10 million dollar insect collection donation demonstrates a legacy of love (video)

Charles W. and Lois B. O'Brien, two entomologists in love with each other and their pursuit of weevils and planthoppers
Promo image Deanna Dent, ASU

Ten million dollars worth of bugs.

If you find the concept hard to imagine, you should take a look at the lifetime achievement of two industrious entomologists, Charles W. and Lois B. O'Brien. Charles (now 83) and Lois (89) have spent the last 6 decades in pursuit of their favorite insects.

Charles favors weevils, and knows the word for weevil in many languages; he chuckles as he explains that the Chinese words mean "a beetle with an elephant's nose," referring to the extended snout that means a beetle belongs to the family known commonly as weevils.

Lois loves planthoppers, and found the love of her life in Charles when she signed up for a course he was teaching at the school where she had a job as a chemist. It took some years before the pair joined their fates - they both got a PhD before their paths entwined. A honeymoon spent bug collecting suggests theirs is a perfect match.

More details of their lives, from Charles' humble start earning his education by tending cockroaches and bedbugs, to their Indiana Jones adventures all over the globe can be read at The Guardian, or you can hear about their decision to donate in their own words in the video below.


Charles W. and Lois B. O'Brien Insect Systematics Endowment from ASU Now on Vimeo.

The open access to the O'Brien insect collection online and to the actual specimens on site served as one of the main reasons the O'Briens selected Arizona State University (ASU) as the ultimate home for their collection.

Each of the insects they collected are estimated to be worth $5 to $300, depending upon the rarity of the specimen (and thousands of their specimens are said to be "new to science"). The clown weevils from the Philippines look like they shop at Marimekko or Burberry, sporting patterns of lines, plaids, and polka dots that would make any fashion maven envious. Other collections are sorted by color; it appears that "aquamarine" was named color of the year by at least one weevil trendsetter.

Lois' collection of planthoppers is smaller, partly because she spent some of her time supporting Charles' interests, but the insect with amazing secrets for self-defense in the nymph stage, and famed for being adept at the art of camouflage will surely draw budding entomologists into the field.

Tags: Arizona | Biodiversity | Insects

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