Insects are invertebrate animals which comprise the most diverse group of animals on earth, with over 1.3 million species described (more than all other animal groups combined). They are generally small in size and possess segmented bodies supported by an exoskeleton.
They are the only invertebrates to have developed flight, which plays a large role in their reproduction. They vary greatly in shape and size, ranging from dung beetles to butterflies.
The collection and study of insects is called entomology, and those who specialise in the collection and study of butterflies are termed lepidopterists. Entomologists are usually professional scholars who specialise in the subject, whereas the term lepidopterist can be used to describe a professional or amateur butterfly collector.
Insect collecting is a popular hobby around the world practised by both adults and children. The purpose of their collection is usually for scientific study, but insects collected and displayed in cases are also used as decorative objects in their own right.
There are strict guidelines in place for insect collectors to protect endangered species, and many cannot be collected, bought or sold.
There are a large number of organisations and societies dedicated to the subject, along with specialist shops and dealers. The biggest market for insect collecting is Japan, where the hobby is widespread.
History of insect collecting
Insects have been collected for the study by naturalists and entomologists for hundreds of years.
They were also displayed within the great Renaissance Period collections known as ‘cabinets of curiosity’ alongside natural and man-made wonders.
But the Age of Enlightenment saw a new scientific approach towards the natural world as people sought rationality and classification. The study of all types of animal began in far closer detail began during the 17th century.
One of the first great works on the subject was Insectorum sive Minimorum Animalium Theatrum (Theater of Insects) published in 1634 and accredited to the naturalist Thomas Muffet, along with substantial contributions from the Swiss naturalist Konrad Gessner.
Some of the most important early works were by Johan Christian Fabricius, the Danish zoologist and student of Carl Linnaeus. He is considered one of the most important entomologists of the 18th century, having named nearly 10,000 species of animal, and established the basis for modern insect classification.
Linnaeus published 10 major works on the subject, and his vast insect collections are now shared between various institutions such as the Natural History Museum in London, the Muséum National d'histoire Naturelle in Paris and the Statens Naturhistoriske Museum in Copenhagen.
During the early 19th century the study of entomology grew, due in large part to William Kirby, who is often described as the ‘father of entomology’. His work with William Spence produced four volumes of their celebrated ‘Introduction to Entomology’ between 1815 and 1826, and they proceeded to found the Entomological Society of London in 1833.
During the Victorian era the hobby of insect collecting became a popular pastime.
The developments of the Industrial Revolution gave people leisure time and higher wages, and the sudden move to built-up urban areas for large numbers of the population led to the romanticising of nature in art, literature and poetry. Amateur botanists, entomologists, and bird-watchers all began to study nature, and the popularity of collecting in general during the 19th century led many to build insect collections.
Butterfly collecting was particularly popular, and a field guide to identifying and collecting them was published in 1841 by the naturalist and illustrator Henry Humphreys. It was his work, along with that of Kirby and Spence, that encouraged his fellow Victorians to develop a keen understanding of natural history.
Main article: List of insect collecting terms
The world’s most expensive insect
The most expensive single insect ever sold is a 3” long stag beetle, which was sold to a collector by a specialist insect store for $89,000.
Notable insect collectors and collections
Main article: List of notable insect collections
Main article: List of insect dealers
Clubs and societies
Main article: List of insect collectors' clubs and societies