Collection strengths

Much of the Museum's holdings comprise a good general representation of North American insects in all orders. The collection is particularly outstanding, however, in insect groups intensively studied by curators and others long associated with the Museum, who through their own field work or through exchanges and purchases, assembled specialized collections according to their individual interests. Following are especially noteworthy parts of the Museum.

Apoidea (bees) — a large, world-wide collection of about 550,000 specimens, originally brought together by the late Prof. C. D. Michener through his own extensive field work in North and South America, Africa, Australia, and to some extent Asia. This collection has been augmented by the efforts of his students and others, as well as by several exchanges and a few purchases. This is currently one of the most active parts of the entire Museum, and is continuously in use by a large number of bee specialists in all parts of the world. The collection grew extensively in central Asiatic and Arabian material through the efforts of Ecology & Evolutionary Biology Prof. Engel and by the addition of 55,000 specimens from the Donald and Madge Baker Collection.

Staphylinidae (rove beetles) — currently comprises about 350,000 specimens and developed under the efforts of the late Prof. J. S. Ashe and his students. It is especially rich in Neotropical taxa from numerous localities but also includes diverse representative material from Europe, Japan, and North America.

Lygaeidae (seed bugs) — currently comprising about 35,000 specimens, the core of which is the collection of the late Prof. Peter Ashlock which was bequest to the museum in 1989. The Ashlock collection alone consists of about 26,600 specimens and is world-wide in scope. This is one of the most comprehensive collections of members of this family in North America.

Mecoptera (scorpion-flies, etc.) — although comprising only about 26,000 specimens, this is probably the largest collection of this order in the world and surely the largest in number of species represented. Largely the result of the late Prof. G. W. Byers' collecting, a few important purchases from professional collectors, and a variety of exchanges.

Neuroptera, Raphidioptera, & Megaloptera (lacewings, snakeflies, alderflies, &c.) — a large world-wide collection that continues to grow primarily through the efforts of Profs. Byers and Engel.

Cerambycidae (longhorned woodboring beetles) — this collection, with a broad selection of New World and Old World taxa, now fills 100 drawers and numbers about 20,000 specimens. With recent Neotropical expeditions, the Central and South American fauna is becoming well-represented.

Caroline Chaboo photo

Fossil Insect — The collection has a particular emphasis on amber inclusions from throughout the world (mostly from the Baltic) and compression fossils from the Midwest.

Aquatic Hemiptera (water bugs) — another major collection world-wide in scope and representing about 20 families of aquatic and semi-aquatic hemipterans, assembled by the late Prof. H. B. Hungerford over a period of 45 years. Many North American specimens were collected by Hungerford himself, but he purchased huge numbers of specimens from professional collectors as well, and made many exchanges. Now, nearly 35 years after his death, his collection remains a rich source of new species and of rare forms useful in comparative studies.

Beetle photo

Cicadellidae (leafhoppers) — a North American collection of some 200,000 pinned specimens and perhaps 20,000 microscope slides of genitalic dissections, the work of the late Prof. R. H. Beamer and his many students. Beamer, a tireless collector, brought these materials together essentially from his own field work and that of students accompanying him. This collection is continually in use by currently active students of leafhoppers in this country and abroad.

Tipulidae (crane flies) — a collection of some 60,000 specimens, chiefly from North America but with modest representation from Asia, Africa, South America, and Europe. This collection has been built mainly by the late Prof. G. W. Byers' field work throughout the U. S., Canada and Mexico and brief periods of collecting in Europe, Asia and Central America. Additional specimens have been obtained from his students, other collectors, exchanges and gifts.

Cercopidae and Fulgoroidea — the combined efforts of the late Profs. K. C. Doering, P. B. Lawson, and others brought together this rather large and very diverse collection of about 30,000 specimens of Homoptera.

Wasp nest collection — Entomology houses about 300 polistine/polybiine wasp nests, representing nests of at least 18 genera, as well as substantial representation of nests of other taxa. This is one of the largest collections of this type of insect architecture in North America.

Additional Collection Information

Gathering specimens photo

The Entomology collections at the KU Biodiversity Institute are estimated to contain over 4.8 million pinned and labeled specimens plus approximately 87,000 specimens mounted on slides and nearly 40,000 vials containing varying numbers of specimens that are permanently stored in this way (total of approximately 4.5 million specimens in arranged collection). Specimens in the backlog, individual specimens stored in lots in alcohol, unsorted specimens in bulk storage, and other types of unsorted specimens are not included in the specimen count.


There are approximately 27,000 microscope slides of insects, some entire insects (Mallophaga, Anoplura, Siphonaptera, Thysanoptera, etc.), but many of dissected parts (chiefly Cicadellidae and other small Homoptera). The collection of Acari consists of some 60,000 slides; about 40,000 are labeled and identified to various taxonomic levels (family, genus, species), while about 20,000 slides are not yet sorted to family.

Alcohol Specimens

Specimens in alcohol include more than 30,000 vials of the Kansas Biological Survey collection (excellent and comprehensive collection of aquatic insects from the mid-plain states), the entire spider collection, a large collection of immature insects (mainly bee larvae, larval crane flies, and lepidopterous larvae), a variety of soft-bodied insects in many orders (e.g., Trichoptera, Ephemeroptera, some Diptera), and numerous non-insect arthropods other than spiders (phalangids, centipedes, millipedes, scorpions, etc.). Unsorted alcohol-stored material includes some 2,000,000 mites from a southern Brazilian forest, and perhaps 1,000,000 from other places.

Filling the Canoes photo

In addition to the specialized collections above, there are other segments of the Museum's holdings that are notable. There are about 900 drawers of North and Central American Coleoptera, and 600 of Diptera in addition to the Tipulidae mentioned. The collection of Sphecidae (Hymenoptera), consisting of 75 drawers, has unusually broad coverage, especially for New World taxa. The terrestrial Hemiptera are also abundantly represented, partly through the purchase of the J. R. de la Torre Bueno collection about 60 years ago.

These collections have been the chief basis for some hundreds of taxonomic treatises, monographs, revisions and shorter papers, most often by the curators mentioned and by their graduate students. Moreover, taxonomic-systematic publications, particularly treating North American insects, by researchers at other institutions usually cite Entomology as an important source of specimens.