Spectacular Underwing Moths on Notes from Nature

Underwing moths are one of the most strikingly patterned, beautiful moths. Their hindwings are marked with orange, yellow, pink, red, blue, or purple, and have been one of the most historically prized moths sought by collectors. Some researchers have called them the “legions of the night” because of their large size and species diversity. When at rest on tree bark, the bright hindwings are hidden by their dark, camouflaged forewings. When disturbed, the moth will flash these hindwings to scare predators. Scientists have thought that the markings resemble the eyes of a cat. Some species are known to drink beer, and collectors often use bait to collect them.

The goal for this project is to examine how these moths have shifted their distribution in light of climate change over the last 100+ years. Some species are clearly declining in number, and may possibly be critically endangered, but we still do not know how their ranges have changed because the data are limited. We cannot assess the impact of human disturbance without obtaining these data from historical museum specimens.

In this project, you will be transcribing the numerous descriptive labels that are pinned to each underwing moth specimen from the Florida Museum of Natural History’s McGuire Center. The McGuire Center has one of the largest collection of these moths in the world, but researchers cannot access the data because they remain hidden on a label under each specimen. 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 look at both images and remember your role in transcribing is valuable! And be sure to look at the amazing patterns and colors of the “underwing moth.” Can you see the resemblance to cat eyes?

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 we still don’t know much about them. Obtaining the data from these specimens is very important for research and conservation of butterflies and moths, so please help!


Photo by Lary Reeves


Happy New Year and thanks (Tiger Beetles 3)

Happy New Year everyone, and thanks (yet again) for the rapid turnaround on Tiger Beetles 3!

I hadn’t been paying close attention to the progress of the expedition over the holidays, but was expecting there to be a few more days left before its completion upon my return to work today. Instead, I was pleasantly surprised to see that on January 1st, you “Beat the ETC” by 6 days. Way to go! Much thanks to Rob G. for providing the impetus to see this happen.

This now completes the E.H. Strickland Entomological Museum’s Tiger Beetle holdings (for real this time), so we’ll be moving on to other ground beetle groups from here on. First, we’ll finish off the remainder of the Trechine ground beetles with our next expedition “Trechine Ground Beetles 2”, of which there are 972 specimens left to be transcribed, and then we’ll move on to the Bombardier Beetles (Brachininae).

In the meantime, I hope to start reconciling completed transcriptions and loading the data into our collections’ database soon. At the end of November we received results from the 1st Tiger Beetle expedition which I now need to comb through for data issues that I hope to discuss in future posts.

In other news, last month our Tiger Beetles 3 expedition was the focus of a teaching session on digitizing collections for 10-11 year olds put on by folks at the Natural history Museum in London. Much thanks goes to Margaret G. for coordinating this and providing valuable feedback on how it went. Here is some helpful information that might help others working on this project:

  • I’ve prepared a list of URLs where you can find common abbreviations that are in use for Canadian provinces/territories1 and US states2. In addition, the Getty Thesaurus of Geographic Names3 and Canadian Geonames Database4 are useful for interpreting place names of both historical and contemporary use around the world and in Canada, respectively. These links have also been integrated into the help boxes.

1 https://www12.statcan.gc.ca/census-recensement/2011/ref/dict/table-tableau/table-tableau-8-eng.cfm

2 https://www.census.gov/geo/reference/ansi_statetables.html

3 https://www.getty.edu/research/tools/vocabularies/tgn/

4 http://www.nrcan.gc.ca/earth-sciences/geography/place-names/10786

  • I’ve attached our our current list of ground beetle collecting parties (collector list), along with the earliest and latest dates of their collections. A quick perusal of the list should help determine who the collector of a specimen was if there are any label interpretation issues.
  • Collectors of entomological specimens often report the month of collection in Roman numerals, and the year may appear in 2-digit or 4-digit formats. For the former, take note that our collection was founded in the early 1920s and so much of the material will be collected from the 20th-21st
  • Finally, you can visit any of the following websites for more information on our collection, and the specimens and/or species it contains:







–Bryan Brunet, PhD
Collections Management Advisor (Natural Sciences), University of Alberta Museums, Edmonton, Alberta, Canada

First ‘Miniature Lives Magnified’ expedition complete

Yay! We have finished our first expedition of the parasitoid Chalcid wasps in Magnified, beating the ETC by 4 days! I reckon that Friday the 13th is a lucky day after all.

An especially big thank-you goes out to @maggiej , @reinheitscat , @dfreezor , @Sagaman , @HDumas , @RedBee , @stevenhm , @rgerman , and @Mikusan who have all been particularly prolific in helping us to transcribe these microscopic slide labels – but of course many more people than can be mentioned have also generously donated their time to us. We thank you ALL.

