Retired ORU professor donates butterfly and moth collection

By Ally Powell ('13)

Dr. NelsonRetired Oral Roberts University professor of biology John Nelson recently donated his collection of over 33,000 butterflies and moths to the Florida Museum of Natural History’s McGuire Center for Lepidoptera and Biodiversity.

"Over the past 30 years, I accumulated records and specimen of moths and butterflies for the state of Oklahoma," says Nelson.

The McGuire Center for Lepidoptera and Biodiversity is home to more than 20,000 butterfly species and over 245,000 moth species from around the world. Nelson gathered 90 percent of his donated collection himself while other specimens were donated.

"McGuire Center said that their representation from Oklahoma was limited, which encouraged me to send my specimens there," he said.

The donated collection is derived from Nelson's work putting together a list of butterfly and moth specimen from the state.

"When I came to Oklahoma, there was no published list of butterflies or moths," says Nelson. "It was one of those strange things and must have been the Lord."

Nelson began compiling the collection after one of his students decided to create a list of butterflies in Tulsa County for a senior paper. An official list of butterflies and moths for the state was still in demand.

"I needed something that I could work on when I had time, that would enable me to do the research that I needed for advancement in rank," Nelson says.

Nelson then decided to collect specimens, mainly during the summers, compiling an official list of moths and butterflies for the state.

"When I was teaching, I didn't have much time except during summer," he says. "After I was free from teaching, I collected specimens every month of the year."

What began as research became a beloved hobby.

"I just enjoyed being out," Nelson says.

Capturing such small creatures as the micro-moths, then pinning and studying them under a microscope is challenging.

"You generally don't make headway running down the road with a net trying to catch one," Nelson says. "Butterflies are day flyers. You can catch those in the day. Most moths come to light at night and are highly attracted to black light."

Many insect collections of specimens are being substantiated with photographs, although the specimen leave no argument as to its identification making Nelson's collection valuable.

"With the improvement in photography in recent years, close-up pictures are possible. You can get more detail from a photograph than looking through a microscope," he says.

Nelson mainly collected specimen in Oklahoma, but has collected in additional surrounding states as well while on vacation.

"I will probably still continue to do some collecting," Nelson says.