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The M.T. James Entomological Collection

The MT James Entomological Collection is the largest insect museum in the state of Washington. It serves as an important regional resource and is an actively growing collection with especially strong representation in Lepidoptera, Coleoptera, Diptera, and a newfound focus on Hymenoptera. Established in 1892, the collection’s holdings number in the millions and are of significant historical and scientific importance.

Insect storage cabinets at the MT James. Each of the tall cabinets holds 25 drawers of specimens.
A cabinet opened to show the drawers of specimens. Here are some of our flies. Our museum is the only major collection in the West using the same size drawers as the US National Museum (Smithsonian).

In a museum drawer, specimens are organized in unit trays. Butterflies' wings are overlapped to save space.

all photos by Andrew Murray

2023 Year in Review

2023 was a great year for the museum. Interested in museum activities and progress? The button above is a link to a 3-page review of the M.T. James Entomological Collection in 2023. This document introduces museum personnel and covers topics such as visitors, donations, ongoing research projects, and new initiatives.


About the Insect Museum
Washington State University was founded in 1890 and is part of the land grant university system. The insect collection was started just two years later, in 1892! As the land grant institution for the state of Washington, one of the mandates of Washington State University is to serve and support the agricultural community. The collection was an early documentation of the state’s insect fauna. A collection of insects allowed for efficient identifications and was used to help educate generations of students. The collection still contains some of those first specimens; many are labeled “Washington Territory” and were collected in the late 1800s. The Collection has grown significantly over the years and continues to increase in specimen number. Our growth coincides with an increasing number of people realizing the importance of the role of natural history collections to secure a record of the world’s biodiversity.

What is now called the M.T. James Entomological Collection at WSU is one of the larger university insect collections in the country. The collection is housed on the first floor of the Food Science and Human Nutrition (FSHN) building in the Department of Entomology on the main Pullman campus. It is representative in all major insect orders and contains over 3 million curated specimens. It is one of the few collections that can provide specimens from the Pacific Northwest, and it serves as an important regional and national resource. It also has extensive and diverse holdings from Guatemala.

The insect collection holdings are growing and field collecting and acquisition efforts are ongoing. Since 2000, the WSUC has obtained large donations, including private collections totaling tens of thousands of specimens, the Walla Walla College collection (>85,000 specimens), donations of moths by regional authorities (>18,000), and more. Under the auspices of the US Department of Energy and The Nature Conservancy, in the past decades museum personnel conducted diversity studies of the Hanford Nuclear Site (>94,000 specimens), native Palouse Prairie (>15,000) – all providing information on species richness, diversity, and distribution of many of our native insect taxa.

Personnel with the Entomological Collection

A big welcome to the new Collections Manager for the MT James Entomological Collection – Dr. Joel Gardner!

Joel Gardner on the hunt.

Joel Gardner started with the collection in November 2022. Already he is making amazing progress in organizing the space. He has been identifying the unsorted bees and taking an survey of the status of all holdings.

Joel has over 10 years of experience working in entomological collections across the USA and Canada and is already diving in to organizing, labeling, and identifying specimens in our insect museum. His PhD is in Entomology at the University of Manitoba where he worked on the taxonomy and molecular phylogenomics of Lasioglossum sweat bees (family Halictidae). Joel looks forward to exploring the understudied insect taxa in regions around Pullman and leading museum outreach. Come visit him in the collection if you need bees identified or to check on the progress!

Dr. Elizabeth Murray is the Director of the museum. She joined the WSU as an Assistant Professor in 2020. Elizabeth works on various groups of wasps and bees, with a soft spot for parasitoids & pollen wasps.

Dr. Rich Zack is a longtime Curator and is responsible for our skyrocketing growth, contributing tens of thousands of pinned and sorted specimens each year. Rich has deep expertise on the biodiversity of the state of Washington (and beyond!).

Dr. Silas Bossert is a museum Curator who started recently at WSU as an Assistant Research Professor. Silas’s research expertise covers all bees — go ahead, ask him to identify any of the 500+ genera by sight!

Nathaniel Green has been working to oversee undergraduate workers in the collection since January 2022. Nate serves as the graduate student supervisor to the students who are databasing the bees. He is their point of contact for help with digitization questions and is acts as the first line of quality control. Nate manages the unique specimen identifier label creation and printing through the program EntomoLabels.

We were able to hire our collections manager due to endowment funds. The operations of the museum would not be possible without support from our donors.

Thank you to our generous benefactors!

Marilyn and James Hyde

Roger D. Akre and Carl A. Johansen

Terry and Faye Whitworth

Maurice T. and Helen James


If you would like to donate to the museum, please consider giving to our collections general endowment:

Maurice T. James and Helen James – Entomology Museum Fund.

Or, please contact Elizabeth Murray or Rich Zack directly.

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