Department of Entomology, NMNH, Smithsonian Institution

Department of Entomology, NMNH, Smithsonian Institution Main page for sharing the work of SI, SEL and WRBU staff in Entomology at the NMNH and for highlighting timely and/or interesting news items on entomological topics.

Welcome to our page! This page will be used to give you updates about current research, share insect related news and give you a behind the scenes look at the Entomology Department. We hope that you can use this space to share your thoughts about our posts and tell us about your visit to the National Museum of Natural History. Please feel free to ask us any questions that you may have. While we want you to be able to use this space to discuss topics of Entomology, we ask that you express yourself in a civil manner, and always treat others with respect. The Smithsonian also monitors and may remove posts consistent with its terms of use, as described at

Operating as usual


Although cicadas and many other insects are not just edible but highly nutritious, it is important to note that people who have a known shellfish allergy, particularly to Crustaceans (shrimp, crabs, lobsters, etc.) could potentially have an allergic reaction to eating cicadas as well. This is not necessarily true for everyone, but it is important to know before you dine!

The allergic reaction in sensitized people is due to two factors that insects share with crustaceans: 1) the chitin used to form insect exoskeletons is very similar to the chitin used in the exoskeletons of many Crustacea; and 2) insects as well as Crustacea both include the proteins tropomyosin and arginine kinase, which are both known for invoking an allergic reaction in those with shellfish allergies. Tropomyosin is a structural element in muscle tissue and arginine kinase is an enzyme involved in muscle contraction. #BroodX #Magicicada


There are 15 active geographic Broods of Periodical Cicadas, each numbered with a Roman numeral. This year's visitors go by the name Brood X, that's "ten". If you've been saying "X" like the letter, you're not alone. That does make them seem a bit mysterious and alien, like the sound that the males make. But cicadas are totally harmless!

Have you seen any in your neighborhood? If so where?

This Moth Is Huge in Australia
This Moth Is Huge in Australia

This Moth Is Huge in Australia

A giant wood moth, the heaviest of all known moths, appeared on the side of a school building in Queensland, Australia, enthralling students who are used to diverse wildlife.

Photos from Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History's post

Photos from Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History's post


This spring brings the arrival of Brood X of the 17-year periodical cicada. Brood X is also called the Great Eastern Brood because of its range across the eastern United States, the most extensive of any 17-year cicada. The nymphs spend most of their 17 years underground, feeding on fluids from tree roots. When the ground gets warm enough, the cicadas emerge en masse to mate and lay eggs, before dying after 4-6 weeks. #Spring Department of Entomology, NMNH, Smithsonian Institution


It's not just the flowers that have to hide away in the cold of winter!

Robert "Bort" Edwards, a Smithsonian research associate, shared this photo with us and says one reason that there are fewer flowers when it gets cold is that many plants rely on insects to visit their flowers and carry pollen from one to the other. Most insects can't fly when the temperature gets too cold (honey bees stop foraging at 55 degrees F), and so putting out flowers in winter would be a waste of valuable energy. As the weather warms up and the insects emerge, so do the flowers, so as you enjoy the first flowers of spring, keep an eye out for the busy little pollinators going about their business and thank them for their work!

Photo: a native bee gets busy foraging on a Purple Aster (Symphyotrichum patens), Shenandoah National Park, VA.


Today we honor Margaret Collins (1922 - 1996), a pioneering scientist and civil rights activist who, at the time she earned her PhD, was the first Black female entomologist and the third Black female zoologist in the country!

One of the reigning experts on termites, Collins had a successful academic career teaching at Howard University, Florida A&M, and Federal City College (now University of District of Columbia). She made significant contributions to the Smithsonian termite collection, and materials she collected now form the Collins Collection at @smithsoniannmnh. #SmithsonianBHM #BlackHistoryMonth #BHM

Read more about her work and life, here:


"Hi. 👋 I’m Bob Kallal, a Peter Buck Postdoctoral Fellow in the Department of Entomology 🕷 and I’ll be taking over the museum's social feeds for the week. I am an arachnologist, and my work at Smithsonian's National Museum of Natural History focuses on discovering and describing new species, the relationships among spider lineages, the evolution of spider shapes, and spider predatory behavior.

Over the next week, I will share aspects of my research and hopefully encourage everyone – including arachnophobes – that spiders are an important, interesting animal group." -- Bob Kallal, Peter Buck Postdoctoral Fellow and Arachnologist @smithsoniannmnh

#Entomology #Insects #Nature #InsectsOfInstagram


Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History and the Environmental Film Festival in the Nation’s Capital invite you to a virtual screening of The Love Bugs followed by a Q&A discussion. This humorous and poignant documentary explores the love of Nature and the nature of Love—and what it means to completely devote oneself to both.

Over 60 years Charlie and Lois O'Brien traveled to more than 67 countries, quietly amassing the world’s largest private insect collection, an entomological game-changer of 1.25 million specimens. These two renowned, married entomologists now grapple with the advancement of the Parkinson’s disease that afflicts Charlie. But Charlie and Lois know they need to keep fighting for the value of scientific knowledge, so they turn to their insects for a little help.

