Insects come in all shapes, sizes and colors, and the C.P. Gillette Museum of Arthropod Diversity at Colorado State University has more than three million from which to choose.
"There is nothing cooler than insects," said Boris Kondratieff, director of the museum and professor of entomology in the department of bioagricultural sciences and pest management. Kondratieff has dedicated his life to the study of insects. It’s apparent that he loves the world of entomology – the study of insects – because of the time and money he gives for the museum’s benefit.
The Colorado State museum serves many purposes, not only for the students and the surrounding community, but also for those interested in insect collecting all over the world. The museum provides on request 4,000 to 5,000 specimens annually to entomologist both nationally and internationally. It also helps National Parks and military inventory the insects on their lands.
How does the museum come about all of these insects? In part they come from Kondratieff, who annually donates 5,000 to 8,000 insects to the museum that he finds in his travels all over the world. This summer alone, he visited 15 states and two countries looking for insects and visiting research sites. Other museum faculty, Paul. A. Opler, Colorado State professor in the department of bioagricultural sciences and pest management and an internationally known butterfly and moth expert, and David Leatherman, Colorado State forest entomologist, donate about 8,000 to 10,000 specimens.
On one particular expedition, Kondratieff and two Colorado State graduate students drove to Mount Rainier National Park in Washington from Fort Collins, collecting at specific sites through Wyoming, Utah, Nevada, Oregon, Washington and Idaho. They collected about 3,000 insect specimens over 4,800 miles of driving.
"These trips are often remarkable in terms of the kind and quality of insect specimens and experiences," Kondratieff said. Before leaving on an insect adventure, the team will research and plan the stops along the way. There are about three to four planned expeditions that Kondratieff and students have the opportunity to attend each year.
"We will do about anything to get our species, from getting sick with tick fever, poison ivy afflictions, attacks by biting flies, wading torrential rivers, sleeping four hours a night between collecting, driving, light trapping in the dark and even eating fast food," Kondratieff said.
Finding insects is what Kondratieff considers to be the fun part of his job. When he returns from his insect travels, he has the extra job of finding a place for each insect. Typically for a museum of this size, there are one to two technicians who have the full time job of pinning, labeling and mounting the insects. The Gillette Museum does not have the means for extra help.
Along with helping on an international level, the museum teaches kindergarten through 12th grade classrooms in the Fort Collins area about the study of insects. Kondratieff, along with students from the Gillette Entomology Club, one of the oldest clubs at Colorado State, visit 70 to 75 classrooms each year, sharing the extensive collection of insects.
"We do a lot of oooh, ahh stuff through student interaction and visual presentation," Kondratieff said. The students have the opportunity to hold live tarantulas, hissing cockroaches and giant millipedes, and examine dead insects from around the world they otherwise would not likely see.
During the summers, Kondratieff holds workshops for teachers to share strategies to keep entomology exciting in the classroom. "Part of our duty is to take this great passion and interest into the classroom," he said. "We want to help the teachers make it easy and fun to learn."
Insect collecting is not a new passion for Kondratieff. He discovered his love for insects in elementary school after a teacher had his class start an insect collection; he has been collecting insects like crazy ever since.
Kondratieff began his duty as director of the museum in 1986. "The museum is a major priority of my involvement at Colorado State," he said.
As a man of many hats, Kondratieff also mentors students who are interested in studying insects.