A big thank you is owed to all the citizen scientists who contributed to the just-completed transcription of swallowtail butterfly specimens from the Field Museum of Natural History! This expedition fills in some much-needed taxonomic gaps that remained after the previous expedition, and helps push the swallowtail project forward. Despite the American Thanksgiving weekend, we still managed to get 121 specimens transcribed in 10 days. Way to go!
We have another big push to digitize swallowtail specimens from the eastern United States coming up before the next round of holidays. If you need a break from the festivities, be sure to check back for more butterflies!
--Originally posted on Notes From Nature blog, 28 November, 2016
The New World Swallowtail Butterfly project has a new expedition up! As you may remember, I am collecting images of swallowtail butterfly specimens to understand how morphological diversity varies across the New World. Museum specimens provide an excellent record of diversity through time and across geography, and the new expedition is no exception.
These butterflies were imaged during my recent trip to the Field Museum of Natural History. The Field Museum Division of Insects houses over 12 million specimens; their Butterfly and Moth collection has a geographic and taxonomic breadth that complements the previous expedition nicely. In addition to helping with my research, the data you transcribe will be sent back to the Field Museum to incorporate into their specimen database for other researchers to use in the future.
As with the previous Swallowtail expedition, remember that there are two images for each specimen—a front and a back. This is important, because in some cases, the labels in the image have different data written on each side. Thanks for your help, and look closely—some of these specimens provide a unique historical record of biodiversity that has since been lost!
--Originally posted on Notes From Nature blog, 18 November, 2016
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
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