Blake Newton, UK Extension Entomologist
Last weekend, the Society of Kentucky Lepidopterists hosted their annual meeting here on the University of Kentucky campus. Although I am not a member (and I am definitely not a lepidopterist!) I had a chance to visit a part of their meeting. It was very cool!
A lepidopterist is someone who spends time collecting, studying, or observing insects in the scientific order Lepidoptera, which includes the butterflies and moths. The Society of Kentucky Lepidopterists has been around since 1974 when Dr. Charles Covell (moth expert and Professor Emeritus of Biology at the University of Louisville) founded the organization to "provide communication among those interested in any aspect of lepidopterology, and to foster research on the Lepidoptera fauna of Kentucky." The group has been going strong ever since.
Last weekend, the group met at the University of Kentucky's insect museum. The museum is home to thousands of pinned insect specimens (not just butterflies). Unfortunately, though, it is currently not open to the public. There are a few reasons why it's not open. For one thing, it is currently housed in a very small space: There were about ten lepidopterists in the museum last week, and there was not enough room for all of them to sit, and they had to take turns moving up and down the main corridor because it was so small. Another reason: the insects in the museum are still being organized and sorted! A few years ago, Dr. Covell donated a big part of the University of Louisville's moth and butterfly collection to our museum. We're talking about thousands of specimens, all of which need to be resorted into our collection.
Since the museum is not open, I had never seen it before. It was amazing. The insects are stored in boxes that are about the size of a completed jigsaw puzzle. Those boxes are then kept in a special type of cabinet system called a "compactor." (You may have seen compactors before in libraries: they collapse on themselves and are used to increase storage space). I was able to take a look at several boxes of insects, many of which were from the 1800s. I hope to see more of the collection in the future.
I was also amazed by some of the boxes of insects that the individual lepidopertists brought with them. The meeting is a time when members can bring specimens to show to one another. The purpose of this is to get help with identification... and just to show off! I was certainly impressed.
I was also impressed to see that a coleopterist was in attendance at the meeting. A coleopterist is someone who specializes in beetles (order Coleoptera). For some reason, coleopterists and lepidopterists don't always get along. In this case, though, the coleopterist has found an advantage to hanging out with the lepidopterists. He explained it to me like this: when someone hunts for beetles, they almost always find butterflies and moths. And vice-versa. So the coleopterist gives the lepidoptersits all of the moths and butterflies that he catches, and in turn he gets all of the beetles that the lepidopterists don't want. It seems that the coleopterist's scheme is starting to backfire, though. Thanks to his influence, several of the lepidopterists are now becoming interested in tiger beetles, so they aren't giving the coleopterist all of their specimens anymore!
And even though founder Covell has since moved to Florida, he still participates in the society. He actually presented at last-weekend's meeting.
The society is always looking for new members. So if you are interested in butterflies and moths and if you live nearby (you don't have to live in Kentucky, though--several of the current memebers are from nearby states), take a look at their webpage and think about becoming a member.