Collection of beetles of the Coleoptera Department of the Laboratory of Insect Taxonomy of the Zoological Institute of the Russian Academy of Sciences is one of the largest in the world. It is very difficult to count the exact number of specimens, but it undoubtedly contains not less than 6 million mounted and labelled specimens. It is even more difficult to assess the number of non-mounted specimens kept on cotton plates and larvae and pupae preserved in alcohol.
The beginning of this collection was laid as early as 1714 by Peter the Great when he established the Kunstkammer. Almost no scientific work was performed of the collections in the 18th century, new material obtained during expeditions was only added. Worthy of note is appearance of the first description of insect collection deposited in the Kunstkammer (Koelreuter, 1765) and first works on the fauna of Russia, based on this collection (Pallas, 1781, 1796).
A breakthrough in the development of the collection and the study of beetles on its basis is associated with the name of Eduard Menetries a world wide known scientist one of the founders of Russian entomology. French by birth, a disciple of Cuvier, a participant of the Russian expedition of Academician Langsdorff to Brazil, E. Menetries was invited to St. Petersburg in 1826 and became one of the keepers of the Zoological Museum that was separated from the Kunstkammer in 1832 and founder of its scientific collections in entomology. Specialists and laymen entomologists were grouped around him and his collections. We can mention the following sources of accession of material to insect collections, Coleoptera collections included, in those years: long expedition of the preparator of the Zoological Museum I.G. Voznesensky to the Far East and Russian possessions in North America from Alaska to California (1839-1849), expeditions of R.K. Maak, G.I. Radde and A.L. Chekanovsky to Eastern Siberia and Amur Region. After E. Menetries died (1861) A.F. Moravits was invited to take the position of keeper of the Museum who contributed greatly to examining the collection of beetles. It was at that time that scientific collections were divided into those deposited in closed cabinets and accessible to specialists only and collections intended for exhibition in glass cases. Beginning from 1870 expeditions of N.M. Przewalski, V.I. Roborovsky, P.K. Kozlov, G.N. Potanin, G.E. Grum-Grzhimailo were organized that laid the beginning to Central Asian collections. Owing to material collected and purchased the collection of beetles acquired scientific importance and became the basis for taxonomic and applied research.
During 1896-1901 the museum moved to the building it occupies now the former "House of Exhibitions" on the spit of the Vasilievsky Island (the right building the Customs Warehouse - museum and laboratories' building) Universitetskaya Embankment, 1. In 1912 the third story was finished and entomological collections, beetles included, were placed there.
The major step in enlarging and examination of collection of beetles was the activity of A.P. Semenov-Tian-Shanski (1866-1942), an excellent taxonomist and zoogeographer and G.G. Jacobson (1871-1926) an excellent expert in faunal studies, author of the widely known monograph "Beetles of Russia and Neighbouring Countries". In 1930 the Zoological Museum was transformed into the Zoological Institute of the USSR Academy of Sciences. Entomologists who worked at the Zoological Institute since then included a number of prominent coleopterists: A.N. Reichardt, D.A. Ogloblin, A.A. Richter, M.E. Ter-Minasian, O.L. Kryzhanovsky, E.L. Guryeva. Each of those experts has contributed to the accession of Coleoptera collection, identification of material accumulated and scientific curating of specimens.
In 1941 when the Great Patriotic War began the collections and scientific equipment were moved to the basement of the building and evacuation of the institute's staff evacuate to Dyushambe started. This led to intensive research of the fauna of Tajikistan (1941-1944) and important additions of Central Asian material to the collections.
Among the post-war large expeditions of the staff of the Zoological Institute worthy of note are expeditions to Western Kazakhstan (1949-1952), Turkmenia (1951-1953); zoological-botanical expeditions to China (1955-1957), Central Kazakhstan and Amur Region (1957-1962).
All these expeditions played an important role in adding new material to the entomological collections of beetles. From 1967 through 1985 entomologists of the Zoological Institute conducted research in Mongolia which provided vast material on Central Asian Coleoptera. Separate expeditions of coleopterists played an important role in enlarging collections of the department (E.L. Guryeva - Central Asia, O.L. Kryzhanovsky - Central Asia, Caucasus; G.S. Medvedev - Central Asia, Australia; A.L. Lobanov - Central Asia, Caucasus; B.A. Korotyayev - Caucasus, Far East, Turkey; M.G. Volkovich - Central Asia, Transcaucasia; A.G. Kireichuk - Far East, Australia), and other entomologists who collected beetles in addition to their own material (A.K. Zagulyayev, V.F. Zaitzev, V.A. Richter, V.I. Tobias - Caucasus; M.A. Kozlov, M.I. Falkovich - Central Asia; E.M. Danzig, D.R. Kasparyan, I.I. Kuznetsov, E.P. Narchuk, V.N. Tanasiichuk - Far East).
Not as large as field collections, but also a very important source of accession to scientific collection are purchase or donations of valuable private collections. Among such acquisitions of the past century were collections of G.G. Suvorov (Cerambycidae and other families), of A. Yakovlev and V. Yakovlev (Cantharidoidea, Buprestidae and other taxa of beetles), of S.M. Solsky (Staphylinadae, Carabidae and others), of P.P. Okunev (Cerambycidae), of V.N. Stark (Scolytidae), F.K. Lukyanovich (Curculionidae, Bruchidae), M.V. Stepanov (Buprestidae), N.G. Skopin (Tenebrionidae), Ya.D. Kirshenblat (Staphylinidae), V.N. Kurnakova (Carabidae), V.B. Shavrova (Chrysomelidae, Cerambycidae).
Now the collection of the Coleoptera Department is maintained and enlarged by 6 researchers and 3 technicians under the supervision of G.S. Medvedev. Accession to the collection is probably not as active as in the period from the 1950s through the 1980s, but our collection continues to grow and remains the largest collection in Russia and in the states of the former Soviet Union. The collection retains its world' importance. Foreign specialists come to examine the collection. Exchange of type material with the largest western museums on loan basis is carried out. Keys to beetles, monographs and revisions of separate groups based upon our collection have been traditionally highly evaluated by our colleagues and used both in Russia and abroad.
G.S. Medvedev, A.L. Lobanov, A.K. Chistyakova, 1999