At the end of October, Gerry Blagoev and I flew across the country to visit the Royal British Columbia Museum (RBCM) in Victoria, British Columbia. We were on a quest for specimens! Identified specimens, that is. Most of the time our collections team is busy finding specimens out in the field and preparing them for DNA barcoding. Once they have a sequence, we determine what the taxonomy of our specimen is based on its sequence. But how do we get to the point where we can determine the taxonomy? How do we know this taxonomy is right? By going to the experts!
Natural history collections possess many specimens that have been identified by experts over the years. Some of the specimens are really old- I saw a specimen at the RBCM that had been collected in 1896! But others are more recently collected, and have been identified by a professional entomologist. The collection keeps these insects so they can be studied for years to come. You can use the specimen to confirm an identification or to learn about the biodiversity of an area at a given time. For example, insect collections can help to track when an invasive species arrives in an area, and if the population of that invasive species grows over time.
Natural history collections like the Entomology Collection at the RBCM are important to the DNA barcoding world as they offer a chance to DNA barcode specimens that have been expertly identified. Adding all of these expertly identified specimens to BOLD, our amazing database of DNA barcode records, helps us to complete what we often refer to as our ‘DNA Barcode Library’. It is like looking through a library index to find the topic you want- only our DNA Barcode Library is made up of sequences. When a new specimen has a sequence that closely matches a museum specimen’s sequence, we can be confident in assigning the taxonomy to our new specimen. For more information, visit our page about DNA Barcoding.
Now more about my trip! I spent my time searching through the RBCM’s Insect collection, while Gerry looked through their spiders. The Collection Manager, Dr. Claudia Copley, along with a crew of volunteers, are constantly curating the collection and adding new specimens. In the end, I came back to BIO with over 1,400 insect specimens for DNA barcoding. My favourite part was looking through the bees, and the weevils. Weevils are my favourite beetle- mostly because I think they are really cute! I also took a short trip to the Pacific Forestry Centre, where Dr. Leland Humble and Meghan Noseworthy let me look through the beetles in their insect collection. A cool part about visiting forestry centres is they often archive samples of plant damage which has been caused by the insect specimen, so future generations have an idea what damage caused by these insects looks like.
That’s all from me for now! For your viewing pleasure, I’m leaving you with a picture of some beautiful beetles I came across in the RBCM. They are tropical Scarabaeidae that are waiting to be identified!