Collection Showcases Arizona Insects - East Valley Tribune: Local Treasures

Collection Showcases Arizona Insects

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Posted: Sunday, July 7, 2013 8:45 am | Updated: 3:50 pm, Tue Aug 20, 2013.

The building is nondescript on the outside, but taking a few steps inside Life Sciences A on Arizona State University’s Tempe campus reveals animal skulls, two bright red Gila monsters, several preserved plants and fish and the largest bugs seen this side of a dinosaur movie.

The hand-sized butterflies and beetles are just a small portion of the nearly 700,000 bugs that make up the Frank F. Hasbrouck Insect Collection, a research collection that offers tours to interested visitors.

There are about 12,000 distinct species of insects carefully cataloged in the collection, and most of these come from the southwestern U.S., says curator Nico Franz.

“We can explain that there are a lot of insects in Arizona, despite what real estate agents would have you believe,” he says.

Most of the collection’s insects are pinned, marked and placed in drawers with others of their kind, but Franz or other staff can pull them out to show visitors. One drawer might contain dozens of monarch butterflies, while another has row after row of bedbugs and several uncomfortably large and hairy moths perch in a third.

All of the bugs, whether they were added to the collection a week ago or 30 years ago, are perfectly preserved.

“The nice thing about insects is that, if you keep them dry and free of pests, they stay the same,” Franz says. “We have plants in another collection here, and the cactus you see out there has been so preserved that it doesn’t look like what you’ll see out in nature. These insects do.”

Hundreds of drawers — there are 180 just for butterfly specimens — fill rows of cabinets in the collection’s main room, and more are being added. Staff and students working at the collection gather insects, which are preserved in ethyl alcohol, labeled and kept in a freezer in a back room until there’s time to pin them.

Other specimens come courtesy of active or retired entomologists, who may live elsewhere but come to study in Arizona because of its insect diversity. While there are only about 5,000 animal species in the whole world, Franz says there are more than seven times that many insects in Arizona.

“You may think of Arizona as just a desert without much life, but there’s actually a lot of differences in the climates here,” he says.

There are different types of insects in the hotter southern parts of the state than in the forested northern areas, and Arizonans should expect to see more as we approach monsoon season, he says.

The reason for this? Insects are seasonal, and more can be found when it’s wet.

Right now, there’s a lot of insects hiding and waiting in crevasses, just waiting to come out,” Franz says. “If you like insects, this is the time for it.”

Even when insects aren’t in season, bug aficionados can get their fix of creepy-crawlies at the Hasbrouck collection.

A few cases of bugs in the outside hall, including the giant butterflies and beetles, are viewable during the building’s hours, 9 a.m. - 5 p.m. Monday-Friday.

Anyone looking to see more can email Franz at to schedule a 15-minute tour. Outreach drawers are available for check-out by teachers or homeschooling parents with units on insects.

If You Go

What: The Frank F. Hasbrouck Insect Collection

When: 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday-Friday

Where: On the ground floor of the Life Sciences Building A-Wing, Room LSA 131, on the Arizona State University campus in Tempe

Cost: Free.

Information: (480) 965-2850 or

• Julia, a junior at Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication, is an intern for the East Valley Tribune. Contact her at (480) 898-6514 or

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