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University of Colorado Museum of Natural History leads $2.3 million project to digitize the nation's fossil insect collections

July 1, 2013

The University of Colorado Museum of Natural History is collaborating with eight nationally renowned museums to make available all major collections of fossil insect specimens in the United States.

Collections Assistant, Alison Dernbach, curating fossil insects. Photo by Talia Karim.
Collections Assistant, Alison Dernbach,
curating fossil insects. Photo by Talia Karim.

The Fossil Insect Collaborative is a joint venture between the University of Colorado Museum of Natural History, the American Museum of Natural History, Florissant Fossil Beds National Monument, Harvard’s Museum of Comparative Zoology, the University of Illinois Natural History Survey, the University of Kansas Biodiversity Institute, the National Museum of Natural History, the Virginia Museum of Natural History and the Yale Peabody Museum of Natural History. The $2.3 million project is being led by Drs. Dena Smith and Talia Karim and is funded by the National Science Foundation (NSF) program Advancing Digitization of Biological Collections (ADBC). Over the next four years, Drs. Smith and Karim will work with collaborators to make nearly half a million fossil insect specimens, images and their associated data available to the research community, K-16 education, government and industry, the general public, and the media through an online hub called iDigPaleo, the project’s website (fossilinsects.colorado.edu) and through the national resource www.iDigBio.org.

 

34 million year old Flower Fly from the Florissant Formation of Colorado.
34 million year old Flower Fly from the Florissant Formation of Colorado.

Fossil insects provide a unique deep-time record of ecological and evolutionary response to past environmental changes and therefore are invaluable for understanding the impacts of climate change on the current biodiversity crisis. Smith explains, "Fossil insects are hidden treasures in our museums. By studying them we learn about life on earth and the effects of environmental change. This collaboration among some of the top museums in the country will make these important specimens available to educators, policy-makers and researchers all over the world." Mobile apps and educational activities also will be developed to encourage users to experience and interact directly with the collections.

34 million year old Caterpillar from the Florissant Formation of Colorado
34 million year old Caterpillar from the Florissant Formation of Colorado
 

About the University of Colorado Museum of Natural History (UCMNH) Paleontology Section

The UCMNH has one of the largest and historically important fossil terrestrial arthropod collections in the U.S. There are over 100,000 fossil insect and spider specimens, many of which come from Colorado fossil localities, including the famous Creede, Florissant and Green River deposits. A large collection of over 3,400 fossil insects and spiders preserved in copal and amber from Madagascar, Colombia, and the Baltics are also part of the collection. For more information visit http://cumuseum.colorado.edu/research/paleontology/invertebrates.

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