KU Entomology History

In 1870 KU Professor Francis Huntington Snow established the insect collection, formerly known as the Snow Entomological Museum. The museum antedates by 31 years the organization of a Department of Entomology, separate from Zoology, in 1901.

Francis Huntington Snow

A notable aspect of development of the Snow Museum and Department of Entomology has been the long association between them of most members of the faculty. Snow was curator of the entomology collection in addition to his various academic duties until 1901. Care of the Museum was the assumed by Prof. Samual J. Hunter, who headed the Department for 23 years (until 1924). Hunter was succeeded by Prof. Herbert H. Hungerford, a world-renowned authority on aquatic Hemiptera, who directed the museum for 25 years (1924–1949) and was at the same time Chairman of the Department of Entomology.

Prof. Charles D. Michener, world authority on the behavior, systematics and general biology of bees, followed Hungerford in the administration of the department and the museum. In 1970, Michener was given the title of Director of the entomology museum, and the position was formally separated from Chairmanship of the Department of Entomology. Prof. George W. Byers, a specialist in crane flies and Mecoptera, succeeded Michener as Director of the museum in 1983. James S. Ashe, a specialist on the systematics and evolution of staphylinid beetles, replaced Byers as Director of the museum upon Byers’ retirement in 1988. The position of Director of the museum nominally ceased to exist in 1994 when the entomology museum became a division of what is now the KU Biodiversity Institute, and the head of the unit became retitled as the Curator-in-Charge.  Ashe acted as Curator-in-Charge from 1994 until 2005, with a break in 2001–2002 while he was on sabbatical in Australia.  Michael S. Engel has held the position of Curator-in-Charge from 2001–2002 and from 2005 to 2023. Andrew E.Z. Short joined as Assistant Curator in 2009 and is curator today.

Each Director/Chief Curator has faculty colleagues who contribute to the research, curatorial and service functions of the division. These have included Samuel W. Williston (1890–1902), P. B. Lawson (1919–1934), Raymond H. Beamer (1914–1954), Kathleen Doering (1922–1965), Joseph Camin (1958–1979), Peter Ashlock (1968–1988), Robert Beer (1950–1988), Robert W. Brooks (Collection Manager, 1988–2002), Byron Alexander (Curator, 1990–1996), Michael S. Engel (Senior Curator, 2000–2023), Zachary H. Falin (Collection Manager, 2003–present), Jennifer C. Thomas (Assistant Collection Manager, 2006–2021), Caroline S. Chaboo (Assistant Curator, 2008–2016), and Rachel Osborn (Collection Manager, 2022 to present). The value of collections of the Division of Entomology and their need for constant maintenance make continuity of curatorial care imperative. To provide stable fiscal support for this care, and to make the division independent from the fluctuations inherent in the instructional branch of the University, the Snow Museum budget was transferred in 1970 from the Office of Academic Affairs to the Office of Research, Graduate Studies and Public Service. This change was calculated to provide for continuous care of the collection by sheltering it from enrollment-related budgetary fluctuations and changing interests and emphases among faculty members in the Department of Entomology. In addition, the Curatorial Staff was historically employed on a 12-month basis (until 1999 when they were switched to 11-month appointments) rather than the 9-month academic year, to provide for maintenance needs, the on-going business of loan transactions, year-end budgetary matters, and similar activities, although such appointments ceased after 2002, with those appointed prior to this time grandfathered in the older system. The Collection Management staff has been, and continues to be, supported on 12-month appointments. In fiscal year 1994, the Snow Entomological Museum merged administratively with the KU Natural History Museum, the McGregor Herbarium, and the Museum of Invertebrate Paleontology to form the expanded KU Natural History Museum, now included under the larger administrative umbrella of the KU Biodiversity Institute. At that time, the Snow Entomological Museum formally became the Division of Entomology at the Biodiversity Institute.

Building a Collection

From the founding of the Entomology Museum until about 1920, Prof. Snow attempted to build a broad representation of North American insects with a particular concentration on development of the collection of insects of Kansas and adjacent plains states and the central and southern Rocky Mountain regions. The collection at the University of Kansas soon became the most important insect collection between the Mississippi River and the Pacific Coast.

Beginning in 1920, field work by museum personnel emphasized groups of insects being studied by curatorial faculty and their graduate students. For many years Prof. Beamer led spring and summer collecting expeditions of varying duration with the particular goal of making known the cicadellid (leafhoppers) of North America.  Prof. Hungerford assembled one the most comprehensive collections of aquatic Hemiptera in North America.   More recently, Prof. Michener assembled one of the world's largest and most comprehensive collections of bees; to which was added by Prof. Engel the Donald & Madge Baker Collection in 2003–2004 and material collected by Engel in Central Asia and Arabia, significantly expanding the global coverage of bees.

