Today we are visiting the William H. Procter Collection at the William Otis Sawtelle Collections and Research Center at the headquarters of Acadia National Park in Bar Harbor (aka ‘the Park Archives.’) The connection between an early 20th-century insect collection and the Coast Walk is probably not immediately obvious, so here’s a little back-story.
William H. Procter (1873-1951), was the grandson of Procter & Gamble’s founder. As a child, Procter summered on MDI with his family. He was a businessman first (at Procter & Gamble, as you might have guessed) and became interested in biology as an adult. His early work was on the marine fauna of MDI [There’s the first connection to the Coast Walk!], and in 1921 he established a research station at the MDI Bio Lab in Salisbury Cove. [There’s the second connection to the Coast Walk.] He later moved the lab to his estate, Corfield, closer to Bar Harbor. [Corfield was near the current ferry terminal property on the shore side of Eden Street, so there’s a third connection. It was torn down in 1965.]
In the 1920s, Procter began working with Charles W. Johnson, curator for the Boston Society of Natural History, who was doing a survey of insects on MDI. Johnson died in 1932, and Procter took over the project, which eventually became the seven-part Biological Survey of the Mount Desert Region, which was published between 1927 and 1946.
He left his collection to the University of Massachusetts with the stipulation that “there be no additions made to this collection unless by specimens taken on Mount Desert Island, … My reason being that its great value is to show a biotic entity, and it has taken years of hard work to assemble same, though every hour one of pleasure.” (Alexander, p. 240.)
I hadn’t heard of Procter, but Anne Swann had worked on cataloguing the collection (which was published in 2015 with updated nomenclature and addenda by Glen Mittelhauser) and she said, “You have to see this.” So we made an appointment and Marie Yarborough, the Curator of the archives, and Kristin Dillon, her assistant, graciously brought out tray after tray of meticulously pinned and labeled insects as we talked.
Now that you a little context, let’s have a look at the bugs!
Jenn: Anne, how did you get involved in this?
Anne: Through Glen Mittelhauser. The park hired Glen and myself to make a digital catalog. We entered all the information, for better or worse, [from] each tag, and that gave people an option to search it. Then they worked on changing the genus and species if they needed to. I believe [in Proctor’s] time this was the largest collection of insects from a geographical area. Each cabinet holds 60 drawers.
Jenn: We’re talking thousands of specimens.
Jenn: Wow. Did he collect more or less a sample of every insect on the island?
Anne: No, he didn’t like flies, he didn’t like mosquitoes, he didn’t do a lot of ants. I would say he got the majority of the moths and the beetles – beetles were big for those guys back then – and butterflies. It’s funny about the butterflies – if you look at each of them they don’t look like anything until you see 10 of them together. … [And the beetles] – it’s just a beetle, but then when you get 40 of them in a tray they’re cool and cute looking.
Jenn: It is kind of wild seeing them all together like this.
Anne: As far as other stuff, I know he didn’t get all the bees, because he just wasn’t into bees.
Jenn: So it’s an idiosyncratic collection.
Anne: When you go looking for bees, you just don’t sweep [a net] … They found that it’s easier to collect bees if you put a yellow bowl on the ground with some dishwashing soap in it – you’ll collect more species of bees doing that than you will sweep-netting. [Either] they didn’t know that back then or else he wasn’t interested in pollinators. Now the big interest is in pollinators.
Jenn: How do people use this collection now?
Marie: If they’re doing research on a specific species they’ll ask to look at it – there’s all the labels and there’s data with it as well.
Anne: Yeah, you might get someone who’s really into a specific type of moth and they might come and say, “You know what, because of this, that and the other, this isn’t actually the moth I’m looking for, this is a different [species].” They do change the genus and species a lot. When you’re cataloging an historic collection like this you’re not allowed to make changes. These are all cataloged by [the names] Procter [used]. Even though I might go on to BugGuide.net and say, “That’s not right,” I have to keep his ID and then let someone with authority come back through and make an addendum on the record. … There’s a hierarchy of cataloging. [She holds out the specimen’s tag for me to see.]
These guys are from 1937. The first number is the one they assign and the second tag is the person who determined the species. [Ed.note: ‘Determined’ in this case means ‘identified.’] This one was determined in 1937 by a guy named Reen. It’s got the handwritten genus and species on it. Then the third one is the Acadia National Park catalog number.
Jenn: That’s the one at the very bottom?
Anne: Yeah, this one’s got four of them. The first one’s got the date and where it was caught, the second one is their catalog number, I think, and the third one, again, has the genus and species and who determined it – who decided what [species] that grasshopper was.
Jenn: Wow, all kinds of provenance on these.
Anne: Yeah. If somebody else came along and said, “That’s not [right],” they would put another tag under the Acadia National Park tag [with the new ID]. Each tag is a layer of how many times it was touched. It gives its own little history.
Jenn: Actually that’s one of the coolest things about this collection – the level of documentation.
Anne: Right, you never take the first tag off.
Jenn: Now you’ve got me looking more closely at the tags.
Anne: Yeah, I love them.
