Receiving a shipment of insects for identification…

…is like Christmas all over again!

Unopened shipping box

Unopened shipping box

The sight of a newly delivered box sitting outside my office brings on a rush of excitement. The sight of an enormous box is even more exciting. I know what’s inside is gonna be good, but I don’t know how good. Will there be rare species I haven’t seen before? Will there be specimens representing new (and, thus, publishable) state records or host associations? By the same token, the bigger the box, the more nervous I get. Shipping pinned insect specimens can be risky, and the potential for damage to the specimens increases as the size of the shipment increases—it all depends on how well they were packed (and a little bit of luck!). The prominent “Fragile” labeling, detailed description of the contents, and up arrow indicators are all good first signs.

Opened shipping box w/ paperwork

Opened shipping box w/ paperwork

I remain optimistic as I open the shipping box and see foam peanuts filling the box almost, but not completely, to the brim to allow a little bit of shuffle for shock absorption. The specimen boxes are also completely hidden under the top layer of foam peanuts, suggesting there is enough vertical clearance inside. Lastly, paperwork placed inside the shipping box and on top of the cushioning ensures that the shipment can be delivered even if the outer shipping label is damaged or lost.

Inner shipping boxes

Inner shipping boxes

Below the top layer of foam I find two inner shipping boxes. I am a little concerned by the lack of clearance between the inner shipping boxes and the sides of the outer shipping box—ideally there should be a foam-filled gap of at least a couple of inches to allow some lateral shock absorption. I am also concerned that the two inner shipping boxes are not also bound to prevent bumping against each other, although the lack of space between them and the outer shipping box probably makes this point moot.

Opened inner shipping boxes

Opened inner shipping boxes

Inside the inner shipping boxes are very nicely wrapped specimen boxes. I’m not sure the inner wrapping to cushion the specimen boxes from each other accomplishes all that much other than to increase the size of the inner shipping boxes, which in turn decreases the clearance between the inner and outer shipping boxes. I would have rather seen the specimen boxes bound tightly together into a small unit to have additional space between them and the outer shipping box.

Unopened specimen boxes

Unopened specimen boxes

Seven classic insect specimen shipping boxes—the excitement (and nervousness) mounts as I prepare to open them and get my first look at the enclosed specimens.

Opened specimen boxes

Opened specimen boxes

A fine selection of gorgeous jewel beetles—mostly from Colorado but with a good number of specimens collected from countries around the world. But uh-oh, no inner false lids! A false lid rests directly on top of the pins of the specimens inside and is held in place by cushioning between the false and true lids. False lids are essential in shipments of any size to keep the pinned specimens, especially heavy-bodied ones, from working their way loose from the foam and bouncing around inside the specimen box during shipment. Fortunately, all of the specimens stayed put in most of the specimen boxes, …

Shipping damage

Shipping damage

…but one or two of the really heavy-bodied specimens did work their way loose in a couple of the boxes. As a result, there was some minor damage in the form of broken tarsi and antennae. The damage, however, is not great, and with fine-tipped forceps and a little bit of clear finger nail polish I should be able to effect decent (if not perfect) repairs. To the shipper’s credit, they made extensive use of brace pins on each side of heavier-bodied specimens in all of the boxes—this probably served to keep the damage as minimal as it was.

Although I salivate looking at the specimens—nearly 800 in all, I must set aside my desire to dive right into them and turn my attentions back to a previously received shipment (also numbering in the several hundreds). As soon as I finish that shipment, I’ll start working on this one, but I suspect that while I’m working on it I will receive another shipment that, like this one, competes newly for my attentions.

Copyright © Ted C. MacRae 2014

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About Ted C. MacRae

Ted C. MacRae is a research entomologist by vocation and beetle taxonomist by avocation. Areas of expertise in the latter include worldwide jewel beetles (Buprestidae) and North American longhorned beetles (Cerambycidae). More recent work has focused on North American tiger beetles (Cicindelidae) and their distribution, ecology, and conservation.
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3 Responses to Receiving a shipment of insects for identification…

  1. bayucca says:

    I hope you will still have the time and pleasure to write your great blog. I am glad, that next XMas is 11 months away…

  2. Harry Zirlin says:

    I was going to say I’ve been to Colorado a lot and never saw any of these…..

  3. vsvevg says:

    How funny. I can’t imagine having bugs shipped to me. I make beads of the long green ones.

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