Low-cost insect boxes and high-volume storage cabinets
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Accepted for publication in June 2009 issue of the Bulletin of the Entomological Society of Canada.
Low-cost insect boxes and high-volume storage cabinets that are efficient and readily available in large quantities.
James Bergdahl
University of the Wilderness
Conservation Biology Center
919 S. Adams St.
Spokane, WA, USA, 99204

If global biodiversity estimates are accurate indicators of the contribution insects make towards species diversity worldwide (87% of 5,000,000 species; Wilson 1988) then many conservation biologists may eventually become entomologists. Arguably, insects are one of the most significant of the many life forms that run the world. Therefore, comprehensive conservation efforts should devote a substantial effort towards entomology. Developing an accurate insect taxonomy and classification, prospecting for new insect species, assessments of local, regional and global insect faunas, and monitoring habitat and population spatial and temporal dynamics from the perspective of insects are key to all successful long-term conservation programs. The infrastructure required to support extensive insect collections to support this research can be very expensive due to the volume of material that must be properly acquired, curated, and distributed. This is especially so if the specimens must be pinned (or pointed), and stored in boxes. In fact, many taxonomic experts that insect conservation biologists depend upon are unwilling to analyze collections if they are not pinned. Typically the investment in time and finances to support this research effort falls upon individuals with limited financial support (if any) and other necessary infrastructures (space and material for processing collections). For most insect taxa the only way to become an expert is to personally accumulate a series of specimens of many different species readily available for close inspection. This also applies, one would hope, to the recent phenomena of expert barcoders. Escalating financial and infrastructure burdens continue to overwhelm individual entomologists as museums and universities keep cutting support for collections of insects.
For more than 30 years I have systematically hunted the ca. 705 species of carabid beetles in the Pacific Northwest of North America and now curate one of the largest, privately owned beetle collections of the region. Many of these species are small-bodied and require a pointed series of specimens and a good dissecting scope to classify accurately. I have acquired this collection, and curate it, with minimal grant support, and levels of funding unable to finance the purchase of expensive institutional-grade insect boxes and storage cabinets. This situation has forced me to seek an affordable, yet efficient alternative.
In the early 1990s I discovered a mail order paper supply company that sold rigid paper boxes originally designed to hold a ream (500 sheets) of letter-size (8.5” x 11”) paper. These boxes fit perfectly into standard file cabinets. Unfortunately, at about the end of that decade, my supplier informed me that Weyerhaeuser had stopped manufacturing these boxes and therefore they were no longer available. I was unable to find any more of those boxes and lamented that I had assumed they would always be available and had not stockpiled a lifetime supply. Fortunately, I have recently found an almost identical product. The purpose of this letter is to inform other collectors of my current technique, which is, I think, probably the most efficient, cost-effective way to store pinned insects in large quantities. If it is not, I would certainly appreciate learning of a better alternative. Increased demand for this product should promote their availability in the future.
The boxes I use now are available from ULINE (www. ; 1-800-295-5510), a mail order company that claims to have “over 800 box sizes in stock and ready to ship”! On pg. 22 of their 2008-9 catalog they offer a “rigid set up box” (Cat No. S-10708). These rigid-paper boxes measure 8.5” x 11” x 2”), are glossy white, and come fully assembled. The top of this box telescopes entirely over the bottom of the box. Twenty of these boxes (one carton) cost US$29. An additional US$11 for shipping makes their cost US$2.00 per box. For pinning pads at the bottom of each box I order 20 custom-cut sheets (8.5” x 11”) of polyethylene foam from BioQuip Products (; 1-310-324-0620; Cat. No. 028NT). My latest order cost US$2.25 per pad, including shipping. I glue the pads to the bottom of the box with clear, 100% silicon rubber caulk that can be found at any good home improvement store for about US$5 per tube. One tube is enough to glue up 20 boxes. At the same time I glue an empty, clear plastic, snap cap, 35mm film canister into one of the inside corners of each box. The purpose of the canister is to provide a place to put mothballs. Before the canister is installed I punch a hole in its side with a hand-held single-hole paper punch to allow ventilation. I get the canisters free from local film processing labs. These canisters are 2” tall so you must cut out a small piece of the corner of the foam pad before gluing so that the top of the box will slide all the way over the bottom. Using this technique, the total cost of each box is ca. US$4.50.
Probably the single most important feature of these low-cost, paper insect boxes is that they fit nicely into standard, metal file cabinets available through office supply stores for a very reasonable price. I typically purchase used, high-quality, 2-drawer metal file cabinets that are ~28” deep for about US$40 each. Each of these cabinets will hold 24 insect boxes (12 per drawer). These cabinets can be used to support a large desk top made from a 30-36” solid core door, under which one can put a five standard file cabinets - enough storage space for a substantial insect collection (120 boxes). The total cost of this technique (120 boxes and five 2-drawers cabinets) is about $700. A similar sized, museum-grade storage setup would probably retail for more than a few US$1000s. Also, combinations of 2- and 4- drawer cabinets may be stacked to your room’s ceiling since even when full they are not that heavy. For easy reference, I keep brief notes on each box’s contents and pest management activity on the top or side of each box, such as the dates the box was frozen.
A paper insect box (9” x 13” x 2.5”) available from BioQuip costs is about the same price, however they do not fit efficiently into standard office file cabinets since they are 13” long. ULINE also sells a 3.5” x 7” x 2” rigid paper box; these can be neatly stacked and mixed with ULINE’s larger boxes in the same file cabinet much like a museum-unit tray.
My insect storage technique should be useful to any one curating a large pinned collection with a small budget. Even for well-financed projects, cutting the cost of storage will help make more funds available for other necessary supplies, labor, travel expenses, publication, etc. As always, any well maintained insect collection needs chemical (fumigants) and temperature (freezing) controls for avoiding pests - my storage technique is no exception.
I have no financial interest in any of the companies mentioned above and am not a sales person of any of these products - just an avid of collector of carabid beetles requiring low cost storage methods.
BioQuip Products, ; 1-310-324-0620, Cat. No. 1028NT.
ULINE, www. ; 1-800-295-5510, Cat No. S-10708.
Wilson, E.O., 1988. The current state of biological diversity, Pp. 3-18, in: E.O. Wilson (ed.), Biodiversity. National Academy Press, Washington, DC, USA

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