Register to watch the film virtually at, and then join us on January 27, 2021 at 5:00 p.m. EST for a discussion with the co-directors Allison Otto and Maria Clinton; Lois O’Brien; entomologist at the National Museum of Natural History, Floyd Shockley; and Nico Franz, director of biocollections at Arizona State University.


The Caterpillar from Alice in Wonderland may have loved mushrooms, but until recently, no butterfly caterpillar in the New World was known to feed on mushrooms. Smithsonian entomologist Dr. Robert Robbins recently co-authored a paper about a caterpillar of the species Electrostrymon denarius that was found munching on a mushroom in a Costa Rican rainforest. Species with a wide range of food sources may have a better chance of avoiding extinction.

Smithsonian's National Museum of Natural History

Smithsonian's National Museum of Natural History

#NatureIsBrutal #NatureIsExcellent Some ladybird beetle larvae are notorious for snipping a tip of their prey’s antennae or legs and using them as "straws" to drink their prey alive. In this video, a larva from the genus Scymnus is feeding on an aphid by repeatedly sucking its contents and regurgitating them; this mechanism allows the beetle larva to get as much nourishment as it can from the aphid. Museum communications intern Miguel Montalvo captured this #MicroWonders horror scene in his own backyard! What's happening in yours?

Smithsonian's National Museum of Natural History

Smithsonian's National Museum of Natural History

If you look closely you might find a scene like this taking place in your own backyard. While not fully grown, still in its nymph state, this Florida predatory stink bug (Euthyrhynchus floridanus) has found itself a delicious caterpillar dinner. The appendage that the stink bug uses to slurp its prey is called a proboscis –a two-channeled tube with sharp cutting elements. This proboscis is also the defining feature of insects belonging to the order Hemiptera also known as true bugs. #NatureIsBrutal

**Editor's Note** Today is day two of our week-long series of close-ups of the natural world, by photographer and communications intern Miguel Montalvo.

Smithsonian's National Museum of Natural History

Smithsonian's National Museum of Natural History

A weevil may sound like a cousin of Pooh’s heffalumps and woosles, but they are actually a type of insect. Isn’t she (or he) a beauty! This is a blue green weevil (Pachnaetus litus), a common visitor (and pest) of citrus plants. When startled, they often fall to the ground and fake their own death to avoid harm by potential predators.

📸 Miguel Montalvo

Smithsonian's National Museum of Natural History

Smithsonian's National Museum of Natural History

This beautiful insect can also be a destructive invasive species. Lacebugs (Corythucha ciliata) get their name from their delicate lace-like wings, but they are highly invasive pests of sycamore trees. They eat by sucking fluids from plants' photosynthetic tissue. (Illustration: Elsie H. Froeschner)

Smithsonian's National Museum of Natural History

Smithsonian's National Museum of Natural History

For our last #NationalMothWeek post, here’s one you might already be familiar with. The Greater death’s-head hawkmoth is well-known for its appearance in the movie Silence of the Lambs. These moths use chemical camouflage to mimic the scent of bees and enter the hives undetected, where they use their sturdy mouthparts to pierce the wax cells and eat honey.

Smithsonian's National Museum of Natural History

Smithsonian's National Museum of Natural History

Meet the sloth moth! This is one of several species of moth that live exclusively in the fur of sloths. When a sloth descends to the forest floor to defecate, the adult female moths fly off and lay their eggs in its dung. The larvae feed on the dung and upon becoming adults they return to the canopy to find a new sloth home. #NationalMothWeek

Smithsonian's National Museum of Natural History

Smithsonian's National Museum of Natural History

The bella moth’s bright colors serve as a warning to predators: DON’T EAT. The caterpillars feed on a host plant that contains a large amount of an alkaloid toxin. This is in turn concentrated in the caterpillar, making them distasteful to most predators. These toxins are in such high demand that the caterpillars have been known to cannibalize eggs, larvae, or pupae of the same species to supplement their own toxin supply. #NationalMothWeek

Smithsonian's National Museum of Natural History

Smithsonian's National Museum of Natural History

Today, we’re traveling to Madagascar to see Hemiceratoides hieroglyphica, which has been observed inserting its barbed proboscis into the eyelids of sleeping birds and drinking their tears! Presumably, they do this to get nutrients like sodium that are lacking in their normal diet. #NationalMothWeek

Smithsonian's National Museum of Natural History

Smithsonian's National Museum of Natural History

Step aside, butterflies—it’s #NationalMothWeek! Did you know that there are about 160,000 species of moths, compared to 17,500 butterfly species in the world? This week, we’ll share some of the more unusual moths, starting with Calyptra thalictri, or VAMPIRE MOTHS! These moths feed on fruit, but the males can use their tongues to pierce skin and suck blood from vertebrates. This gives them sodium to pass on to females during mating, giving their offspring a nutritional boost.

Follow along this week see more of these fascinating creatures!

The Department of Entomology wishes everyone a happy and safe 4th of July!

The Department of Entomology wishes everyone a happy and safe 4th of July!

