Coleoptera Collection

Coleoptera Collection

Brief history

The first traces of a Hungarian beetle collection are found in a catalogue dated 1821 which mentioned 158 specimens. This material, however, seems to have been lost forever.

The first entomologist of the Museum was Imre (Emerich) Frivaldszky, who was appointed Keeper of the Natural History Collections in 1822. He was a physician who collected beetles and other "naturalia" from his childhood on. His collecting activity was extended beyond the Carpathian Basin, toward the Balkan Peninsula, Asia Minor and Crete to where he led expeditions or sent collectors on his own account. In 1864 he purchased the collection of Georg Dahl consisting of 6000, mainly Hungarian and Austrian specimens. The majority of this collection was destroyed by the flood in 1838; however, the few remaining specimens are the oldest existing beetle specimens in our collection. In 1851, when Imre Frivaldszky retired, the collection consisted of 10,000 specimens representing 3500 species. However, he kept an important private collection as well which was three times greater that that of the Museum – a peculiar activity which is impossible to do today, because a special Act prohibits staff members of the Museum from keeping private collections.

He was followed by his nephew, János (John) Frivaldszky, who had no high educational standing but acquired all the knowledge he needeed from his uncle's library. During the 44 years he served the Museum the collection increased to about 120,000 specimens of some 18,000 species. The 1850s was the first time when small exotic materials were given to the collection. The first really important exotic material was sent back to Hungary by János (John) Xantus in 1862 from the Americas which was later followed by a remarkable collection from Eastern Asia until 1870. Another important achievement was the purchase of Imre Frivaldszky's private collection which was full of type specimens of himself and other European authors. János Frivaldszky and his staff travelled all over the mountains of the Carpathian Basin, the coast of Croatian and the Velebit Mountains always bringing back valuable material with them. The collection increased by a number of donations, exchanges and purchases from private entomologists.

After the death of János Frivaldszky in 1895, Keeper of the Coleoptera Collection was Dezső (Desiderius) Kuthy for two years. He never went for quantity but hunted for rarities with his special collecting methods and captured a number of species new to the Carpathian Basin mainly around Budapest, in the Great Hungarian Plain and the Arad county. He was the author of the Coleoptera volume of the Fauna Regni Hungariae, a first comprehensive list of the beetles of the Carpathian Basin.

Between 1897 and 1932 the Keeper of the Collection was Ernő (Ernst) Csiki, a real and born coleopterist, who, in contrast with his predecessors, had no business with other departments than his own, the Coleoptera Collection. During that period he enhanced the collection with overwhelming material, as regards both quality and quantity. The larger and more copious financial endowment of the Department of Zoology, and special subsidies, rendered possible extensive collecting trips and purchases of collections. Collectings were made in almost every corner of the Carpathian Basin and in various exotic countries such as Southern Russia, Siberia, Mongolia, China and first of all, to New Guinea, where Lajos (Louis) Bíró spent six years (1896–1902) with collecting ethnological and zoological material, with an emphasis on "Microcoleoptera". Important materials were collected in East Africa by Kálmán Kittenberger, in Abyssinia by Ödön (Edmund) Kovács, in Turkestan by György (George) Almásy and so on. The most remarkable collection purchased by Ernő Csiki is the immense Palearctic collection of Edmund Reitter, which arrived at the museum in 1916 (see “The most remarkable parts of the Collection”). At the time of Ernő Csiki's retirement (1932) the beetle collection run over 1 million specimens. In 1933 Wilmos (William) Székessy was appointed Curator of the Coleoptera Collection. He received his degree from the University of Vienna, and attained his entomological and museological knowledge from Karl Holdhaus in the Museum of Vienna. Between 1945 and 1960 he was Director of the Department of Zoology and from 1960 he served as General Director of the Museum. In the first period he dealt with systematic and zoogeographical research as well as taxonomy of Staphylinoidea but later his interest turned on to Strepsiptera. Together with Zoltán Kaszab, he started to put order methodically in the Collection, which at that time consisted of a number of independent collections stored in unsafe, original boxes of poor quality. They dismantled the separate collections, transferred the specimens to safely shutting drawers and united the whole material in the systematic order of families. As a result of ten years' work, every species belonging to the same family could be found in the same place.

In 1937, Zoltán Kaszab was put on the staff of the Coleoptera Collection. He can be regarded as the most outstanding figure of the Hungarian coleopterology. During his service (1937–1986) the collection increased from 1,2 million to 3 million and it stands now in the first line of the greatest European collections today. This was achieved by extensive collectings in Hungary as well as in various exotic countries. To mention without demand of completeness, important materials were brought back from New Guinea by János Balogh, from Australia by György Hangay, from several South American countries by a soil-zoological expedition, from Ghana and Congo by Sebestyén (Sebastian) Endrődy-Younga, from Argentina, India and Vietnam by György Topál, from North Korea by a series of zoological expeditions and so on. The most remarkable material, however, came from Mongolia.

Zoltán Kaszab won the recognition of the scientific community mainly through his six expeditions to Mongolia (1963–1968) and the processing the material collected in that country. He brought back about half million animal specimens, including 200,000 beetles. The results were published in scientific journals in a series ("Ergebnisse der zoologischen Forschungen von Dr. Z. Kaszab in der Mongolei"), which comprised over 500 papers. There are 200 scientists among the authors, from 20 countries. The number of printed pages is nearly 8000. Of the tens of thousands of animal species reported from Mongolia, 1600 were formerly unknown to the scientific world and 1900 species which had been known from other parts of Central Asia previously, had for the first time been found in Mongolia by Zoltán Kaszab. As an expert of Tenebrionidae and Meloidae, he built up a world-renowned collection of the families (see under “The most remarkable parts of the Collection”).

