Mr. Warne Goes to Washington

For two weeks in October, Jeremy DeWaard (BIO Collections Director), PhD student Jacopo D’Ercole and myself escaped the confines of BIO and Canada, and traveled to Washington D.C. We packed ourselves into a white Subaru around 6:45am and began the plodding 10 hour journey by car to the District of Columbia, a trip that only seems to become real when you hit the border at Buffalo.

The purpose of our trip is easily conveyed here; we were destined for the Smithsonian Institute to arrange a loan of Lepidoptera specimens so that they could be brought back to Guelph for DNA barcoding and addition to BIO’s growing datasystem, BOLD. It’s a little more difficult to explain this to a cold, disinterested border security guard who is wholly confused at our itinerary (and having an Italian citizen in our car, for good measure).  Nevertheless, all our paperwork was squared away and soon enough we were winding through the picturesque hills of Pennsylvania and into the heart of Maryland.

The trip was part of an ongoing effort to get barcodes for expertly identified Lepidoptera specimens, which act as a sort of reference library to help rapidly identify freshly collected specimens that we would otherwise have incomplete taxonomy for. The opportunity to arrange these loans is largely thanks to the gracious help of Scott Miller, the curator of the Lepidoptera collection at the Smithsonian, and other research scientists in the Lepidoptera section of the museum. Along with museum specialist Margaret Rosati, Scott arranged for us to collect specimens from various sections (families) of the Lepidoptera collection.

My setup at the Smithsonian. If you squint you can probably make out Jacopo looking particularly stressed.
My setup at the Smithsonian. If you squint you can probably make out Jacopo looking particularly stressed.

For my part, the museum days consisted of hunting for species within the superfamily Pyraloidea, curated by Alma Solis, who incidentally didn’t mind me rummaging through her beautifully arranged collection. With greater interest in species that we have never collected before, or have failed to get barcode sequences for, I began filling Schmidt boxes. By the end of the trip (about a week and a half) our group had managed to fill around 37 of them, or 3515 specimens, representing hundreds of species for which we will now have a barcode sequence!

This is how specimens are arranged in large glass topped drawers at the Smithsonian, note the blue labels that are placeholders for specimens that we have borrowed.
This is how specimens are arranged in large glass topped drawers at the Smithsonian, note the blue labels that are placeholders for specimens that we have borrowed.

In all, you could do a lot worse than Washington D.C. as a destination. Even though work had to be done, we were still able to slip away and see the NASA museum and other sites around the National Mall (which is not a huge shopping mall, by the way). By the end of the trip, Jeremy and I were homesick enough to do what any stereotypical Canadian would do; see an NHL hockey game. One of the curators couldn’t suppress a laugh when we mentioned one of our most anticipated trips would be to the Verizon Center to see the Capitals play.

Not pictured: our seats in the absolute highest level of the arena.
Not pictured: our seats in the absolute highest level of the arena.

As if a carload of specimens and a live hockey game weren’t enough, just to top it all off we saw the PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA on our way to a Five Guys for cheeseburgers. God bless America.

Cheers,

Connor