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Erica Fischer

Email:  Twitter Handle: @bug_museum

The Roles and Impact of Amateur Lepidoptera Collectors in the United States and

United Kingdom, c. 1850-1950  (tentative)

People—both as individuals and in organized groups—have been assembling and preserving

insect collections for centuries, and for much of this time, the line between ‘amateur’ and

‘professional’ was blurry at best. Through the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, this

delineation became more defined through the professionalization of the biological sciences.

However, amateurs were still active collectors even as they were pushed out of formal

entomological spaces. My project will focus on amateur and professional

Lepidoptera (butterfly and moth) collectors in the US and UK from the late nineteenth

through the early twentieth centuries in order to examine the historical attitudes that

welcomed amateurs before they were excluded from ‘professional’ spaces. 


Historical trends that shaped insect specimen contributions have not been addressed in a

cohesive manner, despite their implications for the growth of institutional collections. The collecting efforts of both amateur and professional lepidopterists have plummeted since the 1990s, and biologists are only just beginning to quantify the specimen contributions made by amateur collectors. Declining collecting effort from amateurs has serious implications for the future of scientific research collections and their usefulness in future studies, and an understanding of the historical attitudes that promoted active collecting has the potential to inform today’s efforts to engage amateurs.

1st Supervisor: Dr. Chris Manias  

2nd Supervisor: Dr. Anna Maerker


My educational background is firmly rooted in biology and museum studies. After completing a BS in General Biology at Grand Valley State University (Allendale, Michigan, USA), I completed a MS in Entomology and a graduate certificate in Museum Studies at Michigan State University (East Lansing, Michigan, USA). My MS thesis used digitized Lepidoptera specimens to assess historical patterns in collecting by amateur and professional collectors and provided the first quantitative evidence that amateur collectors contributed more specimens to American institutional collections than did professionals between 1800 and the present.

Thanks in large part to my MS research, I’m very invested in interdisciplinary research that makes use of specimen information, metadata, and statistical analysis in studies outside of scientific contexts, particularly when combined with other sources. I’m also interested in the social contexts in which collections are built and the conditions under which amateur collectors were active and organized themselves in the past.


Fischer, Erica E., Cobb, Neil S., Kawahara, Akito Y., Zaspel, Jennifer M., and Cognato, Anthony I., ‘Decline of amateur Lepidoptera collectors threatens the future of specimen-based research’, BioScience, 71 (2021), 396-404.


Grants, Awards, and Prizes:

Hans Rausing Scholarship at CHoSTM (1+3)

Eugenia McDaniel Award for Excellence in Entomology Teaching  (Michigan State University, 2019)

Mark and Kathleen Scriber Scholar Award in Butterfly Biology and Conservation (Research grant, 2018)


Other Professional affliations and activities:

Entomological Collections Network

Society for the Preservation of Natural History Collections

Society for the History of Natural History

The Lepidopterists’ Society

Entomological Society of America

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