Jenn: Last year I was doing some stuff for Chebacco, the MDI Historical Society, and I got to shoot Henry Spellman’s bird collection down at the Museum of Comparative Zoology. It was similar, there were layers of tags – some of them were Spellman’s, written out as a teenager in 1881.
Anne: Museum people have this nice hierarchy. All these tags, these typed ones, these are the ones that came with all of this.
Jenn: Do you have a background in insects?
Anne: No, library science. I got this job because I was a librarian and I like cataloging. Cataloging books, cataloging insects, it was the same. I’m not really into insects but I was really into cataloging. [Through COA] I worked at the Smithsonian and cataloged all their Cetaceans one winter.
Jenn: No kidding!
Anne: Yeah, in their sub-sub-basement. Had to put every single one together, make sure all the bones were there. It was cool, it was a really neat job to basically live for 12 weeks at the Smithsonian. Back then we had the run of it.
Jenn: When was that?
Anne: It was in ‘84 or ‘85. We’d go in in the morning and then we could run around the whole place at night, go into all the halls and all the other places. If it was locked it was locked but most of the building … Once you’re in, you’re in. You can go look at the gems, go to where they store all the dinosaur bones and things like that. We were in the sub-sub-basement, two basements under everything else, where all the Cetaceans were. It was really cool.…
Jenn: [To Marie and Kristin] You guys have the craziest collection. Last time I was here I photographed a desk [Ed.note: For the MDI Historical Society in 2017] and now the insects, and I see stuffed taxidermy [back there in the storage area].
Marie: Yeah, it’s a natural history and a cultural history collection.
Anne: Glen Mittelhauser would be a good person to [contact] about a lot of this too, because he’s actually written all the books that compare and contrast Procter’s collection with what we’ve been finding in the last 10 years.
Jenn: I appreciate the introduction to the collection, it’s very cool. I love other people’s obsessions!
Anne: People really are obsessed! When they want to see one insect they’re really into that insect. I remember I’d be sitting here in the summer and somebody would really want to see what we had. [Marie would look it up and say,] “Okay, yeah, we have that,” or “We don’t.” I don’t know whether the catalog is accessible online? No? Is it ever going to be?
Marie: ICMS doesn’t have a public format. [Ed.note: Interior Collections Management System, software used by the Department of the Interior.] It’s just National Park Service software, we don’t have any control over how they export a catalog. Frankly the most … connection that [the Procter] collection has to current researches …, [is when] our Park biologist or our Park wildlife technician is working with an outside entity and there’s a certain bee that just got listed, and we need to know if we have it. I have to pull Hymenoptera from a report for every single entry that we have in the entire catalog. That would pull anything from Procter, anything from the bee surveys we had recently, anything from the last four BioBlitzes. Some people will come and they’re interested in Procter, but in terms of it being an inventory and a catalog for useful research for today, it’s really figuring out ‘What are the species that we have here today, what are the species that we’ve had here in the past?’ There’s a big project – it’s called the Bee Atlas – that’s going on now, it’s run out of U Maine.
Anne: They have a lovely website.
-Marie: Our wildlife techs did bee collecting and cataloging. They prepared the specimens, we cataloged them and then added them and then I had to pull up reports on all Hymenoptera to send because they plug in all that information – you’re pulling in historic collections and collections that the wildlife tech collected last week – to set up an inventory of what we have. That’s really what the collections get used for now – what species are here and what has changed, the science that’s happening now. As Anne said it’s harder because there’s different cataloging, different words and different place names and different species names.
Anne: Just because Procter didn’t collect it doesn’t mean it wasn’t here but he did try to collect big general stuff. I know there aren’t a lot of Procter bees. I think there are some big bumblebees but not the variety that we recognize now. He might not have been interested [enough] to recognize that they were different species.
Marie: No, there’s a few, it ended up being five or six or something like that from his collection.
Anne: Now we know there’s more bees. As David Manski would say, ‘All these insects, they’re some of your keystone species. If you see their changes over time it extrapolates out to other changes in the environment.’ [Ed.note: Manski is a retired ANP Chief of Natural Resources – he started the BioBlitzes.] He also used to say something like, ‘You can’t manage your park unless you know what’s in it.’
Marie: Glen Mittlehauser has been doing the most long-term work on the Procter collections and he’s probably the most published on it too.
Anne: Definitely the most published.
Marie: He’s had his hand in every inventory and every cataloging project having to do with Procter.
Anne: He writes his own grants and comes back to re-catalog or to figure out if [something is properly identified] or if the names have been changed or whatever. He’s got his own gig going with the Maine Natural History Observatory. He gets little grants and does this, and in the summer might go up to Baxter and do a whole flora and fauna of Baxter, and in the wintertime might delve back into this. Do you know Glen?
Jenn: No. Never ran across each other.
Marie: He’s probably the only researcher that I’ve known that just keeps coming back. He does research and then he goes back to it, whereas it’s more the stuff that’s in the general catalog that people [look at.] … It’s all about the research question. Procter is one piece of that general catalog that we’re pulling information from for researchers.
