Even the best-preserved and displayed specimens are of little or no scientific value without associated data such as location, date of capture, and habitat. Such information should be uniquely associated with the specimen. Although this can be achieved by a unique numbering or lettering system associated with a notebook or computer file, it is essential that it appears also on a permanently printed label associated with the specimen. The following is the minimal information that should be recorded, preferably into a field notebook at the time of capture rather than from memory later.
- Location — usually in descending order from country and state (your material may be of more than local interest), township, or distance from map-named location. Include map-derived names for habitats such as lakes, ponds, marshes, streams, rivers, forests, etc.
- Co-ordinates — preferably using a Geographic Position System (GPS) and citing latitude and longitude rather than non-universal metrics. Increasingly, these locations are used in Geographic Information Systems (GIS) and climate-derived models that depend upon accurate ground positioning.
- Elevation — derived from map or GPS as elevational accuracy has increased.
- Date — usually in sequence of day in Arabic numerals, month preferably in abbreviated letters or in Roman numerals (to avoid the ambiguity of, say, 9.11.2001 — which is 9th November in many countries but 11th September in others), and year, from which the century might be omitted. Thus, 2.iv.1999, 2.iv.99, and 2 Apr. 99 are all acceptable.
- Collector’s identity, brief project identification, and any codes that refer to notebook.
- Collection method, any host association or rearing record, and any microhabitat information.
On another label, record details of the identity of the specimen including the name of the person who made the identification and the date on which it was made. It is important that subsequent examiners of the specimen know the history and timing of previous study, notably in relation to changes in taxonomic concepts in the intervening period. If the specimen is used in taxonomic description, such information should also be appended to pre-existing labels or additional label(s). It is important never to discard previous labels — transcription may lose useful evidence from handwriting and, at most, vital information on status, location, etc. Assume that all specimens valuable enough to conserve and label have potential scientific significance into the future, and thus print labels on high-quality acid-free paper using permanent ink — which can be provided now by high-quality laser printers.
Care of collections
Collections start to deteriorate rapidly unless precautions are taken against pests, mold, and vagaries of temperature and humidity. Rapid alteration in temperature and humidity should be avoided, and collections should be kept in as dark a place as possible because light causes fading. Application of some insecticides may be necessary to kill pests such as Anthrenus (“museum beetles”) but use of all dangerous chemicals should conform to local regulations. Deep freezing (below —20°C for 48 h) also can be used to kill any pest infestation. Vials of ethanol should be securely capped, with a triple-ring nylon stopper if available, and preferably stored in larger containers of ethanol. Larger ethanol collections must be maintained in separate, ventilated, fireproof areas. Collections of glass slides preferably are stored horizontally, but with major taxonomic collections of groups preserved on slides, some vertical storage of well-dried slides may be required on grounds of costs and space-saving.
Other than small personal (“hobby”) collections of insects, it is good scientific practice to arrange for the eventual deposition of collections into major local or national institutions such as museums. This guarantees the security of valuable specimens, and enters them into the broader scientific arena by facilitating the sharing of data, and the provision of loans to colleagues and fellow scientists.