by Shari Ellis
David Kohls received the 2009 Harrell L. Strimple Award in recognition of his significant contributions to paleontology including the donation of over 72,000 of fossiliferous shale to the Smithsonian Institution and the University of Colorado Museum of Natural History. These pieces of shale contain over 200,000 individual Eocene insect/flora specimens from the Green River Formation in Colorado.
How did David managed to amass such a huge collection? Dr. Dena Smith, Curator of Invertebrate Paleontology at the University of Colorado Museum of Natural History, explains that it is because David—retired from Colorado Mountain College—approached collecting as a full-time job.
In the summer, as soon as the weather permits, David begins collecting. He treats this as his job, going to his field sites and working a full day, nearly every weekend-day available. In addition to collecting, he meets with local geologists and land owners and prospects for new collecting sites. He does this work all summer long. Then when the weather starts to turn, David begins to go through the material he has collected. He sorts and trims specimens, photographs and admires those that are extra special and begins the process of packing them for transport. All specimens are labeled with detailed locality data and the data of collection. In the spring, David and his wife Claudia come to the University of Colorado Museum to deliver the specimens and all associated data from the previous year. (Smith, 2011).
David’s passion for paleontology was sparked by some fossil worm burrows and shells he discovered while on a field trip during a summer geology class that he arranged through Colorado Mountain College. Not long after, David discovered a locality rich with fossil insects and plant material and he began meticulously collecting fossil insects and plant material from that locality and from 12 other established collecting localities. He continued for 20 years.
Dena Smith aptly describes David as an “ambassador in the field.” He formed strong relationships with local geologists, Bureau of Land Management personnel and several oil companies which ultimately granted him unprecedented, permitted access to parcels of their land in northwestern Colorado. David developed a deep appreciation for the value that museum collections offer scientists and kept many paleoentomologists around the world apprised of his most recent finds.
Scientists especially appreciate David’s careful, unbiased collecting. Unlike many amateur collectors who tend to keep the prettiest fossils and discard the rest, David did not throw anything recognizable away. Rare taxa and faint specimens (spiders) that are often overlooked by other collectors regularly appear in David’s material. David’s specimens represent previously undescribed species and several have proved to be key in reconstructing the evolutionary histories of their groups. The fossils David collected and donated to museums will be studied by many generations of scientists. (Smith, 2011). Below are some of the more unusual and impressive specimens David collected.
David retired from collecting following the 2011 collecting season, saying that it was time to leave that up to others. He now focuses his time on the art of macro-photography. Reflecting on what he has accomplished, David feels very proud that he has had the opportunity to prevail on others to help him make but a small contribution to the science of paleoentomology and is most content realizing that there will indeed be much for future study of the material in the collections. He strongly encourages those with similar interests to follow their heart, do the best that they can, and share their results with others by donating to a qualified museum.
To learn more:
Green River Fossil Collections http://paleobiology.si.edu/greenriver/index.html
View more of the fossils David collected at the Fossil Insect Collaborative at the University of Colorado
Kohls, David. 2011. Response by David Kohls. Journal of Paleontology 85(3): 608 – 609.
Smith, Dena M. 2011. Presentation of the 2009 Harrell L. Strimple Award of the Paleontological Society to David Kohls. Journal of Paleontology 85(3): 607.