Saturday, 8 September 2012

PhD week 27: Thoughts on specimen labels

Gratuitous image: Spectacular lightning as part of the thunderstorm that passed through Canterbury on Tuesday. From seabirdnz's Flickr Photostream. Licence: CC: BY-ND

The conversion between ornamental pinned insects and valuable scientific specimens occurs with the simple act of labelling. As well as locality information, two other critical pieces of information contained on standard insect labels are the date of collection, and the collector(s) of the specimen. This combination of time, place and personality makes reading the labels on a large collection a fascinating experience.

As part of the databasing that I've been doing over the past couple of weeks, I've had many of these encounters. Some examples include: looking at insects that are over 100 years old, specimens collected on my birthday 20 years before I was born; collections made by some of the pioneers of New Zealand insect collecting—C. E. Clarke, A.E. Brookes and P.S. Sandager—and the prolific collections of the 1970s and 80s made by John Dugdale, Charles Watt and Guillermo Kuschel.

This connection with the past is one of the aspects of taxonomic research that I find extremely enriching. Working with specimens that past entomologists collected and looked at is a great experience that gives my work a sense of continuity that fairly few other fields can boast.

   Edwards AWF. 1972. Likelihood. An account of the statistical concept of likelihood and its application to scientific inference. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge.
   Borg MJ. 2001. Reading the Bible Again for the First Time. HarperOne, New York.
   McCulloch D. 2010. A History of Christianity: The First Three Thousand Years London: Penguin
   Psalms 108–110

New Zealand Library Catalogue
Public Domain Review—Lewis Carroll and the Hunting of the Snark
Public Domain Review—Was Charles Darwin an atheist?
PhD comics:
  What you know vs. How much you know about it
  Staring Contest
  Grad Stereogram
  The Joy of Research

Emirates Team New Zealand takes flight
Star Trek: Voyager

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