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One of the world’s most venerated entomological research institutions plans to pull up stakes in its longtime Gainesville, Fla., home and move lock, stock and insect collection trays to Utah State University’s Logan campus.
A memorandum of understanding crafted between the American Entomological Institute and USU officially seals plans for the transfer, which includes a $1.8 million endowment to support a curator and collection maintenance, as well as more than a million specimens. The unprecedented move is slated for spring 2016.
“This donation increases the USU Insect Collection’s wasp holdings by 50 percent,” said Jim MacMahon, dean of USU’s College of Science and trustee professor in the Department of Biology, which will oversee the collection. “But more than that, it positions Utah State as an entomological research nexus, creating invaluable learning opportunities for our students.”
Established by private collectors and scientists Henry and Marjorie Townes in 1934, the non-profit institute houses one of the world’s largest collections of the insect order Hymenoptera, which includes wasps, bees, ants and sawflies. The collection has more than 1.2 million specimens, including 3,650 holotypes — that is, unique specimens on which new scientific names are based.
The institute’s decision to move its vast collection is largely due to the particular expertise found at Utah State, namely the USDA Bee Biology and Systematics Laboratory and USU entomologist James Pitts. Curator of the USU Entomology Collection and associate professor in the Department of Biology, Pitts is one of the world’s leading entomologists specializing in the study of Mutillidae, a family of more than 3,000 wasp species known as “velvet ants” and Pompilidae, a family of more than 5,000 insects known as “spider wasps.”
“Having this collection will take our research to the next level,” Pitts said. “It will bring visiting scientists from around the world to our campus and enable our students and faculty to interact with top entomological scholars.”