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Collection Highlight: The Staten Island Museum

posted Nov 13, 2012, 7:37 AM by Alexander Bolesta   [ updated Sep 12, 2013, 10:55 AM by Katja Seltmann ]
One of the exciting aspects of the Tri-Trophic Database project is the cooperation that occurs between different institutions in the name of science. Each of the 30+ museums involved with the project offers a wealth of experience in addition to the diversity that comes from adding their collections to the database. Of these, the Staten Island Museum in New York City offers a cicada (family Cicadidae) collection of about 35,000 specimens: the second largest collection of cicadas in the world. Since cicadas belong to the order Hemiptera, this comprehensive collection is a perfect addition to the Tri-Trophic Database.

Staten Island Museum main entrance; downloaded from http://bit.ly/TXJnCz
             Staten Island Museum main entrance. Downloaded
                                from http://bit.ly/TXJnCz

Specimen collection room where the cicadas are housed at the Staten Island Museum. Photograph by Alexander Bolesta.
     Specimen collection room where the cicadas are housed at the
        Staten Island Museum. Photograph by Alexander Bolesta.



The Staten Island Museum, previously the Staten Island Institute of Arts & Sciences, and the Staten Island Association of Arts & Sciences, was founded in 1881 as the Natural Science Association of Staten Island by a group of 14 local naturalists who were concerned that overdevelopment would lead to the destruction of Staten Island’s natural history. By pooling their resources, these environmentalist pioneers were able to put together a collection worthy of drawing public attention, and, in 1908, the museum opened its doors. Associates of the museum have since kept a continuous record of the changing ecosystem and environment on Staten Island, while inspiring the creation of establishments including the Staten Island Zoo, Staten Island Historical Society, Staten Island Greenbelt, and the New York Botanical Garden. To this day, the Staten Island Museum carries out specimen acquisition and field work, in addition to special events like annual bird counts in conjunction with the Audubon Society.

Permanent natural history exhibit at the Staten Island Museum. Photograph by Alexander Bolesta.
         Permanent natural history collection at the Staten Island 
                 Museum. Photograph by Alexander Bolesta.

The Staten Island Museum has been amassing a collection of specimens from the areas of natural science, art, and history since the days of the founders, and now boasts a collection of over half of a million specimens and pieces of art. One of the founders, William Thompson Davis, took a particular interest in the insects known as cicadas. Born in 1862 in New Brighton, Staten Island, Davis played a big role in the development of the Natural Science Association of Staten Island and its derivatives, despite being, for the most part, self-taught. His sense of wonder resulting from his study of cicadas can be seen most succinctly in his choice of name for the genus of 13- and 17-year periodical cicadas: Magicicada.


William T. Davis in the field. Downloaded from http://bit.ly/Umikx3
William T. Davis in the field. Downloaded 
            from http://bit.ly/Umikx3

His efforts over half of a century resulted not only in the accumulation of the world’s second largest cicada collection, as noted above, but it led to him formally describing over half of the known species of cicada in North America. As a result, the Staten Island Museum’s cicada collection includes many of the type specimens that were used by Davis as the official examples of these species. During his career, Davis was published extensively in the Journal of the New York Entomological Society, and even held positions there as treasurer and as delegate to the New York Academy of Sciences. Davis passed away in 1945, leaving behind an impressive list of accomplishments. In 1955, the 51 acre New Springfield Bird Sanctuary that was created in 1933 thanks to efforts by Davis and the National Audubon Society was expanded to 260 acres and was renamed the William T. Davis Wildlife Refuge: a fitting dedication to one of New York City’s premier naturalists.

Sample from the William T. Davis Collection of Cicadas. Photograph by Alexander Bolesta.
          Sample from the William T. Davis Collection of Cicadas.
                        Photograph by Alexander Bolesta.

Resources:

Abbott, Mabel. The Life of William T. Davis. Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1949. Print.

"Collections: Natural Science Collection." Staten Island Museum. N.p.. Web. 24 Oct 2012. <http://bit.ly/RV8kwn>.

Davis, William. Days afield on Staten Island. New York: L.H. Biglow & Co., 1892. Print. <http://bit.ly/TCLebD>.

Davis, William. North American cicadas. 1. New York: Society Quarterly, 1921. eBook. <http://bit.ly/UAqZC2>.

"Freshkills Park." Official New York City Web Site. N.p., n.d. Web. 24 Oct 2012. <http://bit.ly/X37UtG>.

"History." Staten Island Museum. N.p.. Web. 24 Oct 2012. <http://bit.ly/IFErwo>.

Journal of the New York Entomological Society. 30. New York: Society Quarterly, 1922. eBook. <http://bit.ly/TXFdL2>.

Journal of the New York Entomological Society. 31. New York: Society Quarterly, 1923. eBook. <http://bit.ly/TXFdL2>.

Pratt, Jr., George O., G. K. Schneider, and Mathilde P. Weingartner. "The William T. Davis Wildlife Refuge and its Environs." Proceedings of the Staten Island Institute of Arts and Sciences. 24.2 (1969): n. page. Print.

"Staten Island Museum." Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Wikimedia Foundation, Inc, 09 Oct 2012. Web. 24 Oct 2012. <http://bit.ly/TCLlUp>.

"William T. Davis." Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Wikimedia Foundation, Inc, 03 Feb 2012. Web. 24 Oct 2012. <http://bit.ly/SYVJcZ>.

Zelasnic, Laura. "Records of the Herbarium (RG 4) CHARLES ARTHUR HOLLICK RECORDS (1873-1979)." The New York Botanical Garden. N.p., n.d. Web. 24 Oct 2012. <http://bit.ly/TGApqY>.


Article by Alexander Bolesta: Database Assistant at the American Museum of Natural History, and Curatorial Assistant at the Staten Island Museum
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