The COVID pandemic has caused many problems for the GMNH internship program especially due to the Museum Building being closed to non-staff. The UGA Collection of Arthropods (UGCA) accepted only one undergraduate intern this spring, Kerstin Thulé, who we expected to work at the Biological Sciences Building preparing off-site specimens. As the spring term progressed, however, we realized that another option was possible. Since the classroom at the museum was vacant during the shutdown, Kerstin could work there without raising any health risks.
For her primary internship project, Kerstin is working with the Collection of Arthropods (UGCA) curating the holdings of Lampyridae, the beetle family commonly known as “fireflies” or “lightning bugs.” Her work involves reorganizing the material to fit the current classification of subfamilies, genera, and species, and incorporating a large number of recently acquired specimens into the collection. The final stages will be to relabel all the trays, drawers, and cabinets, and to update the publicly available specimen database.
Curating our 5,181 specimens of lampyrid beetles was a high-priority project because the group has attracted a great deal of research interest. As a result, the UGCA has been visited recently by lampyrid specialists who came to study our material. In addition, there are active research programs on these beetles at UGA and institutions in neighboring states. In fact, a collaboration of Kathrin Stanger-Hall (UGA Plant Sciences Dept.), Joe McHugh (UGA Entomology Dept. & UGCA Curator), and Luiz Silveira (Western Carolina State University) resulted in an NSF grant proposal for research on neotropical lampyrids. If the project is funded, the UGCA specimens would be used extensively for research and training of students.
During his first visit to the UGCA, Dr. Silveira, a taxonomic expert of Lampyridae who has worked in museums around the world, remarked that he was “quite surprised by the size and geographical coverage of the collection.” He said that it was especially noteworthy that the UGCA “has a large representation of western Amazon (eastern Ecuador and northwestern Brazil) lampyrids, something that I've never seen before. Also, it houses the largest series of Central American species I've seen so far.” Sadly, some of this valuable neotropical lampyrid material was collected from habitats that have since been severely degraded or destroyed. Although upsetting, loss of habitat is one reason natural history museum collections are so important; they provide an historical record of which species occurred in particular locations in the past.
Even though the pandemic caused many obstacles for museum interns over the past year, Kerstin Thulé’s internship project this spring has been a great success and will facilitate research on a fascinating group of insects for the foreseeable future.