Over 600 species of spiders are known from Quebec… we know this because people (including many in my laboratory!) collect them, identify them, publish papers on them, and store the specimens in an entomological collection. McGill’s spider collection is located in the basement of the Centennial Centre, at Macdonald Campus, and it is part of the Lyman Entomological Museum.
Over the past couple of weeks, our laboratory has been lucky to host an intern, Niki. She is visiting us as part of her program at Vanier College, and is in our laboratory because she is passionate about entomology and arachnology. Part of Niki’s work was to help me re-organize this spider voucher collection:
Each drawer of the collection contains a number of vials, with different species represented in each vial. Vouchers are specimens that have been identified as part of some project in the past, and before we publish our work, the species that were identified go into individual vials, with a proper label (i.e., containing data about locality, habitat and identity). This allows experts to verify our identifications (and correct them if necessary!), and vouchers are therefore the ‘hard evidence’ that we did our work, and exemplify the principles of repeatability in our kind of science.
The Biological Survey of Canada published an excellent brief all about voucher specimens, written by Terry Wheeler. Here’s a nice quote from that document:
“Designation of voucher specimens is a long-established practice in systematic research, through the designation of type specimens of newly described species. The requirement for a one-to-one correspondence between a scientific name and a real organism is undoubtedly responsible for the convention in systematics of depositing authoritatively identified specimens from a study in a research collection, whether the specimens are types or not.”
A spider collection is a little peculiar. In contrast to most insect collections (in which the insects are stored dry, individually, on pins), spiders are stored long-term in vials, and preserved in ethanol. This means they require some curation – i.e., now and then someone has to make sure the ethanol hasn’t evaporated, the labels are still in good shape, and the vials are undamaged. Spider vouchers are also a little different because a single vial may contain several individuals of the same species, and often representatives of both sex.
The Lyman Entomological Museum’s spider vouchers are reasonably well organized, but over the past few years, specimens from some past projects still had to be incorporated into the collection – this is what Niki helped with. Niki also helped to electronically database the collection. This is a very important step, also, since we want to eventually make the data from this collection freely available on-line. This will mean that others can find out what species are in our collection, and discover what habitats/locations they are from.
If the collection interests you, send me an e-mail and book a visit!