Hi all,


I agree that specimens that really have no data are relatively valueless, but I disagree that “unlabeled” series in a Schmidt box led by one specimen with a label should be discarded as “unlabeled”.  I think that really depends on the context.  On a field trip to Peru (for example), one doesn’t have a label printer out in the jungle, and so that is how you field pin stuff.  When the field pinned material gets back to the museum, every specimen might not get labeled right away for lots of reasons, but that does not mean that they “have no data”.  Likewise, Lepidoptera in envelopes often do not have full data on the envelope, but rather some sort of field code that corresponds to entries in a notebook or ledger someplace.  They might not get spread for decades.  For that matter, not every specimen in a malaise trap sample has a label, but if there is a label in the jar, it probably applies to all of them.  A lot of Dan Janzen’s reared material from Costa Rica that has been deposited at the Smithsonian only has inscrutable code labels on, and if you didn’t know what they were, you might say they were “unlabeled”. 


It is the responsibility of a thoughtful collection manager not just to chuck stuff that appears insufficiently labeled, until all the opportunities to discover its provenance have been exhausted.  And if you encounter series of mixed labeled and unlabeled material, DON’T MOVE THEM until you at least try to figure out who put them there, and what the arrangement means.


Of course, there is also a big difference between accessioning unlabeled junk and culling stuff that is already in your collection.  I don’t think if I were curating a historically important collection like the MCZ that I would move stuff to a “cull” collection on general principles.  There could be holotypes or who knows what in there.






Andrew Brower, Ph.D.

Assistant Director, National Identification Services (NIS)

USDA APHIS PPQ Plant Health Programs

4700 River Rd., Unit 52

Riverdale, MD 20737

Office phone:  (301) 851-2243

Mobile phone: (240) 315-4408


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From: Entomological Collections Network Listserve [mailto:[log in to unmask]] On Behalf Of Al Newton
Sent: Saturday, July 18, 2020 5:31 PM
To: [log in to unmask]
Subject: Re: Culling specimens?


When I arrived at Field Museum in 1985 as a new curator, I found it was standard practice there during curation to remove such unlabeled specimens from the main collection to a separate so-called "teaching collection", partly to "save space".  I thought this was a bad idea and stopped the practice, because:


a) Those specimens had usually been part of identified (to species) series, and in many cases were from historical collections that might have some non-obvious value.  The identifications and any historical value were lost when they were removed to an unorganized teaching collection.


b) Some people including me made heavy use of specimens from the collection for morphological study or preparing slides for particular studies, and would always seek specimens with no or minimal data for this.  If all such specimens had been culled from the collection to an unidentified and disorganized "teaching collection" where they were difficult to find, then we had to use specimens of higher value.


c) The "saving space" argument does not make much sense if they are still stored somewhere in the collection.


Here I am talking mostly about small beetles, but I can see that space would be more of an issue if dealing with spread Lepidoptera or other large insects!




On Sat, Jul 18, 2020 at 3:58 PM Michael A. Ivie <[log in to unmask]> wrote:

From the MTEC Policy and Procedures Manual under ACQUISITIONS AND DEACCESSIONS (paragraph 3):

"Curated material of low scientific value, due to poor condition or data, wastes valuable space, and should be
deaccessioned. The Collection Manager or Curatorial-level personal who discovers such material should first
determine that it is not a voucher for existing records. If no such reason exists for retention, it should be evaluated for
teaching purposes, and if appropriate deaccessioned."

"Deaccessioned" means transferred to another collection, including the teaching collection, or destroyed.


On 7/18/2020 12:33 PM, Rachel Hawkins wrote:

Hi collections enthusiasts and workers,


A question: Do you have "culled" sections? Are you "culling" your specimens?


Background: In our general Lepidoptera collection at the MCZ, there are sections that have been "culled." By this, I mean that specimens without data were removed from our general collection, and placed in more compacted trays, often sans IDs. This even encompassed some specimens that had only "collection" labels indicating provenance, or had a number of unknown meaning, but lacked explicit locality/date/collector info.


We are no longer actively using this method, nor would I want to re-start (for a variety of reasons). But I wonder how widespread this practice is and was in other collections, especially those hurting for space.


(Why: I'm researching deaccessioning in natural history collections. You'll probably hear more questions from me over the fall!)




Rachel L. Hawkins


Curatorial Assistant

Entomology Dept. and Pierce Lab

Museum of Comparative Zoology

Harvard University

26 Oxford St.

Cambridge MA 02138

Michael A. Ivie, Ph.D., F.R.E.S.
NOTE: two addresses with different Zip Codes depending on carriers
US Post Office Address:
Montana Entomology Collection
Marsh Labs, Room 50      
PO Box 173145
Montana State University                
Bozeman, MT 59717
UPS, FedEx, DHL Address:
Montana Entomology Collection
Marsh Labs, Room 50      
1911 West Lincoln Street
Montana State University                
Bozeman, MT 59718
(406) 994-4610 (voice)
(406) 994-6029 (FAX)
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Alfred F. Newton, Curator Emeritus
Integrative Research Center (Insect Division)
Field Museum of Natural History
1400 South Lake Shore Drive
Chicago, IL 60605 USA
Telephone (direct): 312-665-7738; Fax (Zoology): 312-665-7754; Email: [log in to unmask]

FMNH personal web page:  <http://fieldmuseum.org/users/alfred-newton>
Austral Staphyliniformia databases: <http://archive.fieldmuseum.org/peet_staph/>

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