And we know it wasn’t easy.

Laurence and Natalie and I at the Natural History Museum in London have been taking a look at the data that you have transcribed for us, and we can see that it often wasn’t clear what the difference was between the Species or Genus name of the Chalcid itself, the host insect it was found on, and the host plant they were both found on. We’ve got some thoughts on how we might make that both easier and more clear, so please bear with us while we take a few days to prepare for the Chalcids #2 expedition.

If you have any suggestions for us on how to structure or explain the fields we are asking you to fill, and how to provide better examples, please do drop us a note in the Magnified section of Talk. It is hugely helpful to us to receive your feedback.

In the meantime, I leave you with this beautiful image of a ‘Fairyfly’ – one of the Chalcid wasp families.


Beat the ETC Finale

Thanks to everyone for all their hard work on the four expeditions near completion late last year.  Quick update – we are done!  All those expeditions are finished. Finito.  Done.  Awesome.

Here is a quick summary about how you beat the ETC (estimated time to completion)!

  1. Pinned Specimen_Tiger Beetles 3. That one had an 8 day ETC on Dec. 30th, and finished on January 1, beating the ETC by 6 days.
  2. Herbarium_Arkansas Dendrology: Part 8: Hickories and Walnuts.  You beat the ETC by 3 days, also finishing on January 1.
  3. Aquatics Aquatic Insects of the Southeastern United States expedition had  a 3-day estimated time to completion (ETC) and finished within the first day.  You beat ETC by 2 days.
  4. Magnified_The Killer Within: Wasps, but not as you know them had a 19 day ETC and those are some challenging labels, as well.  We finished that one in 15 days. So we beat the ETC by 4 days, but it was a major effort to get those last, and likely hardest ones, done.

Overall, you shaved off 19 days in total, and we couldn’t be more thrilled.  Now that we have cleared out some of these older expeditions, we are looking forward to some new ones coming on board in the next few weeks.  We’ll have more information on those, and some other plans for 2017, to share soon!

First fossil expedition complete

Hello NfN transcribers!

Labels associated with fossil specimens are tricky, they’ve got age and date information about how old the specimen is and the actual date that the specimen was collected. Locality information frequently is confused with geological age info (especially in Indiana because most of our rocks are Mississippian or Pennsylvanian in age!) and abbreviations aren’t always clear.

However, the champion transcribers from NfN have done remarkably well and in an unbelievable time. We’re very grateful for all of your hard work and we’re very much looking forward to seeing some familiar names on some of our upcoming transcription expeditions. A very special shout out to @maggiej is well deserved for over 500 transcriptions!!!

Thanks also to those individuals that helped to craft some of the specialized instructions for this expedition. Fossils and geologic time add a whole new dimension to our inventory of life on this planet and we’re quite pleased at how well everyone handled the extra information. Again, special thanks to @maggiej for being a tremendous help in the Talk section too!

Don’t forget that the @researchers are here for you too. We’re very interested in seeing how we can be better science communicators and your feedback is much appreciated. Feel free to contact us using our tag @researcher or me directly (@garymotz) for the fossil expeditions. Help us help you to help science!

Keep your eyes open for a new fossil label transcription expedition coming soon!

(spoiler alert:  we do have some incredibly preserved soft-bodied forms from the Cambrian Burgess Shale coming up in the next expedition!)


Setting the world’s Natural History data free

For all of you who have been helping us transcribe all of these specimen labels, I thought you might enjoy hearing from my boss (Vince Smith, who leads the Informatics team) and our Head of Life Sciences (Ian Owen) at the Natural History Museum in London, in their talk about how digitising the Museum’s 80 million specimens will help scientists answer big questions about how human behaviour is affecting life on earth.  – See more at: http://www.nhm.ac.uk/our-science/our-work/digital-museum.html#sthash.sqMZkeaN.dpuf

Beat the ETC Update 2.5 – another finished expedition. How fast?

Happy first day of 2017!  And a big WOW on all the effort to beat the ETC.   Just now, your effort helped to get Pinned Specimen_Tiger Beetles 3 done. Finished.  That one had an 8 day ETC on Dec. 30th, so you beat the ETC by 6 days!

Now there are just 2 expeditions near-complete left, Herbarium_Arkansas Dendrology: Part 8: Hickories and Walnuts (ETC 3 Days) and Magnified_The Killer Within: Wasps, but not as you know them (ETC 14 days).  Both are getting done (slightly) faster than the ETCs we posted on Dec. 30th, so that is great – but lets just how much faster!

Update as 7pm Jan. 1:  Herbarium_Arkansas Dendrology: Part 8: Hickories and Walnuts just FINISHEDyou beat the ETC by 3 days and took it to another level with 168 transcriptions in the last 24 hours.

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