Beetles, iridescent and jewel-like, and powdery-winged butterflies frozen midflight fill drawers upon drawers on the fourth floor of the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences’ Forbes Building, nestled in the center of the University of Arizona campus.
Minuscule bugs that barely fill a pinhead rest alongside those so monstrously large it seems a miracle their cellophane-like wings once propelled them through the air. Among the flamboyant and bizarre are also the plain-looking — brown and black bugs hard to distinguish with the untrained eye. Take, for instance, Heterelmis stephani, a water beetle species that once inhabited Madera Canyon in Southern Arizona. Ten specimens of this now-extinct beetle are preserved in the UArizona Insect Collection.
The UAIC is perfectly located in the biodiversity hotspot of Southern Arizona: home to the highest diversity of insect species in the country. The collection’s over 2 million insect specimens include over 35,000 species. It is the largest, most comprehensive collection of Sonoran Desert insects and is used for rapid identification of invasive pests that can have devastating effects on agriculture, forestry, and human and animal health.
With specimens dating as far back as the 1880s, the collection acts as a time capsule, diagnostic tool, research resource and community education exhibit all in one. The data provided by the collection assists in tracking the expansion and contraction of insect ranges and the appearance of new insects in Arizona.
Every insect represented in the collection plays an important role in our ecosystems. They act as pollinators to plants and are food for birds, fish and other animals. They provide pest control against other insects and work as decomposers for our environment.
Whether you’re an entomology student, a concerned gardener or an enthusiastic insect-lover, the UAIC is an invaluable community resource. Reach out if you need help identifying an insect or are curious about the collection by visiting uainsectcollection.com.