Reflecting on MI-Bug’s Progress So Far

The pausing of the MI-Bug project gives its creators, Erika Tucker (formerly of the University of Michigan Museum of Zoology Insect Division) and Justin Schell (Director of the Shapiro Design Lab) a chance to reflect on what’s been accomplished so far with the generous support of Notes From Nature, but also the many volunteers who make such work possible! 

Like so many other collections around the world, the University of Michigan Museum of Zoology (UMMZ) Insect Collection has millions of specimens (about 4.5 million) housed in its collection, less than 10% of which are digitized and accessible. These undigitized, and usually uncataloged, specimens represent “dark data”. This means in order to utilize the millions of specimens and their associated ecological data, someone has to physically go into the collection and search for it. And know to go look for it in the first place. Often no small feat! By digitizing the specimens and their associated data, we are making the data available in a usable format and accessible to researchers around the world. 

When Tucker joined the UMMZ Insect Collection, new cataloging protocols were implemented that incorporated imaging the specimens with all their labels – not just directly transcribing the specimen data into the museum database. While this takes some additional upfront time processing the specimens, it also allows the UMMZ Insect Collection to participate in Notes from Nature. By utilizing the amazing community of volunteers on Notes from Nature, an incredible amount of time is saved in the long run digitizing specimens. This has allowed the museum to mobilize many, many, more important specimens and ecological records much faster than it would have otherwise been able to. 

This setup of in-person specimen imaging combined with volunteer transcription has also provided a unique opportunity for volunteers to get a sneak peek behind the scenes at the museum. The Talk Board and feedback from so many talented volunteers has additionally facilitated the ability for Tucker to engage with volunteers and share her knowledge and enthusiasm of museum and insect related topics. In a time when the museum had to shut its doors to many of its normal visitors and volunteers due to the pandemic, this project and the interactions with its volunteers has really been essential to continuing museum productivity, as well as keeping Tucker sane. 

In terms of numbers, since the launch of MI-Bug in April of 2020, more than 1400 different volunteers from across the world contributed more than 82,000 transcriptions. Their efforts resulted in nearly 27,000 specimen labels from grasshoppers, crickets, and wasps from the Insect Division’s collection. Data from these specimens can now be included into projects like the Global Biodiversity Information Facility and contribute to research projects in Michigan and around the world! 

There are additional people to thank for the success of MI-Bug so far: 

  • Michael Denslow of Notes From Nature, who was excited to include MI-Bug in Notes From Nature and shared his technical knowledge and experience as we developed and implemented MI-Bug
  • am.zooni for her expert moderation and assistance on the Zooniverse Talk Boards
  • Alexandria Rayburn, Mark Ramirez, and Tony Sexton, former School of Information students at the University of Michigan who helped with the initial development and build of MI-Bug
  • Robert McIntyre, Lauren Havens, and Kat Hagedorn at the University of Michigan Library, for assistance with loading images into Zooniverse
  • Max Ansorge and Amber Ma, Shapiro Design Lab Residents, for helping with data cleaning
  • Peregrine Ke-Lind, Alan Ching, Chloe Weise, Yeaeun Park, Ellen James, Siena McKim, Tom Hayek, Ellen James, Henry Smith, Neha Bhomia, Troyer Wallance-Evan, Elizabeth Postema, Andrea Lin, for producing the many images used in this project

While the project is temporarily paused as Erika moves on from the University of Michigan, we hope to be back with more specimens soon, so we can continue engaging with the wonderful Notes From Nature community!

— Justin Schell and  Erika Tucker


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