Tiny Animals

I Wish They All Could Be California Bugs

At Santa Barbara Botanic Garden, we’ve got lots of bugs. By “bugs,” we mean insects, spiders, and their more obscure invertebrate cousins like springtails and mites. Bugs live and thrive in the Garden itself (because where there are plants, there are bugs), but we also maintain a physical and digital collection of specimens from across California. Bugs are everywhere — don’t be alarmed, but a few are crawling on you right now — and they play a variety of key roles in California’s ecosystems. Still, most remain unseen, unstudied, and underappreciated. Our Bug Collection serves as a tool for research, conservation, and education, and as a gateway into the wonderfully strange world of these tiny animals. 


Our Leica focus-stacking microscope camera gives bugs the close-up they deserve.  


You can thank a pollinator for one out of three bites of food you eat.


California’s oaks (Quercus spp.) support over 200 species of gall wasps (Cynipidae). 

Bugs are Essential

Engines of Ecosystems

If you don’t like bugs, then statistically speaking you don’t like animals. Bugs represent by far the most diverse group of animals on Earth. In California, bugs are the main animal engines of our native habitats. Pollinators like bees and flies help plants reproduce; predators like spiders control plant pests; herbivores like caterpillars manage unruly plant populations; decomposers like springtails and mites recycle essential nutrients; and ecosystem engineers like ants move enormous amounts of soil and shape the landscapes in which we live. Bugs also make an excellent meal, providing food for other animals like birds, reptiles, amphibians, fish, and mammals (including people). Not to beat a dead horsefly, but bugs are on center stage across California’s landscape.

Using the Collection

A Trove of Data

An invertebrate collection is not just a well-organized bug cemetery, and a specimen is not just a dead bug. Each one represents a valuable set of information, including where and when the animal was collected. This data can inform conservation and restoration efforts, and can be used to explore fundamental ecological and evolutionary questions.  

Read More

Our collection has grown through projects that catalogue pollinators of rare and endemic plants, that create broad inventories of insects and spiders that live on the Channel Islands, and that compare invertebrate communities in restored and unrestored habitats. As part of our curation process, some specimens are photographed with a microscope camera. The resulting “digital collection” allows us to easily share images of specimens with scientists around the world, and with amateur naturalists who contribute to community science projects. For permanent storage, most of our bugs are eventually sent to larger natural history collections, where other researchers — perhaps some researchers not even born yet — can use them to address their own questions.

zooming in

Beauty Is the Eyepiece of the Beholder

Compared to bugs, people are giants, and we see bugs from a giant’s perspective: tiny creatures scurrying underfoot and flitting through the air. From up here, it’s difficult to appreciate a bug’s “looks” — the fine details, shapes, textures, colors, and patterns that give it a certain style. A microscope brings us down to their size so we can see them in all their fancy glory. And a bug’s style is not without substance. Their weird, specialized forms often reflect close relationships with plants (e.g., a butterfly’s long nectar-feeding mouth) and other animals. These relationships have co-evolved over thousands or millions of years, and their complex interconnections shape and protect our native habitats.

Meet the Team

Access the Bug Collection

For general information or for questions regarding our Bug Collection, please submit a request. Loans are made at the discretion of the collection curator.

Samples may also be viewed in person at the Garden by appointment only. Same-day requests typically cannot be accommodated. 

Green Thumbs Can Save Us All Green Thumbs Can Save Us All

Learn all about native plants and explore the Garden. Sign up for our newsletter.