Anne: [Procter] was really the first to say, ‘These species were found on Mount Desert Island.’ It’s a good Point A to build from. The BioBlitzes were all about ‘we’ve never seen that’ and ‘Procter found this at this time of year but we haven’t. Why not?’ Those things were also questions. Then other people have had collecting permits – they’ve definitely done a really good compare-and-contrast the [contemporary] beetles with Procter’s collection.
Marie: The only negative for Procter is we don’t have the [location.] Now when you collect you have a GPS point. We know in general where things were because [Procter] kept really good notes but we don’t have the same [precision]… Therefore that’s information that we can’t enter in our catalog. It’s metadata we don’t have. That’s always a blank when we’re gathering and pulling together [locations.]
Anne: Location is kind of subjective… the really airborne insects are flying all over the place…. not like a bird that might have a territory. Bees have hives, but things like flies and moths … it’s more about the plants for them. It’s [also] hard when you’re cataloging them and the data refers back to place names [that] have changed. Some of [his locations] are like, ‘At a light on fourth of July.’
Marie: For something like the Maine Bee Atlas that’s a deficit, but again there’s only five bees [in the Procter Collection]. 99.9% of the other bees that we have here and that we’ve identified have GPS locations. There are strengths and weaknesses to the collection, it’s always based on the metadata that was [noted] at the time of collection. Lots of researchers that we have today get scientific permits and do research here and they are terrible at metadata, … they’re just interested in their final result. We’re trying to make this available for future generations for all purposes. That’s something we’ve tried to home in on, really get scientists to be responsible about that. Then they can see at the end, ‘look what I pulled together.’ You needed to know every bee species within the last 100 years that we have here in the collection? Look what I was able to plug in because I had good metadata.
Jenn: A little bit more effort on the researcher’s part and it’s useful to so many more people.
Marie: Right. That’s really the key to it.
Anne: Some researchers will be conscientious enough to say what plants they pulled something off of. It doesn’t really work if you’re collecting bees in soapy water but it does if you know they’re around a whole bunch of rugosa roses. There is still a natural history component like ‘I found this on spirea’ or ‘I was swishing through tall grasses.’ It gives you the GPS and what the foliage was, that’s also important. Hopefully they have an eye for plants. Not all of them do.
And then, whoops! Our hour was up and it was time to put the bugs back on the shelf and say goodbye.
Jenn: You guys, thanks for fitting us in today. I know it was short notice. So glad they got the government started back up again!
A topic for another time:
I spent some quality time with Procter’s Biological Survey of the Mount Desert Region over at the Jesup (it’s in Special Collections so you can’t take it out of the library) and we will have to come back to it in another post. “In the early twentieth century, Dwight Blaney (1865–1944) and William Procter (1872–1951), … congregated in the summers with many of America’s social elite in Maine’s Bar Harbor region. Not prone to idleness, Blaney and Procter dredged the waters of Frenchman Bay for marine mollusks, Blaney in 1901–1909 and Procter in 1926–1932. … Together, Blaney and Procter discovered 159 marine mollusk species in the vicinity of Frenchman Bay … . Their efforts still constitute the documented molluscan inventory for the region.” (Johnson)
Alexander, Charles P., “Doctor William Procter (1872-1951),” Entomological News, Vol.LXII, No.8, October 1951. http://biostor.org/reference/13720
Epstein, F.H. (ed), A Laboratory by the Sea. The Mount Desert Island Biological Laboratory 1898–1998. The River Press, Rhinebeck, NY.
Evans, David H., Marine Physiology Down East: The Story of the Mt. Desert Island Biological Laboratory. Perspectives in Physiology. Springer, New York, NY, 2015. https://link.springer.com/book/10.1007%2F978-1-4939-2960-3
Johnson, Richard I., “Dwight Blaney and William Procter on the Molluscan Faunas of Frenchman Bay and Ironbound Island, Maine,” Northeastern Naturalist 16(mo4), (1 June 2009). https://bioone.org/journals/northeastern-naturalist/volume-16/issue-mo4/045.016.0401/Dwight-Blaney-and-William-Procter-on-the-Molluscan-Faunas-of/10.1656/045.016.0401.pdf
Mittelhauser, Barr, Swann, and Chandler, Catalog of the Beetles (Coleoptera) of Mount Desert Island, Maine. Gouldsboro, ME : Maine Natural History Observatory, 2014. https://www.mainenaturalhistory.org/catalog
Mittelhauser, Barr, Swann, Catalog of the Butterflies and Moths (Lepidoptera) of Mount Desert Island, Maine. Gouldsboro, ME : Maine Natural History Observatory, 2014. https://www.mainenaturalhistory.org/catalog
Mittelhauser, Barr, Swann, Catalog of the Sawflies, Wasps, Bees, and Ants (Hymenoptera) of Mount Desert Island, Maine. Gouldsboro, ME : Maine Natural History Observatory, 2015. https://www.mainenaturalhistory.org/catalog
Procter, William, Biological Survey of the Mount Desert Region. Philadelphia, Wistar Institute, 1927-1946
“MDI Biological Lab Establishes Scientific Innovation Fund,” http://www.mainebiz.biz/article/20180522/NEWS01/180529986/mdi-biological-lab-establishes-scientific-innovation-fund. Accessed April 11, 2019