Diane and Ed Wilhite have been volunteering in the Illinois Natural History Survey (INHS) insect collection for over three years.
During that time, they helped reorganize the butterfly and moth collection (several hundred thousand specimens!) to reflect a modern organization system, making the collection much more accessible to researchers. They also single-handedly re-housed, re-labeled, and organized several thousand vials of voucher insect specimens from the Calumet region of Chicago. Before the pandemic hit, they started reorganizing the massive INHS beetle collection—over 1 million specimens!
These dedicated volunteers recently answered a few questions about their work for Citizen Science Month.
What drew the two of you to volunteer in the INHS insect collection?
Much of our volunteer work is stewardship outside in natural areas. It was nice to have a warm volunteer opportunity in the winter that was less strenuous and required more thinking. Plus, it was a topic we knew little about.
What do you enjoy most about volunteering in the collection?
Both of the curators we have worked with were welcoming and so informative and patient with our questions. We had the opportunity to admire so many butterfly and beetle specimens we had never seen before. And with limited space, sorting the drawers in the collections required some brain and physical muscle to do it as efficiently as possible. We did it together which made it fun and productive.
Which of your projects in the collection are you most proud of?
Sorting the butterfly collection.
What is the most fascinating specimen you’ve encountered through your work?
Some of the scarabs are amazing and scary. Fortunately, the largest ones don't live in Illinois.
In your opinion, why are biological collections like the INHS insect collection important?
The insect world is so important to the food chain and our existence and they are being impacted negatively by so many human-imposed actions. A collection like this allows scientists to study species physical characteristics without harming them and to hopefully learn how we can protect them better.