About the Insect Collection (QDPC)

The Insect Collection began in 1894 with the appointment of Henry Tryon as Government Entomologist. Although confronted with a daunting array of problems, he found time to lay the foundations of an insect reference collection. By 1907, his energies were greatly overtaxed and the collection had begun to fall into a state of disrepair. It was saved from total collapse by the appointment in 1908 of Edmund Jarvis. So began a period of consolidation when priority was given to the identification and arrangement of existing specimens.

In 1925, Mr Tryon retired and Robert Veitch was appointed as Chief Entomologist. Like Tryon, Veitch knew the importance of an accurate reference collection of insects. He encouraged staff to collect specimens while engaged in field investigations and advisory work. This firmly established the economic bias so evident in the collection today. From 1931 to 1943, the collection underwent a period of expansion and improvement under the expert guidance of Henry Hacker, who previously was entomologist at the Queensland Museum.

Since 1943, the collection has been constantly in the care of entomologists (taxonomists) with responsibility for both identification and original taxonomic research. The collection has grown rapidly and today is one of two comprehensive collections of agriculturally important insects in Australia.

Nature and purpose of the collection

The Insect Collection is unique in Queensland in that it is closely aligned to an identification service and is principally oriented towards insects of agricultural importance. Though possessing considerable aesthetic qualities the collection is, in fact, an essential reference tool which is is daily use by entomologists providing an insect identification service to the people of Queensland. It is also a valuable resource of specimens for research and each year loans are made to taxonomic experts in other institutions, both in Australia and overseas.

Elements of the collection

The pinned collection
All specimens possessing a hardened exoskeleton are mounted on stainless steel pins and accommodated in either timber or metal insect cabinets. Specimens are stored in unit trays, which are shallow cardboard boxes with a foam base to hold the pins. Each species has its own tray (or trays), so separating it from all other species. This system facilitates handling of specimens and greatly reduces the risk of damage to irreplaceable reference specimens. The pinned collection presently contains about 1.6 million specimens and is the largest reference collection of economic important species in the Southern Hemisphere. Within the pinned collection there are several smaller associated collections, Alan Fletcher Research Station Biocontrol collection as well as the Forestry Insect Collection. Recently several regional insect collections from Cairns, Bundaberg and Nambour have been incorporated into QDPC.

The spirit collection
The spirit collection contains soft-bodied specimens which are best preserved in alcohol. Specimen tubes are arranged in aluminum racks and stored in metal filing cabinets. Each tube is numbered, catalogued and cross indexed for easy retrieval. The spirit collection consists of over 9,000 tubes of specimens representing approximately 1,200 different species of insects.

The slide collection
In order to identify many small insects, they must be mounted on glass microscopes slides. Depending on the mounting medium used, the slides may then be stored either vertically or horizontally. The Technicon filing system currently in use incorporates both methods. This collection presently contains over 52,000 identified slides.

What's in a name?

Why is it so essential to have an insect collection so that taxonomists can provide identifications for insects? Why is a name so important?

It is now well established that the first step in scientific research is the identification of the species being studied. This provides the key to all published information on the life history and ecology of the species and to other data important in the development of a control program.

As entomologists are actively developing insect management systems for Queensland crops that combine reduced reliance on chemicals with increased use of alternative control measures, the role of the taxonomist is more important than ever. In adopting Integrated Pest Management, all insects in crop systems must be studied and identified as either pest or beneficial. The taxonomist and the field entomologist work together as a team to provide the answers.

Annexes to the collection

In addition to the main collection at the Ecosciences Precinct, there are specialised collections located elsewhere. The largest of these is the fruit fly annex, also located at the Ecosciences Precinct. It is evidence of the importance of fruit flies as pests of Queensland's horticultural crops. This annex is almost as old as the main collection, but expanded from the 1940s to the late 1960s under the impetus of Dr A.W.S. May's pioneering taxonomic studies of Queensland fruit flies. Since then Dr R.A.I. Drew has developed the collection into the major Australian collection of Australasian, Oceanian and Oriental fruit flies.