I grew up in the Chicago suburbs going to the Field Museum of Natural History on days off from school. It was always a treat to head downtown on the train, get lost wandering around the public exhibit spaces, and learn something new. I recently got to visit the Field for work. It was still a treat. I still got lost, but this time it was in the labyrinth of offices and collections spaces hidden from public view, and I still learned something new.
In addition to meeting with researchers working with beetles, dragonflies, butterflies, and microplants (translation: mosses and friends) to discuss how the Notes From Nature project might facilitate citizen scientists' participation in digitization efforts, I digitized over 150 butterfly specimens from 30 species. Spoiler alert: those images will be coming soon to Notes From Nature.
The butterfly collection at the Field is particularly special because it is the home of the Herman Strecker Collection. Strecker was a 19th century sculptor and amateur lepidopterist, who, at the time of his death had collected over 50,000 specimens. While the collection is old, it has been incredibly well-preserved and cared for. The majority of the species of interest for my work are represented in Strecker's collection, and in some cases, represent localities from which butterflies can no longer be acquired, either because they have been locally extirpated due to habitat loss, or because of changes in the accessibility of the locality.
As an additional treat while I was visiting the Field's insect collections, my host, Crystal Maier, showed me the Field's collection of inflated caterpillars. Modern caterpillar specimens are stored in alcohol to preserve internal structures. Historically, however, the guts of the specimen would be carefully squeezed out, and then the empty skin would be inflated like a little balloon and roasted over an alcohol lamp to cure and dry the skin. Not super-useful from a modern scientific standpoint, but aesthetically and as a teaching tool, really cool.
Thanks to all the volunteers who contributed to the freshly-completed transcription of images from the first batch of butterfly specimens from the Florida Museum of Natural History. This collection of images presented a unique set of challenges, since they represent material that originated in several smaller collections which were then united under one roof at the FLMNH’s McGuire Center for Lepidoptera and Biodiversity. This means the tags and data associated with specimens are not standardized, and in some cases, there is data written on both sides of tags, requiring us to provide two images of each specimen. However, despite all of these challenges, data associated with these 468 specimens was transcribed in 13 days!
The first thing to which these data will be applied is developing better distribution maps of swallowtail butterflies. These specimens provide a vouchered record of where and when species can be found, and provide an especially valuable record of rare species that are not easily encountered by casual hobbyists, especially in remote areas of Southeast Asia and South America. We are interested in comparing closely-related species from these two regions to determine what role the pressures of paleoclimatic change may have played in determining their current distributions. This may offer clues to how future climate changes may affect these species, which have important roles as pollinators and as links in the food chain.
Thank you again, and be sure to check back soon for more FLMNH butterflies—our dedicated team of imaging volunteers is working hard to image more swallowtails and other groups, which we hope to post in a few months.
--Originally posted on Notes From Nature blog, 29 June, 2016
The McGuire Center for Lepidoptera and Biodiversity at the University of Florida houses a large, diverse collection of pinned butterflies and moths. As a National Science Foundation-funded research fellow at the University of Florida, I am working to collect standardized images of the hundreds, if not thousands, of New World swallowtail butterflies housed at the McGuire Center for Lepidoptera and Biodiversity. These large, colorful butterflies can be found from Canada to Argentina in the New World, and the northern Mediterranean, India, and Southeast Asia in the Old World. One species is endangered, and another six species are considered vulnerable to becoming endangered by the International Union for Conservation of Nature.
Each of the butterfly specimens in this collection is pinned with a number of descriptive labels, containing valuable information on the species and sex of the specimen and where and when it was collected. By transcribing these labels, Notes From Nature volunteers are helping me to collect information that I can use to determine the broad-scale ecological patterns of diversity in this group of butterflies. These data can be combined with color and shape measurements collected from specimen images in order to understand how morphological and broad-scale ecological patterns relate.
Additionally, transcribed label data and their associated images will be made available to other researchers for future work utilizing these specimens.
This new interface on Notes From Nature is a little different from the others for two primary reasons. First is that you are required to look at two images in order to capture all the information being asked for. Second is that there is a lot of variability among the labels making the task a bit more difficult. Thanks for giving them a try and please remember to take a close look at the amazing organisms contained in the images.
--Originally posted on Notes From Nature blog, 16 June, 2016
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