A brief summer break for the microscopic Foraminifera

A big thank-you to everyone who has helped us transcribe the first two batches of 2,071 foram slides. We are currently preparing the third and final batch, which will go live on Notes from Nature in September. Please share any suggestions with us on how we can improve the workflow and tutorials!

In the meantime, we thought you might like this piece on the Natural History Museum website about how much we can learn from these microscopic fossils:

Oceans under the microscope: mapping the future with fossils


Coral fossils dating back to the Palaeozoic Era (about 541 to 252 million years ago). Different types of corals have thrived at different times in the past. Ancestors of living corals first appear in the fossil record about 245 million years ago, after a mass extinction at the end of the Permian Period (252 million years ago) wiped out all Palaeozoic corals.

100,000 specimens and counting


Original Photo: Epic Fireworks https://flic.kr/p/dh7QsJ


We reached another exciting milestone this week at Notes from Nature. Over 100,000 specimens have now been completed on Notes from Nature 2.0. That is over 300,000 transcriptions by over 3,900 volunteers. It has been 14 months since we launched the new version of Notes from Nature and are thrilled with the progress. As a reminder, you can view lots of Notes from Nature statistics on our dedicated Statistics page.

Thanks again to all our dedicated volunteers!

— The Notes from Nature Team

Hummingbird Moths on Notes from Nature #mothweek

Its Moth Week! And how better to celebrate than helping us to transcribe critical information about these amazing organisms. Moths are one of the most diverse branch of the tree of life, and not only because of their colors, patterns, shapes, and sizes. It is estimated that there are between 150,000 to 500,00 species of moths — in comparison, there are only ~65,000 species of all vertebrates! And this new expedition features a particularly awesome species, Hyles lineata.


Is that a hummingbird hovering over those flowers? Oh wait, it’s a moth with a ten-inch proboscis! Hyles lineata is a moth from the Sphingidae family. This moth, and other related species, are called hummingbird moths because their flight and feeding behaviors resemble the mannerisms of hummingbirds. Hyles lineata uses its long tongue (proboscis) to feed on the nectar from a variety of flowers. Its common name, the white-lined sphinx, describes its physical appearance, with white lines across the wings and thorax. The forewing of the moth is dark brown, while the hindwing has a broad band of pink. This moth can be found across the entire continental United States, and its range extends into Canada, Mexico, and even some of the islands in the Caribbean.

In this project, you will be transcribing the numerous descriptive labels that are pinned to each hummingbird moth specimen from the Florida Museum of Natural History’s McGuire Center. One of the numerous benefits of digitizing these records is that the transcribed label data can be added to a database and made accessible to researchers that can’t afford to travel and visit the McGuire Center’s collections on a regular basis. Through this interface, you will be looking at two images of the moth, taken from the dorsal and ventral sides of the insect. Please be sure to transcribe the information from both images.

This project is part of a collaborative network of museums seeking to digitize approximately 2 million North American butterfly and moth specimens. Butterflies and moths are one of the most charismatic groups of insects, yet there is still much that we don’t know about them. Your role in transcribing the specimen data is very valuable, and provides a significant contribution to research and conservation of butterflies and moths. Thank you for your help!

A big thank you from Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew

A big thank you from Royal Botanic Gardens Kew  – challenge accepted and completed.


Many thanks for completing our expedition Primulaceae of the world: An amazing 3,092 specimens have now been transcribed. We appreciate that we did not begin with an easy set of specimens. They were collected from all over the world, often the labels had very difficult-to-read handwriting and even contained different languages (including Cyrillic script!). However you were up to the challenge! We are also pleased to say that we created a few George Forrest fans, one of the many prolific and famous plant collectors whose specimens are represented in the herbarium at Kew. We are now looking forward to getting our hands on the data and coming up with ideas for improvements to try and make future expeditions a bit more straightforward for you.  It may take us a little bit of time to analyse the specimen records and incorporate them into our herbarium catalogue, but once we complete this stage the records will become widely available to researchers worldwide, all thanks to you. The data will also be fed into projects at Kew helping us to understand the taxonomy, evolution and diversification of the tropical Primulaceae.

