course lab madness

It’s been a busy summer, what with a new baby, a new house, a new job … and an impending new class. And now it’s time to batten down the lab for a wild fall semester. My three ambitious goals for the hopefully near future:

  1. Migrate all the content of my lab handouts from MS Word to LaTeX. Part of this process will be to replace all unattributed images (my bad) with my own figures or Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Unported (CC BY 3.0) images. The reasoning behind this move is probably evident (hint: I want to share them confidently and broadly), but I’ll write a more detailed post about the process later. I’m pretty much still a TeX n00b, though, so don’t expect that post in the immediate future.
  2. Organize our collecting gear and preparation supplies. What kind of self-respecting insect museum has more Sherman small mammal traps (>50!) than insect pins (0)?! We do, that’s who. I’ve ordered a bunch of things (props to my boss for the support) and am slowly overcoming the shock and awe of our supply closet’s entropic, depleted condition. On the plus side, we’re rigged to the nines with aquatic sampling gear and have enough slides and coverslips to mount every aphid and louse in Pennsylvania.
  3. The real reason I write this post, though, is that I have to substantially revamp the teaching collection. Headhouse 3 serves as the setting for the ENT497B labs and as the clearing house for old collections from defunct classes. The resulting morass obscures the specimens’ provenance (though several people have said “assume they’re yours”) and breeds dermestids:
dermestid damage

A heavily damaged butterfly from one of the scattered, orphaned collections in our building.

So, what’s to be done with these scattered teaching collections? I’m conflicted. The official teaching collection for my course is definitely deficient, for many taxa. And the Frost Museum’s research collection (which is protected from pests and separate from the teaching materials) is OFF LIMITS for teaching – absolutely, under no circumstances will we pilfer research material for teaching.

Time is short, so I’m actually toying with the idea of folding actively infested specimens* in with my pristine (but beggard) teaching collection. The rub is that I won’t be able to fully treat this chimeric collection until probably late in the semester. Maybe it’s not a big deal, as dermestids seem to be pretty slow destroyers. This idea does defy common sense, though, and will probably cause a great disturbance in the collective curator’s Force. Will I recover from this fiasco?

* I haven’t confirmed this yet. Maybe the dermestids are all dead. UPDATE: (21 Aug 2012 4:00pm) There are indeed many live dermestids in those drawers of horrors. Sigh.

6 thoughts on “course lab madness

  1. Hey, it’s a teaching collection – what better lesson than to show the students what happens if they don’t take care of their specimens. You could even devote a whole lecture to the subject (value of collections as justification for the care they require).

  2. Pingback: the tragedy of orphaned insect collections | Deans Lab

  3. Thanks, Ted! I agree with your suggestion above. BTW – Found a few excavated tiger beetle burrows in the collection (chunks of mud with nice holes in them), which I saved for students to examine in lab. One of them had a freeze-dried larva that looked pretty natural. Cool! Maybe I’ll take a photo sometime.

  4. Pingback: Have you googled yourself lately? « Beetles In The Bush

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