Archive by Author | mwdenslow

Labs is back and more

Way back in time, like 2019 (!) we had the idea to do something different with Notes from Nature expeditions.  Rather than transcribing or even annotating specimens that have flowers, we simply wanted your help in finding labels on herbarium sheets.  Why? So we can starting building a toolkit for training an algorithm to automatically find different types of labels contained on a specimen and the type of text that label contains. This means that your contributions help to create a training set that will serve as a key basis for machine learning approaches we’ll be employing.  So we prototyped an expedition called Label Babel, and long story short, it works!  We can use this approach for image segmentation.  Even better news – we got funding to continue this line of thinking and this new Label Babel 2.0 expedition is a successor that is smarter and better.  While a smidge more work than Label Babel 1.0, the new version will help us get ALL THE LABELS.

     The longer term goal is to make better use of automated tools in order to make transcription more efficient. For example, if we can automatically identity the label and the text it contains then we can try to have another algorithm read the text and try to interpret it. The goal being that we may be able to automatically transcribe certain specimens. Those specimens then would not need to be put through the same process at Notes from Nature. We would instead focus on specimens that truly need humans to see them.

    All this might make you wonder if these algorithm might ever replace the need for community scientists like yourself. We don’t think that will be the case for a very, very long time since there are so many specimens in the world that still need to be transcribed. In addition, there are also lots of other kinds of tasks that community scientists can help with such as measurements and counts, just to name a few. The fact is that we still have so much data to digitize and mobilize for a variety of uses. We are looking for ways to make that process more efficient so the data is available for anyone who wants to use it to help solve critical problems related to biodiversity.

If this sounds interesting to you, them please check out our new expedition Label Babel 2 in the Labs Project.

— The Notes from Nature Team

Aloha Acari from Hawaii

The Bishop Museum Entomology Collection is launching another expedition to continue digitizing our parasite specimens as part of the Terrestrial Parasite Tracker Project. The Aloha Acari from Hawaii expedition focuses on Bishop Museum’s extensive mite collection mounted on microscope slides. Thousands of slides have been scanned and are ready to have their labels transcribed to allow acarologists and other scientists to gain access to this vital data for research. Many of the mites from this project were collected from mice, rats, and birds like the migratory Pacific Golden Plover, Pluvialis fulva.

We look forward to your participation and joining our virtual ohana of citizen scientists. 

— Jim Boone, Bishop Museum, Honolulu, Hawai‘i

Mighty Michigan Mites

One of the 1,100 mite slides found in the A.J. Cook Arthropod Research Collection. These mites were collected off of a chicken on February 29, 1896.  

Welcome to Notes from Natures – Terrestrial Parasite Tracker’s newest expedition- Mighty Michigan Mites. Mites (Acari) are common arthropods that occur throughout the world but they are often over-looked given their small size (< 10 mm). Over 50,000 species have diversified in a multitude of habitats and are associated with many animals, from mosquitos to humans.  Some species are pests of humans and animals. For example, scabies causes skin rashes and mange while ticks transmit a variety harmful bacteria. Given their importance human and animal welfare, the collection of mites in the A.J. Cook Arthropod Collection began in the late 1800’s. These early collections documented mites associated with domestic animals.  In the 1950’s the mites associated with wild animals and insects were surveyed in mid-Michigan which provides a valuable source of ecological information. Other gems, including tropical and name bearing specimens, are scattered throughout the collection. In total, these specimens represent mites associated with other animals and offers a window to their past diversity.

— Anthony Cognato

Professor and Director of the A.J. Cook Arthropod Research Collection, Department of Entomology, Michigan State University

Happy New Year to the Notes from Nature Community

We realize that 2020 was a difficult year and we appreciate that so many were willing and able to spend some time with us. Together we completed over 100 expeditions, had over 1 million classifications and gained many new users.

It turns out that we were able to provide some assistance to institutions and people working from home during some challenging times. We are so grateful to our many volunteers and for your help moving biodiversity science forward each and every day.

We have some great news for the new year. Notes from Nature recently received some additional funding from the National Science Foundation and we have some exciting plans for 2021. The project is called DigiLeap. We’ll be sharing more details in the coming months, but the main purpose of the project is to make transcription more efficient and make greater use of automated tools when feasible. Most of this will be happening “behind the scenes.” For example, by using algorithms to separate images that are more likely to be automatically processed and don’t need to be seen by humans. We’ll actually be asking for your help with some of that to test and validate these new algorithms. We are excited and grateful to be able to keep advancing our software and continue to mobilize as much biodiversity data as possible.

