Illinois Natural History Survey News

INHS employee linked to a famous entomologist from the 19th century

Lisa Sheppard
4/3/2017  8:00 am

 

CHAMPAIGN, Ill., 3/29/17: A staff member at the Illinois Natural History Survey (INHS) recently learned of her family connection to a renowned amateur entomologist whose butterfly and beetle collection makes up a significant part of the 7.3 million specimen insect collection at INHS.

Diane Szafoni, an INHS GIS coordinator, discovered that her great, great uncle by marriage, Andrew Bolter, had made a valuable bequest to the University of Illinois (U of I) in 1900. Bolter, a wealthy Chicago businessman, had bequeathed the university his entire insect collection containing thousands of beetles, butterflies, and other insects.”

Bolter emigrated from Germany to Chicago with his family in 1856. He was married to Josephine Brandhuber, a direct ancestor of Szafoni. He worked as a locksmith, and then began a business in the iron industry. After his business was destroyed in the Great Chicago Fire of 1871, he rebuilt the business within one month. His passion for entomology was noted in various written works.

Bolter’s will stated that his collection was to be donated to the U of I. The collection presently resides within the expansive INHS insect collection and forms a major portion of the INHS holdings of certain insect groups, particularly beetles.

Because information on when and where specimens in Bolter’s collection were obtained is minimal, the collection cannot be used to map the geographic distributions of the insects, as has been done with more recently collected specimens. However, the collection contains specimens of many rare species that are used to confirm identifications of more recently collected samples, according to Chris Dietrich, INHS systematic entomologist. One of the Bolter specimens is a designated holotype, an authoritative source of information on the identity of the named species.

Efforts to capture data from all prepared specimens in an online database have been underway at INHS for several years with funding from the National Science Foundation. Thus far, approximately 30 percent of the specimens are in the database. Scientists are also capturing high-resolution images of all the specimen drawers.

The images will become part of an online virtual museum that will illustrate the contents of the INHS collection (http://inhsinsectcollection.speciesfile.org/InsectCollection.aspx).

In a Chicago Daily Tribune (now Chicago Tribune) article dated March 24, 1900, Bolter was noted as “one of the best-known entomologists in the west.” His collection was said to be “one of the most complete private collections in the world.” He was known to pay as much as $25 (~$450 in today’s currency) for one insect specimen.

Bolter never published an article in the scientific literature, but he wrote letters on various entomological topics in response to requests for information from instructors and students. He was also a member of the Academy of Science in Chicago and the New York and American Entomological Societies.

Media contact: Tricia Barker, Associate Director for Strategic Communications, 217-300-2327, tlbarker@illinois.edu