WASHINGTON — Carl J. Drake spent his life studying bugs, everything from aphids to water striders. When he died in 1965, the entomologist left his life savings and vast insect collection to the Smithsonian. Now Drake's will has become something of a pest.
The Smithsonian Institution says that after nearly half a century, it's having a hard time carrying out Drake's wishes, including fulfilling the order he gave to buy more bugs. So, the Smithsonian is asking a federal judge in Washington for permission to modify Drake's will. It's unknown when she will rule.
Department of Justice lawyers wrote on the Smithsonian's behalf that over the years the institute has used Drake's dollars to purchase about a dozen insect collections, but now buying new bugs is tough. Changes to an environmental law made in the 1980s increased red tape surrounding insect collecting, such as documents needed to prove the collections were made legally.
The Smithsonian wants to use the income from Drake's investment, which has grown from around $250,000 to about $4 million, not only to purchase insects but also to buy supplies and to support scientific research on Drake's collection and other bugs it owns.
The Smithsonian also wants to be able to loan items from Drake's collection, a no-no according to Drake's will because in his day, insects often broke during shipping. And the institution wants to integrate Drake's collection into its collection as a whole. Right now, Drake's 250,000 carefully preserved specimens are kept in separate cabinets at the National Museum of Natural History, as he asked. But the Smithsonian says that taxes "increasingly scarce collection space" and is inconvenient for researchers who use the collection on the fifth floor of the natural history museum's east wing.
Over the years, Drake identified nearly 1,500 new insect species and he studied a wide range of bugs, from grasshoppers to lace bugs, a particular favorite of his.