Contact: Wendel Sloan at 505.562.2253
Reporter: Shane Brown
PORTALES – The Natural History Museum Collection at Eastern New Mexico University has around 60,000 insects, in addition to thousands of fishes, amphibians, reptiles, birds and mammals.
Dr. Darren Pollock, assistant professor of biology, is the curator of invertebrates (animals without backbones, the major part of which are the insects), and has the difficult job of identifying and organizing the insect collection.
Recently, ENMU, along with several other institutions in New Mexico, was the recipient of a part of an EPSCoR (Experimental Program to Stimulate Competitive Research) grant, funded by the National Science Foundation. A major goal of this project in New Mexico is to make data associated with natural history collections available electronically to interested users over the internet.
Dr. Pollock has been working on entering the insect data into a database that will be put on the Internet and be available worldwide as part of this EPSCoR project. The only problem is only about five percent have been identified.
Since Dr. Pollock arrived at ENMU last fall, he has sent out about 4,000 specimens to colleagues for identification, and the data for about 3,500 specimens have been entered into the database.
"I'm basically starting from scratch; I have to have all the insects identified before we can put their data in the database," Dr. Pollock said. "The process of identifying all of the species will take years."
During his career as a systematic entomologist, Dr. Pollock has named quite a few genera and species himself and is currently working on several projects that will involve coming up with names to describe species never before known to science. "It happens a lot in the beetle area," Dr. Pollock said. "There is a great backlog of new species that need scientific names and descriptions."
Dr. Pollock, originally from Winnipeg, Canada, received his 1994 Ph.D. from the University of Alberta. He has also traveled many places before ending up at ENMU, including Montana, Pennsylvania, then back home to Winnipeg. He was in Amarillo for a year and a half before making his way to ENMU last fall.
Dr. Darren Pollock, assistant professor of biology, is faced with the massive task of identifying thousands of insects. (photo by Shane Brown