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