Updated: Feb 5, 2021
In the first part of this blog post, we talked about the man behind the collection. Now, we're going to be talking about the care and effort into preserving these specimens.
Collecting the specimens would have been very difficult. It takes great patience, knowledge, and perseverance. Stephen Quelch and his wife Kathleen, who is also credited with the collecting of some of the specimens, would have spent days tracking butterflies and moths. He would have also had to have been very patient in collecting bird’s eggs; he had to wait for the parent birds to leave the nest. Then he would have had to climb up the tree and put the eggs in a carrying pouch, his pants’ pocket, or even in his mouth! The climb down must have been very slow so that he made sure not to damage the eggs. Transporting any of these specimens was very particular.
Eggs had to be stored in cotton wool and in containers that would ensure they would not get crushed or tossed about. Butterflies and moths had to be put into paper triangles, envelopes or tight-fitting boxes.
Nowadays, egg collecting, also known as Oology, is illegal in many places of the world. In fact, it is illegal to own any bird’s eggs collected from the year 1954 and on. If Mr. Quelch had collected these eggs any later than he had, the museum might not have been able to have any of them in its collection. In the United Kingdom, it is illegal under the Protection of Birds Act 1954 and the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981. In America, it is restricted, and even a criminal offence depending on the species, under the Migratory Bird Treaty Act, the Lacey Act, the Endangered Species Act, and other laws. Collectors and owners must have special permits to be able to find and keep specimens.
Butterfly and moth collection, however, is still a celebrated hobby and profession. Many collectors set up simple traps in their backyards and find many different wonders! Scientists travel to different parts of the world to find rare species and learn about the ecology and behaviour of these beautiful creatures.
As you can imagine, the act of preserving such delicate things is very difficult. In the case of the eggs Mr. Quelch collected, he used a small tool to pierce a small hole in the egg and blew out its contents with a glass tube. Gross, yes, but the only way to be able to preserve the eggs without the risk of decaying. As you can see in the above photograph, some of the eggs are very small, and they are very delicate as the shells are very fragile, so blowing out the contents must also be done very carefully.
As for the butterflies and moths, once the animal has died, the wings become very brittle. So, a lengthy process taking over several days must be undertaken to be able to prep them for displaying. Rather than tell you about it, here’s a video on how it’s done! After they have been prepared, they are put into the display boxes that have preservatives and insecticides to keep them safe. At the museum, we do all we can to keep them in their pristine condition. They are housed in specialized cabinets that keep them away from light and are in a temperature-controlled room. Our collection is over 60 years old, but you can barely tell as they’ve been taken very good care of!
We hope to be able to give these creatures homes for the next 60 years, and the next, and the next, so that future generations of Transconians can enjoy and wonder at their beauty, in our Manitoba-curriculum connected education programs.
Drees, Bastiaan M. Bug Hunter. Collecting and Preserving Butterflies. Texas A&M AgriLife Extension. Accessed on July 2017.
Editors of American Mutual Library Association. Ladies Manual Of Art or Profit and Pastime. Donohue, Henneberry & Co, 1890. Accessed July 2017.
Egg Collecting. The Royal Society for the Protection of Birds. Accessed on July 2017.
International Affairs: U.S Fish & Wildlife Services. Endangered Species Conservation Act. U.S Fish & Wildlife Services, 1973. Accessed on July 2017.
International Affaris: U.S Fish & WIldlife Services. Lacey Act. U.S Fish & WIldlife Services, 2004. Accessed on July 2017.
Rondon, Silvia. Pinning Butterflies and Moths. YouTube: Oregon State University Extension Service, 2011. Accessed on July 2017.
U.S Fish & Wildlife Affairs. Digest of Federal Resource Laws of Interest to the U.S Fish and Wildlife Service: Migratory Bird Treaty Act of 1918. Division of Congressional and Legislative Affairs, 2013. Accessed on July 2017.