Barcoding Bugs


Labeled Insect SpecimenCan You Say Enyaliopsis transvaalensis????

We couldn’t, either. In fact, we still can’t say it. We can, however, make barcode labels that say it in barcodese (our little internal joke for a barcode symbology).


The insect collection of the Museum of Comparative Zoology (MCZ) is among the richest and historically most significant in North America, containing more than seven million specimens and the primary types of more than 33,000 species.

The representation is worldwide and particularly strong in the major orders Coleoptera, Hymenoptera, Lepidoptera and Diptera.

Several historically important collections are housed at Harvard, including the type-rich beetle collections of Horn, LeConte, Melsheimer, Bowditch, Fall and Darlington. The collections in many smaller orders are also among the most important in North America, i.e., Trichoptera, Odonata, Psocoptera, Neuroptera and Collembola.

The ant collection, alone comprising nearly a million specimens, is the largest and most important in the world. The fossil insect collection is the second most important one in the world.

As a result of an Association of Systematics Collections (ASC) survey and supplemental data (Miller, 1991), the MCZ entomological holdings were found to be the seventh largest in North America. These 1986 collection sizes (number of prepared specimens) were listed as follows:

National Museum of History 25,000,000
American Museum of Natural Science 16,204,000
Canadian National Collection 15,000,000
Bernice P. Bishop Museum 13,250,000
Field Museum of Natural History 8,000,000
Academy of Sciences 7,601,000
 Harvard University (MCZ) 7,263,000

Although the MCZ entomology collection is seventh in total number of specimens housed, it is second only to the Smithsonian Institution in North America for primary type holdings (the Smithsonian has about 99,000 types). Our type records list more than 33,000 holotypes, lectotypes, neotypes, and syntype series. The collections richest in type material are the Coleoptera (comprising about 50% of the types), Diptera, Neuroptera (s. l.), and Hymenoptera (especially ants).

The collection is worldwide in scope, with the United States, the West Indies, Central and South America and Australia and New Guinea being especially well represented. The entire collection, now estimated to contain over 7,500,000 prepared specimens, is taxonomically distributed as follows:

Coleoptera 48%
 Diptera 6%
Hymenoptera 33%
Other Orders 5%
Lepidoptera 7%
Fossils 1%

Primary Types 

Labeled InsectsThe Entomology Primary Type Database, a searchable database with label data and more than 83,500 images representing 16,701 species, including Coleoptera, Diptera, Hymenoptera, Lepidoptera, and other Orders of insects, can be found at the project home page.

The goal of the Biodiversity Heritage Library is to digitize the published literature of biodiversity held in major natural history museum libraries, botanical libraries and research institutions into one comprehensive web-based collection. The Ernst Mayr Library of the Museum of Comparative Zoology is one of ten conglomerate institutions involved in the project, which also includes the American Museum of Natural History, The Field Museum, Harvard University Botany Libraries, Marine Biological Laboratory/Oceanographic Institution, Natural History Museum (London, UK), Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, and the Smithsonian Institution Libraries.

MothMCZ Affiliates & Collaborators

BHL — Biodiversity Heritage Library
CBOL — Consortium for the Barcode of Life
EOL — Encyclopedia of Life
MVZ — Museum of Vertebrate Zoology, UC Berkeley
UAM — Museum of the North
VertNet — Vertebrate Networked Information System

MCZ Publications 
The Museum of Comparative Zoology publishes the Bulletin of the Museum of Comparative Zoology and Breviora. These journals contain original contributions concerned with systematics, evolutionary biology, ecology, and other aspects of organismal and comparative biology.

The Bulletin contains longer contributions, those over 30 printed pages; Breviora carries shorter papers. Both publications are focused on reporting work based on specimens held in the MCZ collections or by staff, students, and associates of the MCZ. Both publications are issued at irregular intervals.

Electronic Imaging Materials