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Love Bugs: Couple Donates 'World-Class' $10M Insect Collection

Among their personal favorites are clown weevils from the Philippines, which are colorfully striped.  (Image credit: Deanna Dent/ASU Now/Arizona State University)

It was a buggy life for entomologistsLois and Charlie O'Brien, who spent about 60 years of their relationship in the field collecting insects. Now, the couple is donating their collection of more than a million bugs to Arizona State University (ASU).

Charlie O'Brien, a former professor at Florida Agricultural and Mechanical University, and Lois O'Brien, a leading expert on planthoppers, first met in an entomology class at ASU. He was the professor, she the student. Over the course of their courtship and marriage, the couple would travel the world together for fieldwork and to add to their collection.

The vast insect collection is worth an estimated $10 million and has an "enormous scientific value," ASU said. Along with their collection, which will more than double ASU's current compilation, the couple donated $2 million to endow professorships dedicated to insect systematics — identifying and naming new species. In fact, the O'Briens' collection includes unidentified specimens. [Gallery: 'Insects Unlocked' Collection Shares Free Bug Photos]

"The O'Briens have placed great trust in us as a research community," Nico Franz, curator of ASU's current insect collection and long-time colleague of Charlie O'Brien, said in a statement. "And at the same time, it's a responsibility for us to make sure this collection has the greatest possible impact in terms of research and mentoring for future generations."

Among their personal favorites are clown weevils from the Philippines, which are colorfully striped.  (Image credit: Deanna Dent/ASU Now/Arizona State University)

Of particular interest are the more than a million weevil specimens. In his career, Charlie O'Brien discovered hundreds of weevil species — a group of diverse beetles known for devastating crops — and some of the bugs are even named in his honor. His favorites in the collection are the clown weevils, which have colorful stripes and are found in the Philippines.

Lois O'Brien, on the other hand, specialized in planthoppers, and the couple's collection includes 250,000 specimens of the colorfully camouflaged insects. Though the grasshopper-like species can range from bright turquoise to gold, her favorite in the couple's collection "looks exactly like a peanut," ASU said.

With the addition of the O'Briens' specimens, ASU's entomology program will grow both its research and mentoring, Franz said.

"One of their unique features," Franz said of the O'Briens, "is the combination of having amassed something of such great value and at the same time, sharing it so selflessly and widely."

Original article on Live Science.

Kacey Deamer
Kacey Deamer
Kacey Deamer is a journalist for Live Science, covering planet earth and innovation. She has previously reported for Mother Jones, the Reporter's Committee for Freedom of the Press, Neon Tommy and more. After completing her undergraduate degree in journalism and environmental studies at Ithaca College, Kacey pursued her master's in Specialized Journalism: Climate Change at USC Annenberg. Follow Kacey on Twitter.