What Has Six Legs?

What Has Six Legs?

Claudia Copley
Claudia Copley

Claudia CopleyEntomology Collection Manager

Why did you want to become an entomologist (someone who studies insects)?
I was keen on insects from as early as I can remember, so becoming an entomologist was a natural fit. I always had jars with live insects in them and I am told I even insisted they be in my crib with me! Of course when I was little no one told me I could do what I loved and get paid for it, but that is exactly what has happened. My interests extend to everything biological, but my passion is for terrestrial arthropods—insects, spiders, and their relatives.

How did you become an entomology collections manager?
For schooling I have a undergraduate degree and a master’s degree in biology. In between I also did a high school teaching degree with an emphasis on math, general science, and biology. What I found out during my teaching experience was that not everyone loved nature and science as much as I do, so I came back to my true love: entomology.

I am still learning new things every day that relate to my career and interest in nature and am always on the lookout for courses where I can learn even more about the species that make up the huge field of entomology. On that note I have taken a course called The Bee Course, another course on bark beetles, and I am keeping my eye on the schedules of The Ant Course, The Hym Course, and others.

What does an entomology collections manager do? 
My overall role is to make sure the entomology collection is available for research. There is still so much left to learn in entomology that the collection is in high demand for study. A typical day for me could include putting together a loan of specimens for shipment to researchers anywhere in the world, or a visiting researcher could come here and work directly in the collection. I spend most hours each week making sure the specimens are well curated: prepared properly (labelled, pinned, stored in preservative, etc.), that all the information about the specimen is captured digitally so we can search what is in the collection, putting things into the collection where they go, and making sure they are easily found when they need to be. I can only do all of this with the help of a big group of volunteers.

I also answer questions about all aspects of entomology every day and these questions come at me via email, phone calls, and some people even come right to the museum with critters in containers.

Something I don’t do every day but what I consider a critical part of the job is to add to the collection through fieldwork. It is amazing to spend even a short amount of time every year in natural areas all over the province.

Stories by or about this person

Meet Entomology Collection Manager Claudia Copley and peek behind the scenes in entomology.
Credit: RBCM, J. Weller

Read Entomology Collection Manager and Researcher Claudia Copley’s and Conservation Manager Kasey Lee’s article about Dermestid Beetles in the Winter 2014 edition of What’s Insight. Find out how these insects threaten collections throughout the museum.

Read Entomology Collection Manager and Researcher Claudia Copley’s article about the bees of British Columbia in the Fall 2014 edition of What’s Insight.

Rob Cannings
Rob Cannings

Rob CanningsCurator Emeritus of Entomology

Why did you want to become a scientist and a museum curator?
Luckily for me, I grew up among the beautiful lakes, grasslands and pine-clad hills of the Okanagan Valley in southern BC. My family loved the natural world and we eagerly explored and studied the plants and animals of the Valley. My Dad worked at the Agriculture Canada Research Station in Summerland, so I grew up among all sorts of biologists and other scientists working on interesting problems. They let me hang out in their labs when I was a kid.

I loved museums from an early age and fell under the spell of the identification handbooks of the Provincial Museum. I decided that museum life combined all my interests and that’s where I wanted to work – so here I am!

How did you become an scientist and curator?

The path to a museum job began when I was really young, before I went to high school. In my summer holidays during university, I worked as a Park Naturalist in BC Parks, talking to tourists, leading nature walks, and making displays. I learned a lot about the natural world and how to inspire people about it. Good museum training!

At the University of BC I studied biology and loved the entomology (study of insects) courses taught by Dr Geoff Scudder, who became a mentor. He supervised me as a masters student. To this day, he and I work on insect projects together.

Aiming to get a job at the Royal BC Museum (it was called the BC Provincial Museum then), I worked hard to get useful experience – I wrote a museum handbook on BC dragonflies, I produced exhibits for various museums, I collected lots of insects and wrote about them, I got to know many entomologists. When my dream job appeared, I was ready to go! Later, I earned a PhD, which helped me be a better curator.

What does an entomology curator do? 

My usual research asks questions such as: What species is this? Has it been found before? Where do these species live and how, over millions of years, did they get there? How are all these species related? How did they evolve? It’s all a fascinating puzzle and the research involves a lot of detective work. Thousands of BC’s insect species are still unknown and I’ve spent much of my career helping to build the Royal BC Museum insect collection so that everyone can learn more about this big part of BC’s natural world. I love field work, and finding insects has taken me to the far corners of the province –and the world! Identifying specimens and organizing them in the collection is a crucial and time-consuming task. But studying insects is not everything – a curator must tell people about all those discoveries. So writing and speaking about insects, as well as helping produce exhibits about them, takes up a lot of my time. 

What have you learned from working with insects?

I love learning about insects and the unbelievable lives that they lead. Their complexity and  mind-boggling variety excite me and give me an all-consuming appreciation of this huge group of marvellous organisms with which we share the earth. I have collected insects, photographed them, talked and written about them. Curiosity and the thirst for knowledge, not fancy labs and equipment, are the basis for good science and a museum curator’s work.

Stories by or about this person

Curator Emeritus of Entomology Dr Rob Cannings spent his childhood exploring ponds in the Okanagan Valley. Here he writes about a special moment when a dragonfly captured his attention and what one needs to become an observer of these insects.

BC’s diverse habitats support more than half of all the species of robber flies in Canada. Although harmless to humans, these “assassins in the grass” are skilled hunters of other insects. Learn more in this article by Curator Emeritus of Entomology Dr Rob Cannings.

How can you tell if it is a dragonfly or a damselfly? Do they sting? Learn the basics about these ancient insects from Dr Rob Cannings.

What happens after a dragonfly larva leaves its watery world? And why are dragonflies sometimes seen joined together while flying? Read about the life of the adult dragonfly here.

In this video Curator Emeritus of Entomology Dr Rob Cannings talks about the features and adaptations of dragonflies and damselflies.
Credit: RBCM