All the best,

The Notes from Nature Team

Invertebrate Time Machine is back

Hey, time travelers! California Academy of Sciences’ two maiden Invertebrate Time Machine expeditions were completed in record time, with both expeditions finished in a little over a month and we’re ready to launch another round of expeditions! Transcribers on this NfN project are having great time entering historical data from museum specimen label cards, while learning a little bit about marine invertebrates plus global and marine geography.

Thanks to more than 21,000 Notes from Nature classifications we’ve discovered data for loads of important historical specimens, including marine worms and brittle star specimens collected in the 1920’s and 1940’s by Ed Ricketts (early pioneer of marine ecology with a fascinatingly unconventional biography who served as inspiration for the character “Doc” in John Steinbeck’s Cannery Row) alongside deep-water longfinger hermit crabs collected in 1893 by a USFC Steamer “Albatross” expedition in the Bering Sea…and thousands more. All of this newly transcribed data will be made available to scientists (and everyone else) online. A huge thank you to our wonderful team of ITM expedition transcribers for making our first launch so successful!

This week we’ve launched two new expeditions: one Specimen Data II for transcribing species names and specimen related data and another Collecting Event Data II for transcribing Locality and other collecting event details. We’ve also made it possible for participants to earn Decade Badges for expedition Collecting Event Data so you can add more badges to your Notes from Nature Field Book as you transcribe collecting data from various decades. We’re thrilled to have your help with this project and look forward to having you aboard again!

Christina Piotrowski
Collections Manager of Invertebrate Zoology, California Academy of Sciences

Website issues

Hi Everyone,

As some of you noted we are having some issues with one of our domains ( Our team is working on resolving that issue as soon as possible. While we deal with that note that you can still access our main landing page by going to In addition, all Project pages are working fine. For example, Capturing California’s Flowers , Terrestrial Parasite Tracker and all 21 currently active Projects are fully functional.

Thank you for your patience,

— The Notes from Nature Team

WeDigBio 2020 appreciation

We closed out the last day of WeDigBio with almost 9,000 classifications (8,999 to be exact)! That puts Notes from Nature at 28,956 for the entire event.

We are so very thankful and in awe of your contributions the last several days. WeDigBio was another huge success! We logged over 28,900 classifications, hosted well attended science talks. On top of that we continue to see lots of great activity today (> 4,000 classifications today so far).

We want to express our appreciation to everyone who contributed. Thanks to all the data providers, scientists, moderators, talk presenters and the Zooniverse team for keeping the system running behind the scenes. Most of all our appreciation goes out to all the volunteers, whether you did 1 classification or 1,000 your contributions are sincerely appreciated and every classification that is completed brings us closer to filling gaps in our knowledge of global biodiversity and our natural heritage.

There are still lots of expeditions from a wide variety of organisms. We hope you found the event rewarding and return again soon.

— The Notes from Nature Team

WeDigBio 2020, Day 3 Summary

Thanks to everyone that joined us during Day 3 of WeDigBio 2020! Notes from Nature received over 6,600 classifications. That’s an amazing amount of effort.

We hope everyone is enjoying the last day of WeDigBio 2020 and if you get and extra moment please consider helping some expeditions reach completion today. You can always check progress on our main stats page. We got a few over 90% complete.

As always we’d love to hear from you. Please feel free to leave us some thoughts on the main Notes from Nature Talk board or you can always send a direct message to the Project Coordinator Michael @md68135 too.

— The Notes from Nature

WeDigBio 2020, Day 2 Summary

It was another productive and exciting day of WeDigBio. Notes from Nature received over 6,900 classifications. Again, Expedition Arctic Botany and Invertebrate Time Machine saw lots of great activity. In addition, 5 projects saw over 500 classifications each. A special shout out to the Plants of Arkansas group who hosted a wonderful online talk. They will be another one tomorrow.

We hope everyone enjoys Day 3! While we always encourage you to work on the expeditions that most interest you, it’s also nice to see some expeditions completed during the event. You can always check out our statistics page to see the status of the various expeditions. At the time of writing two expeditions are over 90% complete and could use some love to help them get across the finish line. They are Plants of Northern Arkansas: Glade Quest (Part 2) and Spring Poppies, Jacks, Sedums, Beauties, Valerians, and Violets – Spring Refresher.

— The Notes from Nature Team

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