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New poster features jewel beetles

By John O’Connell

University of Idaho

MOSCOW, Idaho – Taxonomist William F. Barr was one of the world’s foremost experts on jewel beetles, a family of insects whose larvae feed on roots, logs and branches. 

Consequently, the museum he significantly expanded after arriving at the University of Idaho campus in 1946 – now known as the William F. Barr Entomological Museum – has an incredible collection of jewel beetles with about 50,000 identified specimens.  

A second-year undergraduate student studying entomology and environmental science, Emma Eakins, of Hillsboro, Ore., has featured that extensive jewel beetle collection in a new educational poster that includes her personal photography of the museum’s most intact specimens.  

Eakins, who is completing the project through a museum work-study program, also made a spreadsheet based on locations throughout Idaho where 1,996 of the collection’s jewel beetles were found.

She’ll use the data to create distribution maps documenting the territory of each species within the Gem State.

Her poster, maps and other pertinent information will be incorporated in a downloadable PDF book, “Annotated Photographic Checklist of Jewel Beetles in Idaho.”

It is planned for publication in the “Occasional papers of the Florida State Collection of Arthropods” – a Florida State Department of Agriculture’s entomology publication series.  

University of Idaho College of Agricultural and Life Sciences Dean Michael Parrella’s office provided funding to print 100 2- by 3-foot posters, to be displayed at every University of Idaho Extension office and research station statewide.

The posters are also available to download at no cost. 

“Not only is it just super beautiful, but it’s also a great tool for people who are unfamiliar with jewel beetles to say, ‘Hey, I found this beetle. What is it?’” said Eakins, who has wanted to be an entomologist ever since learning it was a career option in the third grade. “This is the first published entomology project I’ve ever done. I know a lot of undergraduates don’t get this kind of experience.”  

Eakins began working on the project in August 2021.

Idaho is home to 102 jewel beetle species – 98 of which were available in the museum’s collection to photograph and include in the poster.

Eakins photographed specimens dating back to the 1930s, using a basic camera with a focus stacking function, which allows photographers to take several photographs, each one magnifying and focusing a different area of the specimen.

Special software built in the camera assembles the images into a single, high-quality photograph. Eakins used photo editing software to digitally remove the pins through the collection’s beetle specimen.  

Some invasive jewel beetle species are pests to forests. For example, the emerald ash borer, native to north-eastern Asia, has decimated ash trees in the East Coast and was recently discovered in Oregon.

Most jewel beetle species, however, serve an important purpose, helping to break down dead trees.  

Luc Leblanc, the museum’s curator and manager, previously published a poster on Idaho butterflies. The posters provide his museum guests with supplemental information about the specimens they see in the collection.  

“When school children come to the museum, we’ll show them drawers of pinned beetles and then we’ll show them the poster, just to encourage them to take an interest in the natural sciences,” Leblanc said.  

Leblanc plans to next publish a poster on the yellowjackets and paper wasps of Idaho, and later one on the common bees of Idaho.

That will be an exhaustive project, as Idaho is home to 707 bee species, and males and females look very different, which will necessitate two photographs of many species.