In the video below Ashleigh Whiffin, Assistant Curator of Entomology explains what an insect is, why our collection contains around 2.5 million insect specimens, and what they’re used for.
An insect is an invertebrate animal which, unlike vertebrates, wears its skeleton on the outside. We call this an exoskeleton.
Insects have three distinct body parts, a head, a thorax, and an abdomen. They also have six legs.
There are an estimated 10,000,000,000,000,000,000 (ten quintillion) individual insects in the world, which means for every human on the planet there are around 1.4 billion insects per person.
Insects are the most biodiverse organisms in the world. Globally, there are approximately 1 million species described by scientists so far. In Scotland there are around 14,000 different species of insect.
The collection can be thought of like a library of biodiversity. The role of our curators is to collect, identify, organise and preserve examples of the worlds insect biodiversity.
We still actively collect specimens for the collection. It is often not possible to identify an insect in situ, as the characters that define a species can only be seen under a microscope and sometimes dissection is required. Each specimen is carefully preserved along with its vital collecting data. This data informs anyone examining it in the future exactly where, when and how the insect was collected.
This library of insects is used by approximately 100 scientists every year. Some come to use the specimens for help with identification, others use them to describe new species, and many study the data associated with the insects.
By looking at the specimen data, stretching back over 200 years, we can see how species distribution has changed over time. This information is used to help inform current conservation efforts.