The University of Wyoming Insect Museum: an Introduction

The University of Wyoming Insect Museum is the only research collection of insects in the state of Wyoming. Present holdings are estimated at more than a quarter of a million specimens. It is an important regional resource, as well as a collection of national and international significance. Holdings are particularly strong in the major orders Hymenoptera (53%), Diptera (12%), Lepidoptera (10%), and Coleoptera (9%). Several unique voucher collections are housed at University of Wyoming including the Pawnee National Grasslands Collection, Johnston and Wyodak Power Plant Collections, Hanna Strip-Mine Collection, the 1989-1990 Yellowstone Post-Fire Collection, Shelterbelt Insect Collection, the 1992 Brazilian Araguaia River Expedition Collection, and the world's largest research collection of Costa Rican parasitic wasps of the family Braconidae.

The importance of the U.W. Insect Museum can be measured by several parameters including the uniqueness and historical significance of its holdings, visitor use of the collections, loans to specialists, and contributions to faculty and student research projects. Records of loans to researchers indicates that utilization of the collection has been substantial, both in terms of annual loans and numbers of specimens. Most of these studies result in publications, demonstrating the scientific importance of the collection. As a repository for reference material of state insects, the U.W. Insect Museum is a critical resource supporting state extension programs. Vistor records demonstrate that public interest in the Insect Gallery is increasing steadily each year since 1989. More than 1,300 people visited the Insect Gallery during 1996, and that trend shows no sign of slowing down.


The Insect Collection at the University of Wyoming was initiated in 1894 by Frank Niswander, Professor of Zoology, who collected insects in the environs of Laramie. It was continued by Mr. Corkins, who maintained and developed the collection from 1923 to 1932. He was aided in his efforts by Dr. Harvey Sweetman, an insect ecologist of biological control fame, who worked with him from 1927 to 1930. The collection was then taken over by Mr. Harold Gilbert, an apiculturalist.

In 1943, Dr. Robert Pfadt was hired to replace Mr. Gilbert, who had resigned. Since apiculture was no longer represented, this term was dropped and the department became, simply, the Department of Entomology. Dr. Pfadt initiated the Orthoptera collection and has contributed substantially to the development of the entire collection, up to the present time. A paper entitled Key to Wyoming Grasshoppers resulted from his additions to the collection. Dr. Pfadt, currently Emeritus Professor, curates the Orthoptera collection and is actively pursuing his research on grasshoppers. He is currently writing A Field Guide to Common Western Grasshoppers, supported by a major grant from the United States Department of Agriculture.

In 1944, Mr. Ted Robb was hired as the first extension entomologist in Wyoming. Part of his duties was to maintain the collection and increase the economic insect holdings. Dr. Don Fronk arrived in 1954 and took over the job of curating the collection, as well as working as an economic entomologist. His duties ceased with the arrival of Dr. Robert Lavigne in 1959, at which time Entomology was absorbed into the Plant Science Division. Prof. Lavigne has made many important contributions to the growth of the collection, continuing to the present. In addition to general insect collecting, he supervized the development of several important environmental-impact Voucher Collections including the Pawnee Grasslands Collection, Hanna Strip Mine Collection, Johnston and Wyodak Power Plant Collections, Sagebrush and Rangeland Insect Collections, and Yellowstone Post-Fire Collection. His taxonomic research has focused on the systematics of the Asilidae (Robber Flies), and, although retired, he is still associated as Professor Emeritus, and is responsible for curation of the asilid flies. He supervized the transfer of the collection to the new building in 1982, and named the new facility the "Rocky Mountain Systematic Entomology Laboratory."

The collection has steadily increased in size over the years, being intermittently infused with gifts from various individuals. Most of the flea collection was aquired as a donation by J. S. Wiseman in 1955. A large collection of mosquitoes was donated by Dr. William Owen, an entomologist attached to the Zoology Department, upon his retirement in 1971. A general insect collection of approximately 3000 prepared specimens was donated in 1986 by George Stephens III. A collection of approximately 2,500 sagebrush associated insects was donated by Tim Christiansen in 1990.

With the advent of the International Biological Program Grassland Biome Project, the collection swelled considerably by the addition of innumerable grassland insects contributed by three members of the Entomology section who were involved. This collection provided the data for an extensive publication entitled Insects of the Central Plains Experiment Range, Pawnee National Grasslands.

During the period from 1985-1989 the collection was managed by Dr. Jeffrey Burne, who temporarily replaced Dr. Lavigne while he was serving the university as Chief of Party at the dryland agricultural station in Somalia. Dr. Burne's main achievements were the transfer of parts of the main research collection over to a soft-bottomed unit tray system, and the rearrangement of the Coleoptera collection to a phylogenetic system.

Dr. Scott R. Shaw, arrived at the University of Wyoming in July of 1989, and has been in charge of the collection since that date. A computerized system for collection management, similar to that in use at Harvard University, was introduced at that time. Since 1989 the Hymenoptera, Lepidoptera, and Diptera collections have been curated and rearranged to a phylogenetic system. More than 60,000 braconid wasps from Costa Rica have been added, making this one of the most important such collections of these parasitoid wasps, worldwide. The donation of the Howard Butterfly Collection (6,000+ specimens) was acquired in 1992, which provided the materials for the new Insect Gallery initiated in 1993. Extensive Malaise trap collections have been made from numerous sites in Wyoming, Costa Rica, Brazil, South Africa, and Australia, greatly increasing representation of all insect groups.

Other Links
Dr. Scott R. Shaw's C.V.
Insect Gallery
Tropical Forest Room
Specimen Loan Policy
Insect Biology Degree Program
Back to Renewable Resources Home Page