Sarah, Laura and Marie-Hélène

Herbarium Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew

Thank you and more about spectacular underwings moths


Photo by Lary Reeves

Once again, thank you NfN community for helping complete the fourth expedition digitizing the spectacular underwings moths! With this data, researchers can begin to examine the moths’ distribution changes, changes in host plants, and impacts of climate change during the last century. As we take a break from spectacular underwing moths, Lary Reeves (a photographer and PhD candidate at the University of Florida in the Entomology Department), has provided more information and photos of the Catocala moth.


Photo by Lary Reeve

The Catocala moths have been popular among moth collectors for more than a century, in part, because they are both diverse and charismatic. Each of the world’s ~230 Catocala species is a unique variation of a repeated theme: cryptically patterned forewings coupled with striking, often colorful hindwings. This theme earns Catocala the common name of underwing moths. In North America, there are at least 110 species with more than 100 named color forms within the species. New species are described with regularity. The Catocala species are made to be even more charming by their romanticized, and sometimes sorrowful, names, e.g., C. amatrix (sweetheart underwing), C. amica (girlfriend underwing), C. insolabilis (inconsolable underwing), C. lacrymosa (tearful underwing), C. piatrix (penitent underwing), C. muliercula (little wife underwing), C. nuptialis (married underwing), C. neogama (bride underwing), C. vidua (widow underwing), among many others. 

During the day, Catocala moths rest on tree trunks or dark, sheltered locations such as underneath bridges, in tree cavities, on the root masses of overturned trees, or in caves, giving them a mysterious countenance. They rest with their gaudy underwings covered by cryptic forewings, camouflaging the moth against the substrate. If approached too closely, the unseen moth, sometimes surprisingly, explodes from its resting site in a flurry of striking colors as the hindwings flash into view. At night, Catocala become active and seek out mates and sugar, feeding from flowers, tree sap or rotting fruit.



Photo by Lary Reeves

There are a variety of ways to collect Catocala that have been practiced and refined for more than a century. Like many other moths, Catocala can be attracted to lights, particularly those towards the ultra violet end of the spectrum. They are occasional visitors to porch lights, even in relatively developed areas. Most nocturnal moth taxa are attracted to lights. Light trapping is an effective and common method for collecting moths in general, but for Catocala, there are more productive, targeted methods. 


Light trapping

As the sun sets, Catocala moths become active and begin their nightly search for sugar. Catocala and many other erebine moths are highly attracted to rotting, fermenting fruit and tree sap. One of the targeted methods of collecting Catocala is baiting or sugaring. As fruit rots and ferments, sugars are converted to alcohol which may provide an olfactory cue for hungry moths. To concoct a bait for Catocala, the two required ingredients are sugar and alcohol. Many collectors have their own, sometimes complex bait recipes. The most basic of these rely simply on white or brown sugar mixed with beer or wine. This bait can be augmented with rotting fruit (bananas, apples, mangoes, peaches, pineapple, watermelon, berries, etc.) or yeast. One useful and relatively affordable recipe is 1.8 kg brown sugar, 1.5 L Carlo Rossi red wine, 2-3 kg overripe bananas and a couple of packets of yeast. This recipe can be mixed in a large bucket. Baits that include fruit should be given at least 24 hours to ferment before use. Failure to provide time for adequate fermentation may result in an ineffective bait.


Ingredients for bait

Once the bait is ready for use, it can be applied in several ways. One of the common methods is to apply the bait to the trunks of trees with a large paintbrush. Ideally, this is done along a trail that traverses suitable habitat. (In Florida, the greatest Catocala diversity and abundance is found in habitats that contain high densities of hardwood trees.) Catocala moths are wary and startle easily. They are particularly sensitive to sound. Using trails reduces the likelihood that moths will fly off in response to the vibration of footsteps or crunching of leaves. Bait-feeding Catocala moths should always be approached as stealthily as possible. Another method of applying bait is ropes. Rope can be soaked in the bait and hung from trees or other conspicuous locations. Catocala are readily attracted to these baits. Once it has been applied, moths usually begin to arrive within 30 minutes. Baited trees and ropes can be checked and revisited at 30-60 minute intervals, usually with new arrivals on each pass. While the moths are easily startled by sound, they are somewhat distracted by feeding and can be cautiously approached to be photographed or collected. Catocala are strong fliers, and once they have been disturbed from feeding, may be difficult to collect without a net. However, if a headlamp or flashlight is used, a startled Catocala often makes several circles around the light source before flying off into the darkness, offering a frantic, last ditch opportunity to collect.


