Frost Entomological Museum reopens after renovations, renewal

November 08, 2019

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — After being closed to the public for more than six years, Penn State's Frost Entomological Museum has reopened with new and improved exhibits, storage facilities, and research capacity, much to the delight of school groups and insect enthusiasts.

The improvements were needed to ensure the preservation of more than a million specimens of insects and other arthropods — most of which were collected from the eastern United States — and to modernize the facility to fulfill its educational and research missions, said Andy Deans, the museum's director and professor of entomology in the College of Agricultural Sciences.

"The museum stands, in part, as a resource to preserve, study, understand and celebrate the arthropod diversity of Pennsylvania," Deans said. "We also exist to facilitate research and training and, as our mission statement says, 'to foster a sense of curiosity about the natural world and to instill responsibility in all people to make our world a better place.'"

Observing its 50th anniversary this year, the Frost Entomological Museum was founded in 1969 and named in honor of Stuart Frost, who began his career in the Penn State Department of Entomology in 1922, retiring in 1957. Frost was responsible for the first major insect reference collection at the University and continued to add thousands of specimens to the collection well into his retirement. He died in 1980.

Stuart Frost with light trap

Stuart Frost, the late entomologist for whom Penn State's Frost Entomological Museum was named, stands with a light trap he developed for collecting insects.

IMAGE: Frost Entomological Museum

After its establishment under founding curator K.C. Kim, professor emeritus of entomology, the museum's collections continued to grow, eventually filling virtually all available space and making preservation difficult.

"The old cabinetry was susceptible to infiltration by museum pests, and we were maxed out with respect to storage," Deans said. "At the time we closed, there were about 1,700 drawers in our cabinets, and only eight were empty. We had no room to grow."

The public space also needed a major upgrade, he explained.

"Fluorescent lights had not been kind to the exhibits, which I don’t think had been updated for decades," said Deans. "Our aesthetics and our understanding of how people effectively engage exhibits also have changed extensively since our founding in 1969. We were due for updates that could create a richer experience for visitors."

Since the museum closed for renovations in 2013, Deans and museum staff — with support from the National Science Foundation — also have been digitizing the collections to expand accessibility and make the associated data available for researchers anywhere.

Sucking lice (Linognathoides faurei)

These sucking lice (Linognathoides faurei), collected on a ground squirrel in South Africa in 1957, are part of the collection at Penn State's Frost Entomological Museum. An NSF-funded project will help further digitize the museum's collections of parasites and link them with other research collections nationwide.

IMAGE: Emily Sandall, Frost Entomological Museum

Deans said the museum maintains three primary collections, one each to support research, teaching and outreach.

"The research collection is our largest, with about 1 million specimens," he said. "Our oldest specimen was collected in Paris, France, in 1859, and our oldest Pennsylvania specimen was collected in 1870 in Lancaster County. We have a good selection of species from major insect orders, and we add several thousands of new specimens annually — but we also have some strengths that make us stand out."

For example, he pointed out, the Frost Museum has one of the five largest collections of sucking lice (Anoplura) in the world, one of the five largest aphid collections in North America, an "incredible" collection of more than 65,000 dragonflies and damselflies representing more than 1,000 species, an extensive collection of butterflies and spiders of Pennsylvania, and others.

The teaching collection consists of several thousand specimens of arthropods that students handle, observe and sometimes dissect to learn about arthropod diversity.

"They may learn how to distinguish between bumble bees and carpenter bees, for example, or how to tell ticks from spiders," Deans said. "I teach a class called 'Insect Biodiversity and Evolution,' which is a core class for entomology graduate students. They are the primary users of this collection."

Deans said the museum's small outreach collection of several hundred specimens includes "our show-stoppers — the 'oh mys' — and the 'insects of the day' such as spotted lanternfly." Many of these were collected by Stuart Frost during his sabbaticals in the tropics, mainly in Panama and Ecuador.

"Frost recognized the powerful narrative that insects could tell and spent a lot of time assembling specimens into outreach displays, like dioramas, that represented the spectrum of insect biology — predators, aquatic insects, leaf miners, gallers, insect colors and so forth," Deans said.

Andy Deans, Frost Museum director

Andy Deans, professor of entomology and director of the Frost Entomological Museum, examines specimens from the museum's collection of more than a million arthropods.

IMAGE: Nick Sloff, Penn State Department of Entomology

With the renovation, the museum's old exhibits have been archived, and a handful of specimens from the old exhibits made their way back into the new public space, which has doubled in size.

"The change has been transformative," Deans said.

However, some of the museum's most popular public features — displays of live arthropods, such as a honey bee observation hive, tarantulas, scorpions, stick insects and cockroaches — have not yet returned.

"To properly and humanely maintain an insect zoo requires substantial time and resources," Deans said. "We do have detailed plans for a zoo in the future, and we intend to stock it with unusual species — things you don’t see every day. We also hope to have the honey bee observation hive up and running again in the spring of 2020."

Deans expressed appreciation for the support the museum has received for the renovation and ongoing operations.

"The Friends of the Frost Museum especially have been incredible," he said. "Without their fundraising, the new public space would not have been possible. Likewise, my colleagues in the entomology department have been strong advocates for public engagement."

The Frost Entomological Museum is located at 160 Curtin Road, across from the Berkey Creamery on Penn State's University Park campus. The museum is open to the public from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday through Friday. Visitor parking is available in the East Parking Deck on Bigler Road. More information can be found on the museum's website at https://ento.psu.edu/facilities/frost.

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Last Updated November 08, 2019