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History of the C. A. Triplehorn Insect Collection



The insect collection at The Ohio State University had its beginnings in the late 1890s, but only became a formal entity in 1934 with the hire of wood-boring beetle specialist Josef N. Knull (1891–1975) as its first curator. For the next 28 years, Professor Knull devoted his career to the expansion and arrangement of the collection. During this time - with the exception of a few years during the height of World War II - he and his wife, fellow entomologist and leafhopper specialist, Dr. Dorothy Johnson Knull, spent their summers collecting in the American Southwest. Each year, before the development of the interstate highway system, they would drive from Columbus to that year's targeted area, Big Bend National Park, the Chiricahua and Huachuca Mountains, etc. Both were outstanding collectors, and the results of their efforts are reflected in the volume and diversity of material they added to the collection, particularly in their areas of research interest. 

Joe Knull was succeeded by another beetle specialist, Charles A. Triplehorn, who then served as curator for another 31 years. During his tenure, the role of curator evolved from one in which the incumbent’s responsibility was only for the care and use of the collection to that of a full-time faculty member. As such, collection curation was added to the standard teaching and research duties. Dr. Triplehorn was responsible for the design of the collection’s new facilities in the Museum of Biological Diversity. The move from the main campus to the current location on Kinnear Road took place in 1992. The insect collection was named in honor of Triplehorn in 2005.

Norman F. Johnson took over the responsibility for the collection in 1992. Because of the change in the job responsibilities of the faculty member in charge of the collection, the title was changed from curator to director. At that time the College of Biological Sciences first provided the insect collection with a permanent position for a full-time curator to handle the everyday activities of the collection. The current incumbent in that position is Dr. Luciana Musetti. 

Johnson combined his expertise in insect taxonomy and systematics with skills in biodiversity informatics to propel the collection into the future. He heavily invested in the development and implementation of biodiversity informatics tools for both collection management and systematics research. The collection website was launched in 1994, followed by live access to the collection's specimen database in early 1996.  Electronic dissemination of the data associated with the collection’s holdings became an intricate part of the collection's mission. 

In 2009 a facilities grant from the National Science Foundation, "Increasing efficiency of space utilization for the Triplehorn Insect Collection" (2008-2010), has allowed for the installation of a compactor system and the acquisition of new steel cabinets. The new system resulted in a 66% increase in storage capacity while reducing the collection’s footprint by 30%. 

In that same year, due to reorganizations within the University, the collection and its staff were transferred to the Department of Evolution, Ecology & Organismal Biology (EEOB) within the College of Arts and Sciences.


Many prominent private collections which formed the nucleus of the Ohio State Insect Collection were incorporated during the years of Professor Knull's tenure. Notable among these were the H. W. Wenzel Coleoptera, Herbert Osborn Homoptera and Hemiptera, J. S. Hine Diptera, R. A. Leussler and W. N. Tallant Lepidoptera, C. H. Kennedy ants, D. J. Knull leafhoppers, W. M. Barrows spiders (now housed at the OSU Acarology Laboratory), and the Alvah Peterson collection of immature insects. Increased acquisition of exotic specimens occurred later through the efforts of C. A. Triplehorn (Brazil, Panama, Mexico), P. H. Freytag (Mexico, Guatemala, Honduras), H. J. Harlan (South Vietnam), D. M. DeLong (Mexico, Chile, Argentina, Peru), L. E. Watrous (SE Asia) and B. D. Valentine (Caribbean Islands).

The single most significant research collection obtained was the D.M. DeLong Homoptera collection, presented to Ohio State in 1965, with more than 1,700 primary types and hundreds of thousands of specimens. Due to the combined efforts of DeLong, Osborn, D. J. Knull, R. Davidson, and generations of their students and collaborators, our leafhopper collection is one of the largest in the Western Hemisphere and is especially rich in type specimens.

Other substantial collections acquired between the 1970s and 1990s are the C. R. Cutright aphids, the R. M. Geist Mallophaga (slides), the H. Price Odonata and Lepidoptera, D. J. Borror Odonata, N. W. Britt aquatic insects and the C. Brivio Coleoptera (160,000 specimens).

In 2000, Dr. Clement Dasch (Muskingum College) donated the bulk of his collection, all but the parasitic Hymenoptera, to the Triplehorn Insect Collection. This consisted of 345 boxes (8½" x 12½"), with an estimated 65,000 specimens, mainly Hymenoptera, Coleoptera, Diptera, Lepidoptera, Orthoptera, Hemiptera, and smaller quantities of several other orders. 

In 2015 a massive collection of an estimated 50,000 pinned specimens of butterflies was donated by David Parshall, a local Lepidoptera enthusiast. 

More recently we received the ATI Wooster Insect Collection (2018) with about 14,500 historically important specimens. In 2019 a beautiful donation of over 5,300 tiger beetle specimens in pristine condition and determined to species was received from Dr. Thomas D. Schultz, retired faculty from Denison University, Granville Ohio. Schultz co-wrote the book “The Biology of Tiger Beetles and a Guide to the Species of the South Atlantic States.”

Other significant collections received in the 2000s include: Dr. David Shetlar collection (~6,000 specimens), Dr. David Horn collection (~6,000 specimens), and large voucher collections from Dr. Kayla Perry and MaLisa Spring.  


Current research work and collaborations are focussed on parasitic Hymenoptera and have led to rapid growth in that part of the collection. With the financial support of the National Science Foundation we have been actively collecting around the world for our systematic studies of the superfamily Platygastroidea. In addition, survey projects funded by the NSF in Madagascar, Colombia, Chile, Thailand, and Kyrgyzstan have produced much valuable material. For more information visit the Johnson Lab.