After retirement of Zoltán Kaszab (1985), Ottó Merkl took over the management of the Coleoptera Collection. His museological activity is governed largely by the strategy founded by Zoltán Kaszab. The extensive period of developing the collection is over, as for at least the Hungarian fauna is concerned; however, an increasing number of expeditions mainly to Southeast Asia bring back considerable beetle materials. Processing, identification and writing up of these materials as well as those collected by the expeditions in the 1960s and 1970s is a challenge of the present years. It is made possible by the long-term contact with a number of coleopterological institutes and private coleopterists all over the world. Another great task is organization and accomplishment of coleopterological assessment of the Hungarian national parks and other protected areas.

Staff

At the moment two museologists (Ottó Merkl, who is the Curator, and Győző Szél), three assistants (Edit Hámori, Aranka Grabant and János Pál) and one postgraduate student (József Rudner) work regularly in the collection. When carrying out certain tasks (e.g. sorting out unnamed material or identification of Hungarian specimens) we partly rely on volunteers (students and amateur coleopterists).

Members of scientific staff in the past and present include the following persons (duration of service is in parentheses):

Imre Frivaldszky (1822–1851)
János Frivaldszky (1851–1895)
Dezső Kuthy (1895–1897)
Ernő Csiki (1897–1932)
Vilmos Székessy (1933–1970)
Zoltán Kaszab (1937–1986)
Sebestyén Endrődy-Younga (1957–1963)
Sándor Horvatovich (1965–1976)
Sebő Endrődi (1966–1984)
László Tóth (1970–1992)
Ottó Merkl (1981–)
Győző Szél (1982–)

György Makranczy  (2009–)

 

The most remarkable parts of the Collection

Perhaps the most important part (although not a separated entity) of the Coleoptera Collection is the Reitter Collection which contains authoritatively identified specimens of 30,000 Palearctic beetle taxa, including types of 5,000 species, subspecies and varieties. (Most scientific enquiries are directed toward the Reitter's types. However, in contrast with the general belief not all Reitter's types are found in Budapest.)

The collection of darkling beetles (Tenebrionidae) housed in our Museum is of great importance for any entomologist working on or interested in this family of beetles. The accomplishment of this collection is above all due to the scientific activity of Zoltán Kaszab, who was, in his time, probably more familiar with the world tenebrionid fauna than any other person. The collection contains nearly 12,000 species with more than 5,100 species or subspecies being represented by type specimens. It is rich in species from all major zoogeographical regions, but the species representation of the Palaearctic region (i.e. the vast area embracing Europe, North Africa and temperate Asia) is practically complete. Beside species described by Zoltán Kaszab himself, types designated by Edmund Reitter, Hans Gebien, Sebastian Endrődy-Younga, Carl Koch and a number of other authors are also available. The collections of blister beetles (Meloidae), the rhinoceros beetles (Dynastinae of Scarabaeidae) and the blind scavenger beetles (Bathyscinae of Leiodidae) are also remarkable.

Location, storage and arrangement

The Coleoptera Collection is housed on the second floor of the central building (Baross u. 13, 8th district, Budapest). About 98 percent of the specimens are stored in more than 8000 glass-lidded drawers of 40 × 50 cm, in wooden cabinets of two sizes. The rest is temporarily kept in cardboard storeboxes.

The material from the Carpathian Basin is separated from the material from other areas. Within these two parts the collection is arranged systematically, and in the case of the larger families the species are grouped according to the zoogeographical regions. Types are incorporated into the identified material. Only the Mongolian material comprising about 200,000 specimens collected by Zoltán Kaszab between 1963 and 1968 is kept as a separate entity.

Size and geographical range

The Coleoptera Collection is the largest of the collections in the Department of Zoology. The number of specimens is over an estimated 3 million representing about 100,000 species and including 12,000 type specimens. Two-thirds of the material is from the Carpathian Basin (mainly from the present-day Hungary) and the species representation of the Hungarian beetle fauna is practically complete. Therefore, the collection serves as National Reference Collection for Coleoptera. The remaining one-third is from other parts of the world. The coverage is worldwide; however, some geographical areas are better represented (e.g. much of the Palearctic region, New Guinea, Southeast Asia, certain parts of Africa and Australia) and others less so (e.g. most parts of the New World). An estimated 75 percent of the specimens have been identified, while the rest has been sorted to at least family level. Only the most recent acquisitions are unprepared or prepared but unsorted.

The collection is supplemented with about 1100 scientific books and 20,000 reprints on Coleoptera.

Catalogues

A typewritten old catalogue prepared by Zoltán Kaszab lists the types existed in the collection in 1950. Another list contains the extra-Hungarian genera of the Curculionoidea indicating the serial number of cabinets and drawers in which the given genera are found. A similar list is available for the Hungarian genera nad subgenera of Aleocharinae. Data of about 12,000 specimens collected in the Szigetköz area (NW Hungary) are found in a database. A typewritten list contains species and subspecies of Cicindelinae, Carabini and Cychrini (Carabidae) represented in the collection. Computerised lists of types of certain groups (e.g. Histeridae, Rutelinae) have also been completed. These catalogues and lists can be studied on the spot only.

Access and loans

The collection is not open to public, but students, research scientists and others who express their interest in Coleoptera can arrange a visit on each working day after an initial contact is made with the Curator.

Size of the collection:

At any one time about 100,000 specimens are out on loan to a number of researchers around the world. Each year between 50 and 100 (81 in 1999) new loans are sent to borrowers abroad. Requests for loans should be directed to the Curator. Loan period is usually 6 months for types and 12 months for non-types.

Head of Collection, Curators, Assistants

Head of Collection: Ottó Merkl

Curator: György Makranczy, Győző Szél

Assistants: Aranka GrabantZoltán György, Tamás Németh, Attila Podlussány