Entomology Department
 
 

Introduction

Although there were entomology collections, especially butterflies, that predate the inception of the Department, the Entomology Department was formally established on 1 May 1975, when Gunderico Wladimiro Santos Ferreira (1921–1999), who had studied at the University of Coimbra, Portugal and was formerly employed at the University of Lourenço Marcques, Moçambique, took up the position of entomologist. Three months later, during April, he was joined by his wife, Maria Corinta Ferreira (née Melo) (1922–?2003), who had held the position of Director of the Institute for Scientific Research of Moçambique (employed 1959–1974) and Professional officer at Museu Dr Álvaro de Castro, Lourenço Marques (employed 1948–1959), prior to her appointment at the National Museum. Both received leave of absence from Bloemfontein to attend pension-related court cases in Mozambique in 1979 and never returned to the Museum, both returning to Portugal in 1980. G.W.S. & M.C. Ferreira were coleopterists and prior to 2008 the Museum has employed coleopterists consistently who concentrated on development of the Coleoptera collection.

A core collection of ca 1,500 Diptera was developed by subsequent curators, including John A. Irish (1958–living) and Leon Nico Lotz (1957–living), mainly as a result of surveys of Navel Hill and other hills in the central Bloemfontein area, but chiefly comprised a more extensive collection of spirit-preserved Hippoboscidae developed by Elize [Elsabé] Jacoba Visagie (1967–living) (who has published several papers on South African Hippoboscidae).

Ashley H. Kirk-Spriggs took up the position of curator in November 2008, with an emphasis on developing the Afrotropical Diptera collection. As a result, the Diptera collection is now the largest non-specialised collection of Diptera on the African continent, with over 209,374 accessioned specimens. All families that occur in the Afrotropics are now represented in the collection.

It is a unique research tool, as it comprises recent, high quality material from numerous poorly-sampled Afrotropical countries, including: Benin, Burundi, Cameroon, Democratic Republic of Congo, Kenya, Réunion Is., Madagascar, Malawi, Mauritius, Namibia, South Africa (Eastern and Western Cape, KwaZulu-Natal and Free State), Togo and Zambia. The collection also incorporates former collections of the Alexander McGregor Museum (Kimberley) and University of Pretoria collections of Diptera (both of which were formally donated in 2009).

The majority of the collection is pinned and is stored in glass-topped drawers using a unit tray system. There is also an extensive spirit collection with the majority of samples preserved in 96% ethanol and suitable for DNA extraction. The Department currently has two full-time Diptera taxonomists on the staff, A.H. Kirk-Spriggs and B.S. Muller. The collection is widely used by local and international researchers and parts of the collection have been identified by leading experts. Currently over 25,000 pinned specimens are on loan to specialists.

The Department is currently engaged in a number of significant on-going projects, including the International Survey of Afrotropical Diptera, Diptera of the Mascarene Islands and is the main hosting institution for the Manual of Afrotropical Diptera project.

The National Museum, Bloemfontein is, therefore, a centre of excellence for the study of dipterology on the continent and the collection represents an extremely important national asset and research tool, which raises the international profile of research in the field in South Africa. All pinned specimens and sorted spirit-preserved specimens have been fully digitised and the database is fully maintained. There are several hundred residue samples, mostly of Malaise and pan trap catches that still require sorting, identification and digitisation.