In August 2014, a three-person team from the Department of Entomology went to Englewood, CO, a suburb of Denver, to retrieve the aquatic Heteroptera collection of the late Dr. John T. Polhemus from his home laboratory. Dr. Polhemus worked as an electrical engineer for more than 30 years but throughout his life cultivated an interest in entomology, specifically Heteroptera, earning his Ph.D. later in life and rising to prominence within the aquatic Heteroptera scientific community. He passed away in May 2013.
The team from NMNH sent to retrieve the collection consisted of Dr. Tom Henry, curator of Heteroptera; Dr. David Furth, Collections Manager; and myself. We were met at Dr. Polhemus’ home by his widow, Irma Polhemus, and one of their two sons, Dr. Dan Polhemus. Dan, himself a heteropterist, was a former Entomology staff member at NMNH, and is now working with the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service in Hawaii.
The retrieval was part of a prior arrangement between Dr. Polhemus (JTP) and SI wherein we agreed to purchase part of his collection using money from an endowment earmarked for purchasing Heteroptera collections to build the national collection. The purchase came with the stipulation that Dr. Polhemus (JTP) could retain the collection until such time as he could no longer work on it, at which point the museum would retrieve all specimens collected prior to June 1, 1991 and all those received as exchanges/gifts, with the option of separately purchasing specimens collected after that date. A synoptic collection would also be returned to his son Dan as a long-term open exchange.
The team spent 3 days preparing the collection for transport. This included preparing the specimens by brace pinning, making repairs where needed, boxing, and wrapping/cushioning vials/jars, etc., and then packing and loading the moving truck. The truck was then driven cross country to DC over 2 long days by two of the team members. In total, the team processed nearly 500,000 specimens, including 96 drawers and ~590 Schmitt boxes of pinned specimens (~300,000) and 30 drawers containing 14,000 vials of specimens in ethanol.
Of course, getting the collection moved to DC was only part of the job. Once here, a team of staff and volunteers unloaded, unpacked, and began transferring the collection to USNM trays and drawers, a process which is ongoing due to the size of the collection. Once completely transferred, we will begin the task of separating the collection into pre- and post-June 1, 1991 lots so that we can purchase the remainder, return the synoptic collection as requested, and begin curating/databasing it for incorporation into the main collection.
The addition of Dr. Polhemus’ collection to our already extensive NMNH aquatic bug collection, which includes the collection of Dr. Carl Drake (100,000+ specimens), makes our holdings of aquatic Heteroptera now the largest and most comprehensive aquatic bug collection in the world in terms of species coverage and number of specimens. Once the collection has been fully curated, we will follow-up with images of the collection itself in its new home and highlight some of the amazing specimens contained within.
Special thanks to Irma and Dan Polhemus for hosting the NMNH team and to Dan Polhemus, Tom & Katy Henry, & Dave Furth for sharing photos of the packing and unpacking process. I also want to acknowledge the small army of NMNH staff and volunteers who participated in the process of moving this collection—David Furth, Katy Henry, Tom Henry, Tom Jones, Dennis Knopp, Erin Kolski, Gary Ouellette, Marjorie Prochaska, Dezmond Smith, Thao-Chi Vo, Sarah Zuehlke and Benjamin Zuehlke.
It is with great sadness that we report the untimely passing of Irma Polhemus on January 5, 2015. She was a gracious host during our trip (even allowing us to partially dismantle her basement, kitchen and garage during the packing and loading process), a talented artist, and an all-around wonderful lady who will be missed by all that had the privilege to meet her.
Floyd W. Shockley, Department of Entomology, National Museum of Natural History, Smithsonian Institution, Washington, DC, USA.