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Behind the Scenes of UT Austin’s Vast Insect Collection

Alex Wild is not only an entomologist, he is also a skilled photographer. He has merged his two passions to bring UT’s vast insect collection out of the vaults and into the public eye.

“Imagine a library with over 2 million books with only one librarian. That’s the scope of our collection here,” said Alex Wild, curator of entomology for the College of Natural Sciences at UT Austin. “We have yellow jackets, velvet ants, praying mantises, stick insects, dung beetles, robber flies, butterflies, cicadas, grasshoppers.” The list goes on.

Wild manages The University of Texas Insect Collection, an active research center housing 2 million specimens. The collections are focused on Texas and Mexico, with smaller holdings from Trinidad, the Galápagos Islands and elsewhere.

He believes that entomology offers something for everyone. “Really the main reason to study insects is just that they are fascinating,” said Wild. “They are everywhere and they do just amazing things that you never would’ve thought of.”

In 2015, Wild and a team of students started Insects Unlocked, a public domain photography project. They have taken thousands of breathtakingly detailed images of insects and put them online available for free and open use to anyone in the world.

“It’s very satisfying to see all the images go out in the world and find their own life,” said Wild. 

UT’s Insect Collection represents a century of research as well as the future of entomology, Wild said. “If you’re into making new discoveries, I can’t imagine another field.”