CORRIE MOREAU: We've just embarked on an endeavor to catalog all of the insects in the Cornell University Insect Collection and making that data publicly available so that scientists around the world can actually virtually use our scientific collections. Now you have to bear in mind, we have 7 million specimens. So the amount of time it will take to database each and every one of those is extraordinary.
I suspect that we won't finish cataloging it in my lifetime. Maybe one of the things that people will get the most excited about is that we actually have quite a lot of Vladimir Nabokov's specimens. So although most people might think of him as a novelist-- he wrote Lolita-- he was actually an avid butterfly collector and a lepidopterist, a scientist who actually published research on butterflies. And he collected lots of specimens when he was here at Cornell and deposited them in the Cornell University Insect Collection.
One of the reasons that we're really anxious to get as much of these specimens databased as possible is that in order to make predictions about what the impact of future climate change will have on biological diversity, first we need to know where was it before? And so only through gathering all of that information can we say definitively, like these insects were in this particular area.
And maybe they're no longer found there, or maybe they've shifted their range or expanded their range, or maybe their range is contracted. But without having that historic knowledge about their distributions in the past, we can't make very informed decisions on how to best protect biological diversity. Most of our collections are sort of locked off to the private research community. But of course, once a year-- typically, non-COVID years-- we bring a lot of our specimens out for Insectapalooza, where we have anywhere from 3,000 to 5,000 guests come and see the collections.
The Cornell University Insect Collection is turning 150 years old in 2021. So keep your eye out for some fun programming around that and, hopefully, some opportunities to engage with exhibits around the collections as well.
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The Cornell University Insect Collection has begun to digitize all seven million of its specimens, including a collection of butterflies from author Vladimir Nabokov. CUIC's director and curator Corrie Moreau says that she expects that due to the enormity of the project, it may not be finished in her lifetime.