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We talk about “value” of an entomology collection a lot, but now I’m interested in “cost”. Measurements in dollars or other currency are a poor gauge because of externalities. A better way to measure cost might be Carbon (~energy), or hectares of land use (for farming, etc.), liters of water use, or quality of life for the population of the area of extraction, manufacturing, etc.

I think a real attempt (perhaps by a graduate student, not necessarily in entomology) at estimating the “cost” of natural history collecting in terms of Carbon and comparing that to other activities, like skiing, golf, football, race car driving, video games, home beer brewing, remodeling a kitchen, or even buying a cup of coffee, would be a worthwhile endeavor. It might help to justify more natural history collecting activities. Pressing flowers may be more environmentally friendly than photographing them (all those cameras, servers, etc. cost electricity = Carbon).

Here’s my logic. Insects are a renewable resource that is carbon neutral, organic, and can be locally sourced (little to no transportation). Insect collecting doesn’t require changes to the landscape like skiing or golf; it doesn’t require much complicated equipment or clothing like SCUBA, or even hiking (the right clothes, shoes, stick, water bottle, bug spray, etc., etc.); it doesn’t require infrastructure like basketball or video games.

To collect insects there are manufacturing and transportation costs for equipment (nets, etc.) and supplies (alcohol, etc.), cost for energy (running a blacklight), and cost for transportation if collecting takes place somewhere special.  

Once a specimen has been collected there is a one time cost of pin, paper, and a portion of a unit tray, drawer, and cabinet. For wet specimens a one time cost for a vial (sometimes vials are replaced), alcohol (small replacement), paper, and a portion of a vial rack and cabinet.

An entire insect collection has an overall upkeep cost. For the most part it is maintenance of a building, heating, air conditioning, and a curator (we’re adding photography and databasing to that).  

All combined, how does that compare to putting your kids in soccer (the clothing, equipment, driving, land, night in jail for threatening the other kid’s dad, etc.)?

What is the carbon cost of collecting and preserving 100 insects from my back yard versus buying a cup of coffee in a disposable paper cup at a gas station (coffee and cut were farmed, transported, processed, packaged, transported, prepared, etc.)?

Here is one of the reasons I’m asking these questions: a piece of trash made of oil and farmed trees destined for a landfill is marketed as “cruelty free”.

I would suggest that the above causes much more damage to our environment and society than killing bugs and putting them in a collection, but I would like to be able to measure that. 



Michael L. Ferro
Collection Manager, Clemson University Arthropod Collection (CUAC)
Dept. of Plant and Environmental Sciences
277 Poole Agricultural Center
Clemson University, Clemson, SC 29634-0310
OFFICE: 307 Long Hall
Subject Editor: The Coleopterists Bulletin; Insecta Mundi