Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Exploring Entomology

I'm a fan of entomology. It's been a lifelong pursuit that I have studied on my own as well as up to graduate level courses. I have collected in the United States (including Hawaii), Canada and Japan. One of the most interesting and entertaining things about studying and collecting is "pinning", the art and science of prepparing and spreading specimens for display.

It can be challenging and entertaining with some really interesting results if you are into that sort of thing. Even when done well specimens can be fairly fragile and prone to being eaten by pest or even being infested with molds and fungi. Though, if diligently cared for, they can last indefinitely. One of the comparatively newer preparations is sealing specimens in blocks of clear resins. These look great and offer an unprecedented level of preservation but lack a certain elegance. For scientific study sealing them off also prevents certain types of close examination and sampling.

Pinning is often more art than science but I have used my specimens to study for classes more than once. With the insect pinned out so that all of it's structures can be and seen it's a lot easier to see those structures but how they function as a whole. My methods are admittedly a departure from the standard scientific and artistic canon. I don't like to mount through elytra and wings but, if not handled well, not doing that can lead to fragile specimens splitting or breaking. You need to be patient, gentle and pay careful attention to what you are doing as the specimen is reacting to your push and pull. There is a wealth of information about this subject that can be found on the web and in libraries and book stores everywhere.

While not for everyone, many people will find it fascinating and many more will at least appreciate the end result. Insect pinning supplies are readily available online or in stores. You can often take classes at museums or through your local extension office. Studying Entomology is rewarding by itself but also has great implications for cross application and providing insights into everything from robotics and advanced materials research to renewable energy and understanding emergent behaviors.

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