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Eye of the bee-holder

The University of Massachusetts Entomology Collection

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One hundred thousand. That’s roughly the number of insects (alive and dead) that make up the University of Massachusetts Entomology Collection. This mini museum, located in Fernald Hall, is open to the public, but its contents are good for much more than a viscerally charged visit. The Fernald Club, established in 1925, has used the vast array of insects for decades—enabling students (and fanatics) to gain a better understanding of local and exotic creepy crawlies.

“Under the tutelage of Justin Roch ’23MS, Caro Muñoz Agudelo ’24MS, Aliza Fassler ’25PhD, Ben Normark, and students in Lynn Adler’s lab, this collection provides an educational and fun resource to an increasingly popular student club on the UMass campus,” explains Joan Milam ’97MS, an adjunct research fellow currently studying native bees. “This club actively presents at educational community outreach programs and members work to organize and update the collection.”

Roch, the club president and a graduate student in the organismic and evolutionary biology program, shares, “The club holds multiple sessions each semester where students help curate insect specimens in the collection, which both benefits the collection and provides students with excellent hands-on opportunities to learn about insect diversity, taxonomy, and identification.”

UMass researchers also dig into this collection—studying the insects to get a better understanding of migration, environmental changes, evolution, and more. “Insect specimens and their site labels in the UMass collection provide valuable historic diversity and phenology data that provide valuable information to document changes in insect distribution and abundance over time,” says Milam. For example, “bee specimens in the UMass Fernald Insect Collection contributed useful documentation on historic changes in northeastern U.S. bee populations.”

A live brown cockroach sitting on a tan stick among other cockroaches

The live members of the collection are also used by entomology professors to teach insect systematics and identification.

“To this day, the collections play a crucial role in nailing down the meanings of the names we apply to species,” says Benjamin Normark, Professor of Biology and Curator of the Fernald Entomology Collection.

As the effects of climate change continue to morph our planet, UMass researchers and researchers from partnering universities are also using the collection to study changes in where certain species are popping up—and where they are no longer found. Researchers from Tufts University have recently used the collection of butterflies to track how their genomes are evolving to cope with global changes. In the lab, Normark focuses on common pests to highlight similar but distinct species and how slight changes can change how the insects should be managed. “The collection is a perennial resource for teaching UMass students about the staggering diversity of insects.”

Check out even more photos on the club’s Instagram!