Keeping Good Records

An insect or other arthropod specimen, although merely decorative and aesthetically interesting, has little value when unaccompanied by additional information. Each properly documented specimen could be thought of as a data point in the science of entomology, providing information about when, where and how it was obtained. Each specimen should be properly labeled, preferably using conventions and practices that have become standards in the field. Additional field notes provide added value such as behavioral observations, plant interactions, and phenological observations (i.e., what plants were flowering when the specimen was collected?). Realize, however, that field note books and specimens may eventually part ways, so put the most important information on the label whether on an insect pin, in a vial or on a microscope slide. Minimally, label information should provide:

• Location. Be as specific as possible to the point of using global positioning system (GPS) coordinates for longitude and latitude, street addresses, proximity to highway intersections or towns, etc., and include county and state names.

• Date. Be consistent in use of the order for month, date and year, preferably writing out the month rather than using month number which could be transposed with the date number.

• Collector(s). Include your name so future researchers can contact you to ask further questions about your collecting experiences.

• Extraction source and/or methods. If the specimen was obtained from a specific host plant or reared, briefly explain. Some collectors will mention how the specimen was obtained (i.e., blacklight trap). Type of ink or other media used for printing labels is important. Many collectors prefer to use a pencil for labels to accompany specimens stored in alcohol. Permanent ink is better than water-soluble ink for writing labels. Today, tiny labels can be generated using a lazer or bubble jet printer, selecting a font size (e.g., 4) and type that is suitable for small labels of uniform size and similarly oriented on insect pins. Computer-printed labels may not be water soluble or suitable for use in alcohol.

Example label:

TX: Brazos Co.
College Station
Hwy. 21, 2 mi. N of Hw. 2818
June 28, 2003, Coll: B. M. Drees
ex. Post oak leaves

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