Professors Beer and Camin have accumulated a large collection of slide-mounted Acari (mites), mainly from North America.  Prof. Byers has brought together an important World collection of Mecoptera (scorpionflie and their allies) and a large collection of Tipulidae (crane flies), chiefly of North America.  In the last 25 years, the bee, scorpionfly, and cranefly collections have continued to grow thanks to the effort of Dr. Michener and his students, the late Dr. Byron Alexander (Curator, 1990–1996), Robert W. Brooks (Collection Manager, 1988–2002), Prof. Dr. Michael S. Engel (current, Curator-in-Charge), and Dr. George W. Byers.  The Peter Ashlock collection of lygaeid bugs (over 25,000 specimens) was deposited in the Division of Entomology following his death.

Dr. Zachary H. Falin (Collection Manager), working with various local collaborators, has renewed divisional efforts in documenting the insect fauna of Kansas, adding over 65,000 recently collected specimens of nearly all orders to the collection.  In addition, the late Dr. J.S. Ashe and his students expanded the Coleoptera collection (most notably the Staphylinidae) as a result of extensive field work in the Neotropical Region. The aquatic beetle collection is now growing through the field efforts of A.E.Z. Short (assistant curator, 2009–present).

Collection Growth

During Entomology's first fifty years, general collecting was emphasized on field trips in order to build a representative collection of North American insects useful for training students. From the 1920s to the early 1950s, R. H. Beamer led many summer expeditions, or extended field trips, chiefly to enhance the collection of nearctic Cicadellidae, but he and his students added thousands of miscellaneous insects as well as cicadellid to Entomology's holdings. During this same period, H. B. Hungerford field studies, but more significantly his exchanges and purchases, vastly increased the representation of aquatic Hemiptera, Entomology's first important world-wide collection.

Purchase of private collections to enhance Entomology's specialized holdings has been uncommon but important. In 1966, for example, the Z. Padr collection was acquired by purchase.  It consisted of European bees (including many from eastern Europe), to facilitate the research of C.D. Michener. As a result, Entomology has the largest and best collection of European bees in America. It has been used by numerous bee specialists who have needed to compare Nearctic species and genera with those of Europe. Similarly, in the 1940's the large and important collection of Hemiptera assembled by J. R. de la Torre Bueno was purchased to improve the research capabilities of H.B. Hungerford and his students.

Exchanges have been a fairly frequent means of collection enhancement. F. H. Snow's exchange of rare tiger beetles for duplicate specimens of many taxa from collectors world-wide has become a legend in American entomology. Many years ago, we exchanged with the Museum of Zoology, University of Michigan, Orthoptera for Tipulidae, in order to have a nucleus of identified specimens of the latter group. Our collection of Tipulidae having grown considerably since then; we have recently exchanged with the British Museum to obtain European tipulid not already represented in our collection. There have been numerous other exchanges, in bees, leafhoppers, water bugs, staphylinid beetles and other groups, to broaden Entomology's representation and correspondingly to improve collections at other institutions.

Although Entomology has not historically specialized in tropical insects, we recognize the importance of sampling tropical species from habitats that are threatened with destruction and of preserving such materials and making them available to systematist. Additionally, recent emphasis on the Neotropic in the research programs of Ashe and his students has greatly expanded Entomology's holdings of Neotropical Coleoptera. Also, M.S. Engel and other staff members and students of Entomology, in cooperation with other apoid workers and the Universidad Nacional Autonomo de Mexico (UNAM), significantly increased Entomology's and UNAM's collections of Mexican bees.


In 2006 the Division of Entomology made its greatest change ever. The entire Division was moved from its home in Snow Hall on the main campus (after 136 years on main campus) to a new facility on the University's West Campus.  Design of the new facility was initiated in late November 2005 by Dr. J.S. Ashe and Prof. M.S. Engel and was completed in large part by Engel following Ashe’s untimely passing in December 2005 (the plans were finished and approved in February 2006).  Oversight for the move was led by Dr. Zachary H. Falin (Collection Manager), Prof. Engel, Lori Schlenker (Administrative Assistant to the Museum Director), and Jordan E. Yochim (former Assistant Director of the Museum), with assistance from Jennifer C. Thomas (Assistant Collection Manager), various graduate students (most notably Stephanie Swenson, Daniel J. Bennett, and Ismael A. Hinojosa-Díaz), and a team of dedicated, enthusiastic, and excellent undergraduate students.

All of the specimens and cabinetry was successfully moved to the new facility in July 2006 (at the same time a NSF grant from Prof. Engel funded the acquisition of 75 new cases for the collection, replacing the older, substandard cases) while construction of the offices and labs continued through October 2006.  Subsequently, in 2007 funds were acquired through NSF to install a compactor to increase the storage capacity of the climate-controlled collection space.  Completion of the compactor installation took place in the Summer of 2007 and the collection resumed normal activities in autumn of the same year.