Lois and Charlie O’Brien, two entomologists, donated their entire insect collection to Arizona State University. The collection is estimated to be worth about $12 million dollars. The couple also endowed Arizona State University with two professorships, which the university hopes, should elevate the school’s status in the entomology world. The couple started their collection over 60 years ago, and with well over a million insects, the collection helped to double the university’s existing collection that also has some rare bugs.
While there are many insects in the O’Brien’s collection, the couple focuses on two types of insects: weevils and planthoppers. Charlie O’Brien, according to Smithsonian Magazine is an internationally known beetle expert. With his research, the weevil who was, at first a pest to crops is now part of the solution in fighting invasive weeds hurting ecosystems. With his research, future researchers can have a better grasp of the insect and how it interacts with the environment.
Lois, a chemist at the time she met Charlie, preferred planthoppers. Resembling leaves and other plants in their surroundings, planthoppers hop from plant to plant. While not hopping, the planthoppers walk slowly to not attract attention. These colorful and attractive insects drew Lois’ eye. In their travels, while Charlie searched for weevils, she focused her attention on planthoppers.
The couple met at Arizona State University in the 1950s and spent the next 60 years traveling all over the world in the hunt for insects. Lois and Charlie first met before taking a course in entomology. Charlie was a teaching assistant in the class. Speaking to The Guardian, Franz called the O’Brien’s collection a “gold mine for researchers.” Depending on the rarity of the insect it might cost between $5 and $300.
The couple has endured near drownings, ambushes, and nocturnal drives in the search for their insects. The couple, who still work on their collection, now only work “10 hours a day” instead of their usual 14 hours, according to The Guardian. They pin the insects and write detailed labels for each insect while sitting in their living room.
The collection was endowed to Nico Franz, associate professor, curator of the Frank Hasbrouck Insect Collection, and the director of Biodiversity Knowledge Integration Center, according to Entomology Today. In a press release from Arizona State University, Franz said that “the O’Briens have placed great trust in us as a research community,” adding that he hoped the collection would positively impact “future generations.”
By Cheryl Werber
Photo Courtesy Deanna Dent/ASU Now