Some people collect stamps or coins. Kent Wilson collects butterflies.

But it’s no ordinary butterfly collection. It’s the finest of its type in the country, and it’s located right here in Edmond, where it has been stored in Wilson’s climate-controlled garage and attic.

This weekend, representatives from the Florida Museum of Natural History McGuire Center for Lepidoptera and Biodiversity have come to town to carefully pack and load the specimens in a couple of rented trucks to take back to Florida.

Jacqueline Miller, the museum’s associate director and Allyn curator of lepidoptera (butterflies and moths), said the museum is thrilled to receive Wilson’s collection.

“It’s the best international swallowtail collection in the U.S.,” Miller said. “It’s a really wonderful addition.”

Museum collections are historical “documents” and they give researchers an idea of what occurred in a particular area, Miller said. Researchers from across the world will study the collection.

“That’s what a museum collection is for,” she said. “It is to be utilized.”

The center houses Florida museum lepidoptera collections formerly stored at the Allyn Museum in Sarasota, Fla., other University of Florida collections and the state’s Division of Plant Industry collections, making it the world’s second-largest lepidoptera collection, second only to London’s National History Museum.

Founded in 2000, the center serves both research and public education functions, Miller said. It has a living butterfly rainforest and exhibit space that features information about lepidoptera and rainforests worldwide, as well as 39,000 square feet of research laboratories and collection space.

“It’s the only institution in the world of its size that’s dedicated only to butterflies and moths,” Miller said.

Miller said she and her colleagues started working on material in Wilson’s attic, ensuring that specimens are secured and well packed. They also were organizing in the same way Wilson already had categorized specimens, Miller said.

Back in Florida, after the material is unpacked and fumigated, items will be labeled with Wilson’s name on each specimen and integrated into the museum’s collection, Miller said.

Wilson and Miller have been friends for years and Miller came to Edmond in 2001. Her late husband also visited the city. Wilson, 81, was going to bequeath the collection, but decided to donate it to the center now.

“He’s doing the right thing in terms of conserving the material for future scientific research,” Miller said.

Wilson’s wife Gene said several months ago her husband told her he wanted to donate them now.

“I thought that was a very, very heroic thing to do because that’s his life’s work,” she said. “I just felt that giving it to them early was something I had never ever anticipated would happen. So I was just so proud of Kent that he did that.”

In part because others have given specimens to him, Wilson feels the collection is universal, for others to use and learn from, Wilson said. Miller said scientific research is collaborative, and if scientists don’t cooperate, they will miss a lot of natural science in the future.

At age 7, Wilson bought his first butterfly net for $1.75, beginning his lifelong fascination with lepidoptera that would take him to various places across the world including Germany, Italy, Africa, Jamaica and Mexico.

Why butterflies?

“It’s the research you do on them,” Wilson said. “It’s not important how beautiful they are, but the relationships between them in the family and those outside the family.”

Wilson completed undergraduate studies in zoology at the University of Idaho and also did work toward a doctorate in entomology at the University of Kansas. “That’s when I found out I don’t know anything about insects,” Wilson quipped.

He was a professor at the University of Central Oklahoma in the late 1960s and ’70s and he ended his professional career teaching at Edmond Memorial High School.

marks@edmondsun.com | 341-2121, ext. 108











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