputy Director Luiz Fernando Dias Daniel pointed to neglect by successive governments as a cause of the fire,[11][12] saying that curators “fought with different governments to get adequate resources to preserve what is now completely destroyed” and that he felt “total dismay and immense anger.”[13] The museum lacked a fire sprinkler system, although there were smoke detectors and a few fire extinguishers.[14][15] The museum did not receive the R$520,000 per year necessary for its maintenance since 2014, and it closed temporarily in 2015 when cleaning and security staff could no longer be paid. Repairs to a popular exhibit hall had to be crowd-funded, and the museum’s maintenance budget had been cut by 90 percent by 2018.[16] There were visible signs of decay before the fire, such as peeling walls and exposed wiring.[17] The museum celebrated its 200th anniversary in June 2018 in a situation of partial abandonment. No state ministers attended the occasion.[13][18][19]"

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That’s what I addressed. Not failed sprinkler systems, not fires, not small colleges going under. I did so specifically so that it is not taken as fact and repeated. I did so not to offend anyone, not to invoke an argument (or even discussion) about collections, not to discuss the possibility that it might happen in the future. Simply, to ensure that it does not become taken as factual, because none of it is. That’s all.

And I think it is important, it is to me, because if it had come to be true I’d first ask why I’m not part of the “we” who “hear all the time” and how I could have missed that; second, it would force significant changes to my research, specifically the planned succession of my reference collection. Others who believed it might employ it as a weapon against reference collections, or collecting in general; this would be a disservice to science. God knows I’ve seen equally false statements repeated again and again, so perhaps this will nip that.

you keep changing the goal posts though. I left several examples here as did others. You’re just dismissing them and sticking to your original point, which is wrong, instead of just accepting that.

It’s also really odd to claim it was stated as a means to dismiss reference collections. My whole point in saying it was that reference collections need MORE attention and support… and ALSO we need other things like photo vouchering to back them up. None of this was an attack on reference collections at all. The fact is, they are fragile, and in more than one case have been lost permanently.

You’re also doing it yourself. repeating a false statement.

Charlie, the statement is blatantly false.

“We” don’t hear all the time. We “don’t hear all the time”. Because it hasn’t happened. And confirmed by collections managers and experts in USA and EU.

Institutional collections are not those at high schools, or the town herbarium, or even the county college. Nor are any of the few scary stories cited “institutional collections”.

Who knows what “political” reasons mean. If it had happened, maybe we’d know. But it hasn’t. That’s Has Not.

Citing little college collections, fires in Brazil (not a discard), busted water pipes, etc does not change the fact that the statement made is completely false. Claim anything you want, but anyone who can read the statement, and understand it, then read the multiple quotes from professionals in the field, will understand that the statement was broad, unfounded, and fabricated.

Wow. Well, the evidence speaks for itself, right here in this thread. So do your dismissive words. So be it.

What a sad state of affairs that this sort of person has power within the system. But i guess it’s exactly this sort of person who’s after power in the system.

The original topic was closed

I don’t think starting a new thread to continue the conversation is appropriate.

From the Community Guidelines:

  • You don’t have to have the last word. Sometimes differences cannot be resolved. Learn to recognize when this has happened and resist the urge to reply if you have nothing constructive to add to a conversation.

this whole thread is inappropriate ad hominem, i felt i should at least have the right to defend my statement, but i probably should have just flagged it. This person isn’t even really a member of the iNat community and seems to be here just to fight.

Sorry I didn’t see this sooner. I agree with the reasoning above that this topic should be closed at this point. It has more than run its course.