New advances in computers and digital imaging are shaping a new era in insect curation, the Virtual Collection. A number of research universities are making their collections “online” through the use of GigaPan and other technologies. In traditional insect collections, insects are mounted on pins, & stored in boxes which are placed in cabinets. Access is usually limited because the specimens are fragile. One way to increase access is the use of gigapixel cameras to take digital images. These “panoramas” contain digital information that allows the viewer to focus on a single insect specimen and tiny details of the specimen in high resolution. The technology has some limitations, but it also provides new opportunities.
North Carolina State University recently published, Results and insights from the NCSU Insect Museum GigaPan project* Insect Experts from around the world have been able to visit the Virtual Collection and have identified some of the “unknown” species. Contributions have been made already! These experts can communicate their observations to museum curators to update and improve the collection.Other visitors have linked images of species to images of the habitat where they were collected. The technology is also used for teaching. Insect Collections made by students for class projects are imaged for use by future classes. Digital imaging cannot and will not replace the need for curated specimens, but the technology has much to offer in expanding access and developing new uses.
*Zookeys. 2012;(209):115–132; doi:10.3897/zookeys.209.3083