200 Years. 200 Stories. Story 103: “Docs in the Box ”

« Meet Your Sister

A Minnow's Life History »

photo of entomologist in a museum exhibit
Visitors to the Academy’s current exhibit, Bugs… Outside the Box, can watch—and talk with—our entomologists as they work on insect specimens in the exhibit's “Entomologist Inside the Box.”

Docs in the Box

They’re living, they’re working, and we’ve even given them air holes, but what on earth are our distinguished entomologists doing inside a box in the Academy’s Bugs…Outside the Box exhibit? Only some of the most important organizational work the Entomology Department has done in more than 30 years, explains Curator of Entomology Dr. Jon Gelhaus. Right now, the Academy’s approximately 4 million insect specimens are stored in cabinets built during the 1970s. At the time, these wooden cabinets were a step forward because the compact design added space for growth, but the open cabinets did not provide ideal protection for the specimens from pests and the environment, and the thick wooden shelves limited the storage space. The growing collection quickly used up the space, and many specimens are now stored in different areas throughout the collection in a way that prevents our scientists from being able to find what they need quickly. To address these problems, our entomologists have begun an extensive rehousing and inventory project funded by the National Science Foundation and the Institute of Museum and Library Services. You have a chance to see this behind-the-scenes work when you visit the museum.

You can watch as our entomologists transfer real bugs into new boxes, identify and label them, and pin them into place. You also can see a prototype of the new state-of-the-art, temperature-controlled cabinets that will prevent any light, pests, and moisture from damaging the specimens. These cabinets will take up less room because they are made of thin steel, freeing up 15 to 20 percent more space for new specimens. Entomologists also are looking closely at the bugs and recording their data in an online resource. This management tool will allow the public and other scientists to examine our collection online and learn about the data associated with our specimens. It also will help scientists to know the exact locations of these specimens.

Our entomologists spend at least an hour every day working in the box, and you’re most likely to see them on weekdays between 11 am and 2 pm and on weekends. Don’t miss this unique opportunity to see our scientists at work and ask questions—the exhibit closes January 16!

Plan your visit, check out our new exhibits, and find out about upcoming activities.
Discover the past and explore the future of the natural sciences in our online exhibits.
Make a difference, browse our programs, and get involved with the natural world.