Smithsonian's National Museum of Natural History

Smithsonian's National Museum of Natural History

We're closing out our #NatureNerding101 entomology campaign with a fun #DIY activity for the weekend. Smithsonian entomologist Floyd Shockley shows you how to build a nocturnal insect trap and explore the biodiversity of your own backyard. If you've been missing your normal nightlife scene, this might help with that too!

Special thanks to our colleagues in the Department of Entomology, NMNH, Smithsonian Institution for spending the week with us!

Smithsonian's National Museum of Natural History

Smithsonian's National Museum of Natural History

"The Imperial moth is one of my favorite North American moths. But not for reasons that you may think. Sure an adult female can have a wing span of more than 7 inches and range from almost completely buttercup yellow to burgundy in color with varying amounts of those rather contrasting colors and be simply gorgeous.

But what I find even more amazing are the caterpillars of this species. The caterpillars start off orange or red in color with HUGE black antler like structures rising up from their bodies. As they mature the antlers start to shrink and the caterpillars get fuzzy. During this fuzzy phase the caterpillars can be green, brown, or even black and the colors can change each time they shed their 'skins.'

This image is of a caterpillar I reared a few years back that had a particularly unique coloration with bright blue appearing on the head and body. The amazing thing was none of the siblings of this caterpillar had any blue markings. Blue is not a particularly good color for camouflage and for most animals it is a hard color to make or acquire. In fact most animals 'cheat the system' and appear blue by having structures that bend light rather than have blue pigmentation (butterfly scales are a good example of this). I continue to ask myself how and why did this caterpillar have blue markings." - Jim Young, Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service, @USDA #NatureNerding101

Smithsonian's National Museum of Natural History

Smithsonian's National Museum of Natural History

We asked the members of our Entomology Department to share the insects and arachnids that fascinate them most. Here are the week's first three picks! Click on the photos to find out who selected them and why; and share your favorites with us too! #NatureNerding101

Smithsonian's National Museum of Natural History

Smithsonian's National Museum of Natural History

The Department of Entomology, NMNH, Smithsonian Institution is taking over our feeds for a #NatureNerding101. Today, they’re starting out with a #PollinatorWeek celebration that features some insects that sustain our nearby ecosystems and make our agricultural system possible. Wherever you live, please support your local pollinators! Click through the photos to learn how.

If you're looking for something creepy this #TypeTuesday, look no further than this spider wasp, Pompilus ami (Pompilida...

If you're looking for something creepy this #TypeTuesday, look no further than this spider wasp, Pompilus ami (Pompilidae). Female spider wasps sting their spider prey to paralyze it, then place it in a burrow before laying an egg on the spider's abdomen. The wasp then leaves, sealing the burrow behind her. When it recovers from the paralysis, the spider has nothing to do but wander its cell and await its fate: being eaten alive by the larval wasp when it emerges in a few days.


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General information

The Entomology Department at the National Museum of Natural History houses over 35 million specimens, making it one of the largest entomological collections in the world. These specimens and their data are used in original scientific research on the nature, inter-relationships, origin, and evolution of insects and their allies. The collections also house a large number of medically and agriculturally significant species which are important in identifying insect pests. Our mission is three-fold: 1) To describe and understand the evolutionary and ecological diversity of insects and other terrestrial arthropods through global field and laboratory research; 2) To care for and improve the world's largest and most comprehensive terrestrial arthropod collection; and 3) To make these discoveries known via scholarly and popular publication, databases of systematic and collection information, training at the intern, graduate and post graduate level, lectures, teaching and consulting, and through museum exhibits.


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Here's a fun story about a specimen originally found in the Smithsonian-NMNH entomology collection!
Today is "Zoo Lovers Day" and what better way to celebrate than to showcase cartoon insects with exotic animal names. (Although spiders are not insects, I couldn't help but include the Camel Spider, such a curious, fascinating creature!)
What is this beautiful creature? 6 legs and a back end like a scorpion.
This New Jersey laboratory raises a million insects a year to combat the spread of invasive species including Mile-a-Minute, tarnished plant bug and Mexican bean beetle.
Good evening, Would any of you guys be able to help me ID a couple species of beetles from South Africa? I know one is a species of Longhorn beetle but not exact species or subspecies. If you can I'll post pictures in the comments. Thanks
Wtf is this sorry i killed because its huge. Length of a quarter
What kind of spider is this? I am in Portland (OR) - Vancouver (WA) metro area (Washington side) and found this bad boy (or girl) in my room. My cat bat at it, attempted to eat it and failed miserably when the spider curled up into a crevice and between the carpet on the edge of the wall. I think it is dead or wounded, as my cat did try to munch on it. The spider does have what appears to be a violin on its back but I might be wrong. If you look closely there is a line and roundish/ovalish shape on its head so it does look like a violin and that worries me. Is this little creature a Recluse? I moved here from Arizona and I have seen similar spiders in my apartment ever since bringing my storage up here. So it is plausible that a desert recluse and its family could have hitched a ride. I read online that they will stay in the same place they traveled to, not leaving the area you brought them to, ie the apartment. Lucky me right? Please let me know if this is a Recluse. If it is NOT a Recluse, please tell me what spider it is? Thanks a bunch!! :-) Little spindle of doom.