Naturalists at Sagawau Environmental Learning Center maintain a diverse collection of arthropods for research and educational purposes, dating back to 1960s specimens from retired naturalist Yvonne Woulfe. As you can imagine, preserving and growing this scientific collection requires work, patience, and a good sense of humor. That is where the Collections Volunteers come in!
Whitney Kwok is a Forest Preserve super-volunteer, monitoring dragonflies and participating in stewardship workdays on a regular basis. She first learned how to pin insects in an entomology course at University of Illinois. At Sagawau, she has been elevating it to an art-form. If you watch Whitney work on a beetle, for example, she delicately pulls each leg of the beetle to position it perfectly, securing each with a pin. When the specimen dries, it is a lot easier to identify the insect to family because each tarsus (foot) is readily seen under the microscope, which is key for beetles.
When the pinned insects dry, the next step is to identify them. Last summer, Michigan State University Entomology major Michael Kalwajtys spent his summer in his home state assisting naturalists with dragonfly field work and with identifying pinned insects. Michael then created labels for the species name, locality, and date for each insect. This label will stay with the specimen forever more, for future generations of scientists. Michael has been applying his experience from the Forest Preserves to his work an undergraduate research assistant at MSU, studying plant-insect interactions.
All this data needs to be managed in a way that can be searched, of course! Forest Preserve superstar volunteer Kathy Branigan just stepped up to help manage all aspects of the collection. While COVID-19 means no one can come in to pin insects at the moment, Kathy is currently entering data in the database from home and practicing her identification skills. When she isn’t assisting Sagawau naturalists, Kathy can be seen with the Palos Restoration Project volunteers, monitoring butterflies, frogs, and plants of concern, or on Trail Watch patrol.
Working with these lovely people allows me to share my passion with fellow Bug Geeks. These volunteers are helping create a scientific research and educational collection for many generations to come.
Please note that due to the COVID-19 pandemic our Nature Centers are closed through May 11th and like other volunteer opportunities, the Collections Volunteer opportunity is suspended at this time.