When entomologist Lambertus Toxopeus died in a tragic motor accident in 1951, his ongoing research froze in time and the notes, labels and drawers he had been working on remained untouched for decades. He was planning a revision of a few butterfly groups, including some lace-wing butterflies and quite a few Nymphalid genera. In the Naturalis collection, many specimens bear his handwritten labels, with new species and subspecies names and the intended type status of those particular specimens. However, because Toxopeus never had the chance to publish any of these revisions, these manuscript names have caused a great deal of confusion since the 1950’s. How should we deal with this problem? Continue reading
Never, ever remove labels from a museum specimen. This is a universal rule for collection managers and curators. Labels tell us much more than what it is actually written on them; they are testimonies of the history of the specimen. But what about the labels pinned in the bottom of entomological drawers? These we replace with modern, printed labels, because species names change and because we merge collections. But the thing is, these labels also tell stories. Look closely at this drawer.
In March 2014, after 12 years as a collection manager at Naturalis Biodiversity Center, the oportunity arose for me to become the curator of the butterfly collection. I greedily took it. The collection is jaw-dropping big, rich and interesting. It contains more than 18.000 drawers full of butterflies of great scientific and cultural value. My first challenge was to create a bit of order in the chaos I inherited.