Nearly 500 visitors take a tour of WWU's Insect Collection

Community members brave late-winter snowfall to explore the collection's 75,000 specimens on March 2
Budding entomologists scan Western's insect collection at the Biology Department's recent open house.

On March 2, Western’s Biology Department hosted its second Insect Collection Open House, inviting community members to explore the 75,000 specimens in the ever-growing WWU Insect Collection.  

Despite a surprise snowfall that hit Bellingham, nearly 500 people attended the all-ages event, which focused on teaching visitors about the lives of insects and the ecological roles they play.   


A budding entomologist showed off her rendition of the one of the collection's more impressive beetles.

“My favorite part of the event was seeing how many people braved the snow to learn about insects,” said Merrill Peterson, entomologist, professor of biology and Western’s insect collection curator. “It was really cool to hear the ‘ooh’s and ‘ahh’s from people of all ages.” 

Entomology is a branch of zoology that studies — you guessed it — insects. Peterson wrote the literal book on the species of insects found in the Pacific Northwest, “Pacific Northwest Insects,” published in 2018 by the Seattle Audubon Society. 

The open house was facilitated by Peterson and a team of student and community assistant curators, who hope these events will not only amaze people with the diversity of insects found in local ecosystems or halfway across the world, but will also help them appreciate the role insects play in those ecosystems and the importance of insect conservation. 

“Hosting events like this on campus is an exciting and dynamic way to engage with the local community,” Biology Department Chair Lynn Pillitteri said. “I love that it is for all ages; kids, teens, parents, grandparents can all come and see and learn something new.” 

Peterson said he wants to inspire more people to study insects, whether they do so professionally or as a citizen scientist. He attributed his own interest in entomology to a childhood trip to a natural history museum, and he hopes the community will invest in the collection’s continued expansion.  

“I hope to encourage people to help the collection, whether by donating specimens, participating in ongoing curatorial work, or supporting the acquisition of storage space we desperately need to accommodate several recent amazing donations of specimens, some of which were on display at the open house,” Peterson said. 

Though it’s hard to pick a favorite specimen from the collection, Peterson said he’s partial to the Northern Giant Hornets, also known as “murder hornets,” that were collected from the first nests discovered in the United States — right here in Whatcom County.  

“We even have a piece of the first nest that was discovered,” Peterson said. “Most of that nest ended up at the Smithsonian, so we are lucky to have it to showcase here!” 

Another insect open house is tentatively planned for the end of spring quarter, but an official date has not been set. For more information about upcoming events, please visit