Tuesday, July 25, 2023

The University of Iowa Pentacrest Museums is preserving Iowa’s heritage in a recent acquisition of extensive natural history collections from former Iowa Wesleyan University. The collection encompasses a valuable assortment of specimens offering insights into the state’s rich biodiversity and ecological legacy.  

UI Pentacrest Museums Director of Research Collections Cindy Opitz reached out to instructors in the biology department at Wesleyan to initiate the collaboration after learning of the peril their collections would soon face. Together with Tiffany Adrain from the UI Paleontology Repository, they assessed the collections and discussed transferring them to the University of Iowa.

In addition to some bird, mammal, and coral/shell specimens, the UI Museum of Natural History received roughly 600 drawers of insects in the arrangement. The museum estimates the collection is comprised of approximately 50,000 insects representing 22 orders and 462 families. 

Had the Pentacrest Museums not received this valuable collection when it did, the specimens may have faced an uncertain fate. With no recipient to take in the orphaned insect collection, the research materials may have been at risk of being discarded. This would have meant the loss of a significant effort invested in collection and preservation. 

The insect collection is particularly noteworthy as it represents many decades of the Iowa Insect Survey’s research efforts and material collected all over the state of Iowa by instructors and students of all ages throughout most of the 20th century.  

“Through this endeavor, the museum ensures that the efforts of past researchers continue to contribute to ongoing scientific discoveries and provide valuable learning experiences for future generations.”

—Pentacrest Museums Director of Research Collections Cindy Opitz 

Opitz expressed enthusiasm for the acquisition, “the process of cataloging is fascinating and currently underway,” she said. “We will integrate the Wesleyan collections into our current holdings, preserving them for use by researchers, near and far.” Opitz noted the museum’s dedication to making collections digitally accessible to researchers worldwide, “As this process unfolds, we will capture the digital collection and identification data, making it available through specimen data aggregators such as GBIF, InvertNet, and iDigBio.”  

Beyond research purposes, the museum is committed to engaging its visitors with these captivating specimens. Plans are underway to create an insect exhibit that will offer museum visitors an immersive and educational experience. They will also make way for some of the more viable collections for researchers by moving those with limited data out of research collections and over to educational collections for high impact, hands-on learning opportunities in classrooms and during museum programs. 

“The acquisition of the Iowa Wesleyan University's natural history collection marks a significant milestone for the University of Iowa,” Pentacrest Museums Director Liz Crooks said. “Our dedication to preserving these specimens for research, education, and public engagement serves as a testament to our commitment to advancing knowledge and inspiring curiosity about Iowa's natural treasures.”  

To ensure the physical preservation of the insect collection, the museum plans to apply for National Science Foundation funding to continue their process of updating cabinets, drawers, and trays. While some of the collection has arrived in Iowa City for inventory, some was moved to temporary storage at the State Hygenic Laboratory. The museums are grateful to Todd Hubbard and colleagues for the collaboration between the two institutions, which has been vital in ensuring preservation. 

Pentacrest Museums Communications Coordinator Jessica Smith stressed the importance of preserving the IWU collection, “These specimens can be used in comparative data analysis to answer some of the most important questions we face as a society today; questions about climate, evolution, and survival. They belong to all of us.”