How scientifically valuable are amateur insect collections?

There’s a moth sitting outside my window. I uploaded it on iNat and I believe it’s a species with only 3 observations worldwide. Made me wonder: If this species is somewhat rare, would it be valuable to collect it as a specimen, as well as any other unusual species that I find? I have a tiny bit of pinning experience and I enjoy it, so I wouldn’t mind spending a few bucks to get some proper equipment. My intention would be to donate my collections to museums or other interested parties. I’ve had someone ask me if I could send them some specimens that I uploaded on iNat, so it seems like there is at least slight interest.

However, if I were to start collecting, I would be doing it at such a low rate that I wonder if it would even be worth it. My collection would be very small and probably very random (in other words, I would collect whatever I want, with no particular focus on any specific insect groups). I don’t want to kill insects and remove them from the population unless it actually benefits science in some way. Would casually collecting insects in this way be even a little bit useful, or should I just forget about it? Thanks!

No need to send me any tutorials/resources about getting into pinning. I can look at previous posts on this forum for that kind of stuff :)

Well, as you mentioned previous topics, there’re some with discussion on the need of collections, answering your question. It’s up to you to gather a collection, if you can prepare and correctly store specimens, they may be of interest for your local museum or university collections. If you want to store only rare species, it’s better to look outsidd of iNat, number of observations can be very tricky, some common species are yet to be observed at all.
Dead insects can be dangerous because they can have eggs or larvae of dermestids in them, entomologists avoid collecting those, but if it’s a fresh exemplar it may be safer.
You shouldn’t worry about removing them from populations, insects are born to die, most of them don’t get any offspring, habitat is what matters.
If you want a collection, start it.

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The scientific value is not proportional to the size of the collection. It depends on what is in it and how well documented the specimens are. Five specimens of rare species from a previously unrecorded patch of good habitat could be enough to alert the local conservation bodies to a site worth protecting and set the ball rolling to it becoming a new nature reserve.

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I think the most important thing is what ultimately happens to the specimens. If they sit at home and other scientists don’t use them - not too much value. If they are put in a collection and see use - valuable! A good approach might be to see if you have a nearby collection that is interested in getting specimens from folks. If so, you know your specimens will have a good home and be useful.

There are also definitely cases where people donate collections when they decide not to collect anymore or their family looks to donate them when the collector dies. These can also be useful but it really depends on the quality of the specimens and particularly the data that goes with them. Without the accompanying data, specimens are not worth much. This is another advantage of working with a collection - you’ll know what data they want/need for specimens and can make sure you record it, which greatly increases the chances of use.

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Could you link these discussions?

e.g. but there’re also less obvious ones about populations decline and hiding species, try searching those key words.

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If you choose to collect, be careful to record where and when the insect was collected! These specimens have no value without that. Label each specimen at least with a number that corresponds to the information, preferably with the information.

Keeping insect collection collections pest-free is a problem but it can be done. The internet can provide information.

Every state has at least one state university with an entomology collection. Check on the internet. Contact the collection. You can probably donate collected specimens either as you go or all together as a collection if you loose interest or die.


And I guarantee they will accept volunteers, so you can spend time with the collection and help with ongoing research if you are on the fence about your own specimens. Example: Aerophilus nigripes from Alburquerque, NM, US. Collected from blooming Ericameria nauseosa…


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