Moth feeding on bait

Another method for collecting Catocala is to locate them at their diurnal roosting sites. Against many substrates, Catocala are well camouflaged. Unless their position is given away by movement, they are likely to go unnoticed. However, because they startle easily, inducing a roosting moth to flight is easy. Catocala spend the daylight hours perched against tree trunks, or hidden in the shadows of tree cavities, stumps, the roots of fallen trees, caves or underneath bridges. With some practice, it becomes easy to identify sites that are likely used by roosting Catocala. Knocking on tree trunks, especially those of shagbark hickory, with a hammer or baseball bat will induce any resting moths to fly. Larger trees with a DBH of >30 cm should be targeted. Once flushed, the moth flies, often erratically, just a short distance to a new perch on another tree. If visually tracked, the new position can be located allowing the moth to be quietly approached and netted. This method is somewhat less productive, and requires more effort (and often agility) than baiting.


Camouflaged moth

In Florida, Catocala moths become active as adults in late April and are abundant through June. Elsewhere in the U.S., Catocala fly through much of the summer until early autumn. During these times, collecting Catocala can be very productive. For experienced collectors, general naturalists, and those with budding interest in moth collecting, collecting Catocala is an enjoyable and enriching experience. Some species are particularly challenging to collect, either because their populations are very localized or sparse, or for the simple fact that Catocala are wary and easily startled. Catocala are also very diverse, with around 70 species in the eastern U.S. For these reasons, collecting Catocala is a favorite pastime of lepidopterists and naturalists.


Photo Lary Reeves


— Lary Reeves, PhD candidate, University of Florida

Instagram: biodiversilary




Sea-rocket Phenology

Our next NfN Labs expedition focuses on the phenology of species of Cakile (sea-rockets), a group of wildflowers in the mustard family (Brassicaceae). These species are called sea-rockets because they often grow close to the coast, often in sand and near the water’s edge, and it has fruits that look like rocket ships. As you can see from the drawing, they have flowers that are characteristic of the mustard family (4 petals). What you can’t see is that if you bit into one of these flowers, they would have a spicy, mustard-like flavor.  The fruits (#4 in the drawing) are unusual among mustards in that the top of the fruit breaks off and can disperse away in water, while the remaining half releases the seed near the mother plant.  This makes them great colonizers of beaches. The plants are commonly fleshy, which is common for halophytes (plants growing in salty environments).


Photo Credit: Biodiversity Heritage Library https://flic.kr/p/abNcGy


We chose to focus on Cakile because these plants are widely distributed across North America. In the case of Cakile edentula (American sea-rocket) and Cakile maritima (European sea-rocket), they are found along both the Atlantic and Pacific coasts. Having phenological data for these sea-rockets will help us look at their responses to changing climate.  We are very pleased to be collaborating with Susan Mazer, at the University of California at Santa Barbara, and Jenn Yost, at Cal Poly State University, San Luis Obispo. This expedition is the first of many we hope to launch with them, and all of the efforts are strongly tied to their long-term work to look at historical phenology patterns and to detect the climatic factors that influence these patterns. Our plans are to have them guest blog more about their work and about how this expedition fits in.

The phenological tasks for this expedition are challenging. We are asking you to count buds, open flowers, and fruits. This is an expedition where it pays to pay close attention to the tutorials. These tasks are typically done with specimens in hand. However, we are confident that they can also be done from images and we plan to compare the results using different methods. In addition, we are excited to engage with a much broader community to help us with these tasks and to participate in this valuable research.  We encourage you to give these tasks a try, and to do the best you can. For example, counting of buds can be particularly challenging given that they frequently overlap, making them hard to count precisely. For this reason, we are likely to use the averages of the counts provided by participants rather than a consensus for these fields. Please have fun and know that we are especially interested in feedback on how much you like this expedition, how hard you find the tasks, and how we can improve this type of expedition.

All the best from the NfN Team


I hope everyone is having a ferntastic summer so far! We have just released a new expedition “Plants have all the anthers: FERNTASIA” from the BOON Herbarium at Appalachian State University focusing on our fern collection, along with some of our smaller family collections. We promise you will have a sporrific time transcribing our collection!

Thanks again for everyone who helped with completing “Plants have all the anthers: Pt1”! Look forward to the completion of this fun little expedition.

— Jordan Willett, BOON Herbarium, Appalachian State University

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