History of Entomology at the Academy

Beginnings till Now

The Entomology Department began with the founding of the Academy in 1812, with Thomas Say, great grandson of John Bartram, and a charter member of the Academy. Here he began his work on American Entomology, a book finally completed 25 years after his death. Say began a tradition of journeys to wild places in search of insects and other animals. Some expeditions ended prematurely because of the dangers of the frontier, from Indian attacks to the hazards of traveling across the Rocky Mountains. Say married Lucy Sistaire, an artist and illustrator of specimens, who became the first female member of the Academy. She donated Say's library and specimen collections to the Academy after his death.

Peale Collection

The Titian Peale Butterfly and Moth collection, the oldest collection of insects in the United States, provides an invaluable resource of study for assessing the changes in the Pennsylvania's environment in the past 150 years. In 1860 Ezra T. Cresson, one of America's most important early entomologist, gave his entire collection of more that 60,000 beetles and wasps to the Academy. In 1867, Brackenridge Clemens gave a large collection of Microlepidoptera (moths) and in 1897 George Horn gave his collection of over 50,000 beetles. The largest collection given to the Academy came from Morgan Hebard, who donated his collection of over 500,000 orthopteroid insects (grasshoppers, crickets and related insects). The most recent donation is the gift of the Robert T. Allen collection, encompassing approximately 20,000 specimens of North American insects, particularly Apterygota (primitively flightless soil insects).

Expeditions to remote places continued throughout the 19th and 20th century and continues today. Between 1905 and 1928, Morgan Hebard and James Rehn surveyed the entire western United States, adding more than one million specimens to the Academy's collections. Major expeditions to Australia, Africa, and the Pacific regions have recently revealed more than a thousand new species of insects. An ambitious plan is now underway to survey all western mountains which will contribute to our knowledge of the first stages in the formation of new species and the impact of man on the diversity of insects in the mountain environment. Current research involves fieldwork in Hispaniola, Mongolia, Jamaica, southern Africa and numerous North American locales.

The American Entomological Society

The Entomology Department and the American Entomological Society have mutually benefited from a nearly 150 year relationship that continues to the present. The Society's office is located adjacent to the departmental offices, its entomological collection is integrated in the department's collection and its meetings are held at the Academy. The Society's world renowned entomological library is housed in the Academy's Library & Archives. Jon Gelhaus currently serves as the Society's president, and Daniel Otte as the Society's editor of the Transactions of AES.

Photography © Robert Clark