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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


 

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
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. By day, Rich serves as CAHNRS Associate Dean for Academic Programs.
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!
 


The operations of the museum would not be possible without funding from our donors. Thank you!

Marilyn and James Hyde
Roger D. Akre and Carl A. Johansen
Terry and Faye Whitworth
Maurice T. and Helen James