Couple donates bug collection worth millions — priceless to researchers

Two of the world’s foremost experts on insects are donating to a U.S. university their collection of insects, one of the world’s largest and most important private holdings, worth millions of dollars. The gift is a boon to researchers worldwide.

Charlie and Lois O’Brien are entrusting to Arizona State University a collection that includes more than 1 million weevils, a type of beetle that has devastated crops around the world, and 250,000 planthoppers, insects named for their skill at jumping short distances.

Every specimen of the collection is worth $5 to $300, depending on its rarity, Nico Franz, an entomologist at the university, told The Guardian. As many as 1,000 of the O’Briens’ insects could be “new to science,” he said.

The gift “adds rare and unidentified specimens that could provide enormous scientific value,” the university said.

The scientists, who are married, also are endowing professorships devoted to identifying and naming new species.

Weevils are known for devastating the U.S. cotton industry nearly 100 years ago. The sweet potato weevil has plagued farmers in Central and South America, Southeast Asia and East Africa.

But weevils can do good too. Two dozen countries have used weevils to control major infestations of invasive terrestrial and aquatic plants, the university said.

Franz at Arizona State lauded the O’Briens for “having amassed something of such great value and at the same time, sharing it so selflessly and widely.”