The Entomology and Collembola Collections at the South Australian Museum are comprised of animals in the classes Insecta (insects) and Collembola (more commonly referred to as ‘springtails’ — small, wingless, segmented creatures often mistaken for insects).
The collection contains more than two million individual specimens. It is one of the premier assemblages of Australian insects and springtails in the world, but also contains material from New Zealand, Asian and Pacific nations and Antarctica.
There are approximately 1.2 million pinned insects, nearly 500,000 animals preserved in alcohol and 20,000 are prepared on slides to allow microscopic analysis. Invertebrate material collected for genetic analysis is stored in freezers at approximately -70°C.
Among the abundant insects and springtails in the broader collection are more than 30,000 type specimens — this means they are the specific examples on which the descriptions of new species are based. Such specimens have enormous historical and scientific value.
The Museum is currently creating a library of high-resolution digital images of types in the Entomology and Collembola Collections to make the collection more accessible and reduce the risk of damage to actual specimens.
Forming a complete database of all collection specimens is an ongoing project. Scientists from all over the world visit the Museum’s Entomology and Collembola Collections to conduct research into species diversity, changing distributions of insects and environmental studies. Keeping track of specimens is critical for this reason.
The Entomology and Collembola Collections have an impressive history, with some of the oldest specimens dating back to when the Museum first began its operations. Insects gathered during explorations of inland Australia during 1840–1860 are included as a result of having been donated to the Museum.
To protect this heritage material and the other more recent specimens, all pinned animals are now housed in new, airtight drawers, thanks to a grant from the State Government of South Australia. This should prevent access by the infamous carpet beetle (Anthrenus verbasci), whose predilection for eating dried specimens can be exceedingly damaging.