Entomological exhibit proves stimulating

An exhibit at the Yale Peabody Museum features a display of insects collected from expeditions to the French Guiana.
An exhibit at the Yale Peabody Museum features a display of insects collected from expeditions to the French Guiana. Photo by Alex Schmeling.

In October 2010 and September 2011, entomologists affiliated with the Yale Peabody Museum of Natural History arranged two separate two-week long expeditions to French Guiana’s Kaw-Roura Nature Reserve to collect samples of the region’s insect biodiversity.

Now, an entire French Guiana exhibit centered on the observed specimens is on display at the Peabody until the end of September. Stationed in the main entrance of the museum, the French Guiana insects are the first specimens the public sees as they walk through the Peabody’s doors. The collection is the current Curator’s Choice, a temporary rotation of exhibits that gives the public a chance to see pieces of the museum’s collections that cannot be displayed permanently.

“The French Guiana exhibit was the first one to catch my eye,” visitor Jenny Nathans ’17 said. “I just couldn’t take my eyes away from all of the different butterflies, stick bugs, beetles and spiders.”

Though small and circular in size, the exhibit relies on its eye-catching qualities rather than overloading visitors with information.

“We tried a completely different approach with this Curator’s Choice exhibit,” Peabody entomologist Lawrence Gall said. “Instead of being heavy on wording, as we were in the past, we purposefully tried to limit the text and make it as visual as possible by cramming in as many insects as we could.”

Gall said the museum staff believes the display has been the most popular Curator’s Choice the museum has ever had.

He added that the display is the “perfect medium” for children and adults to enjoy together since it is both informative and captivating — it is not uncommon to see a little four-year old boy running up to the display with his mouth agape at the wonders of the vibrant insects.

“We got down low from a kid’s perspective to see how they viewed the exhibit and if the insect observation was ideal,” Gall said.

French Guiana has an average rainfall of 100 inches per year and the Kaw-Roura Nature Reserve is located at an altitude of almost 1,000 feet. The exhibit described the scarcely inhabited low land tropical forest regions as the “perfect environment” for observation and collection because little human impact has affected the specimens and their ecological niche.

“Because of its climate and geographical variation, French Guiana retains one of the highest diversity of flora and fauna,” the exhibit stated. The team of entomologists, which included Leonard Munstermann, William Krinsky and Victor DeMasi, approached their job with only one goal in mind — catch as many specimens as possible. Because insect collection occurred during the day and night, the team had little time for sleep, resorting to a short cycle of naps rather than continuous sleep.

The methods used for collection ranged from using UV lamps, intense Mercury vapor traps and bait such as rotten food, alcohol or excrement, Gall said.

“The designs may seem very simple, but they worked the best and fulfilled the desired need,” he added.

The expedition was environmentally friendly, leaving little to no impact on the surrounding area. The reserve was made in part specifically for entomological research, and one of the main goals is to have no harm come to the flora and fauna residing there. The entomological team plans to return to French Guiana in the near future, Gall said.

“I have never been a fan of bugs,” prospective Yale student and Peabody visitor Dalya Hahn said. “But viewing this exhibit and the immense variation in one small region of the world, let alone an entire species, has made me interested in learning more, especially behind the security of a glass barrier.”

The exhibit was funded and furnished by the Yale Peabody Museum as well as by Munstermann, Krinsky and DeMasi.

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