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Entomology Department

Research Collections


The insect collection of the Museum of Comparative Zoology 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 Natural History 25,000,000
American Museum of Natural History 16,204,000
Canadian National Collection 15,000,000
Bernice P. Bishop Museum 13,250,000
Field Museum of Natural History 8,000,000
California 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

The 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.