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NMSU Arthropod Museum increases outreach, adds to national database

When Girl Scouts visited the New Mexico State University Arthropod Museum on May 2, their eyes widened when they saw a tarantula crawling on the table, their voices screeched as they held a Madagascar hissing cockroach, and they giggled when a Vietnamese walking stick trotted up their arms.


Woman holding a tarantula in a box, children watching
New Mexico State University Arthropod Museum Curator Jennifer Shaughney describes a tarantula to Girl Scouts Troop 61061 during a presentation. (NMSU photo by Kristie Garcia)
Two young girls holding a cockroach
Two members of Girl Scouts Troop 61061 hold a Madagascar hissing cockroach during a visit to the New Mexico State University Arthropod Museum. (NMSU photo by Kristie Garcia)
Close-up of honey bee
A camera in the New Mexico State University Arthropod Museum is able to take close-up and nearly 3-D images of specimens, such as this honeybee. (NMSU photo by Jennifer Shaughney)

In addition to students from Las Cruces and El Paso visiting the museum, curator Jennifer Shaughney conducts educational presentations at schools in Las Cruces and surrounding areas as well. She said the museum staff has recently increased its outreach efforts. In 2015, museum outreach impacted 9,000 people, including about 3,000 who visited the museum located in Skeen Hall.

?It?s really important for kids to have somewhere to go and for teachers to have somewhere to bring their students to learn about insects,? Shaughney said. ?It?s nice for them to be able to come here as a resource and to see our collection, including our displays of exotic insects. This is just a really awesome opportunity for kids to interact with specimens and species that they wouldn?t ever really see otherwise.?

Sunshine Crosiar, leader of Girl Scouts Troop 61061, said her troop?s visit to the museum exceeded all expectations. Shaughney and NMSU Department of Entomology, Plant Pathology and Weed Science Agricultural Research Assistant Helen Vessels educated the girls about various arthropods.

?The Girl Scouts were amazed by the biodiversity that can be found in the desert and most were inspired to continue their bug hunts at home,? Crosiar said. ?Jennifer and Helen shared their love for science and have made a lasting impression in the lives of these girls.?

Shaughney and museum director and entomology professor Scott Bundy also take part in bio blitzes for the Asombro Institute at the Chihuahuan Desert Nature Park and for the Southwest Environmental Center at La Mancha Wetlands. The purpose of a bio blitz is to document biodiversity found in a given area over a set period of time, such as 24 hours. Shaughney and Bundy work with other specialists to get a complete picture of what animals and plants are found in a specific location. There is also a community component, in which the public can make observations and learn about various organisms, such as insects.

?Insects are all around us, and people need to know at least the basics about insects, whether you are going to have a garden or whether you?re a farmer or a homeowner,? Shaughney said. ?This is a good way for people to connect with insects, so that their only experience up close with an arthropod isn?t being terrified of a spider in their bathroom.?

In addition to outreach, Shaughney has led efforts to make advancements in the arthropod collection since her arrival at NMSU in June 2015. The museum has significantly increased its amount of specimen records entered into the national database ? the Symbiota Collections of Arthropods Network ? from approximately 60,000 to 77,000. Two undergraduate students work in the museum, assisting Shaughney by identifying and entering specimen details into the database.

The specimens in the museum are used for research purposes and as educational tools. The oldest specimen is from the 1890s and the most recent is from earlier this year. The museum contains specimens from as far as Vietnam, Italy and France.

?Our specimens are used to tell what insects inhabit the southwestern United States and New Mexico,? Shaughney said. ?We do have specimens from all over the world, but our collection is primarily from the southwestern U.S. We can use the specimens to find out what the biodiversity is like around here, what pests we have here, what beneficial insects we have here, what those insects might be feeding on and what time of the year they?re most abundant.?

Another tool for assisting researchers is the 3-D camera in the museum, which takes pictures of a specimen from three different angles. The images are then stacked to create what is very close to a 3-D photo. Not only do these images serve as a method of documentation, but they may be helpful to researchers that request a loan of specimens from the NMSU Museum.

?If a researcher is in Europe, and we don?t want to necessarily mail a specimen due to postage costs and the risk of damage, we can take high resolution photos and send them to that researcher,? Shaughney said. ?That?s not always a substitute if you?re doing taxonomic work, but it is very useful, as researchers may be able to see what they need from the photo.?

Whether it is outreach or entering specimens into the database, the NMSU Arthropod Museum is buzzing with activity all year long.

For more information about the museum or to book an outreach event, call 575-646-5552 or visit https://arthropods.nmsu.edu.