Last month, Harvard entomologist Piotr Naskrecki's wrote a blog post about finding a "puppy-sized" spider in South America. The post went viral. A few days later, Naskrecki was receiving death threats. Why? For collecting one of the specimens he described in his post, and placing it in a museum.

Naskrecki appeared on NPR yesterday to talk about the flood of hate mail he's received in the wake of his blog post, and to explain (quite politely, we think, in light of his situation) that yes, the occasional killing of animals is a necessary part of the research process:

Yes, I have received quite a bit of negative reactions to the fact that we scientists have to collect specimens occasionally. I would like to emphasize that we never do it lightly and this is probably the most unpleasant part of our job. But unfortunately, there's really no other way to look inside of an organism. We need to dissect things to see how their internal organ works. The easiest way to get the DNA is to grind the muscle of an organism. But in addition to that, we collect specimens not knowing what they will be used for. [The Smithsonian Institution, where I work] has 21 million specimens collected over the last 200 or 300 years, and they're still being studied. And we are still answering questions that would have been unconceivable when the specimens were first collected.

Naskrecki doesn't get into this in his NPR interview, but collecting specimens is also a crucial aspect of the conservation process – not just for animals, but their habitats. He elaborates on his blog:

...species are never lost as a result of scientific collecting, but almost invariably because of the destruction of their habitat, or due to competition from alien species introduced by humans. And this loss of species is happening on an unimaginable scale – by some estimates 16,000 species quietly go extinct every year, some even before scientists have a chance to describe and name them. And this is why if I see something that may be new to science, even if I suspect that it might be rare and threatened, I will collect it and deposit it in a museum. Some years ago I found a new species of katydid in South Africa. I knew that its population was tiny and on the brink of disappearance. In fact, this species is now probably extinct. Not because I collected a few individuals, but because its only population was located in a tiny patch of a native yellowwood forest within a massive pine plantation, a patch that was already being cut down to be replaced by more non-native trees grown for timber. Had I not collected a few specimens of this animal, we would have never known it existed. Now, at least its tombstone has a name – Paracilacris periclitatus, The Endangered Katydid.

We encourage you to read the rest of Naskrecki's response to the knee-jerk vitriol he's received since his post went viral: "Involuntary Bioslaughter and Why a Spider is Dead."

H/t NPR