New Expedition Studying Impact of Climate Change on Orange Sulfur Butterflies

Because of human fossil fuel use, the world has gotten considerably warmer over the last 60 years, and even if we stopped all carbon dioxide emission today, this warming would continue for several more decades. Climate change has cascading effects on many aspects of the environment, from sea level to how early now melts to rainfall patterns, but there is one thing it can’t change: photoperiod (how much time it is light for each day). This is, in fact, a problem because daylength is used by many plants and animals to determine what time of year it is and thus predict the weather they will encounter. Photoperiod influences decisions ranging from when to produce leaves and flowers in plants to when to migrate and lay eggs for birds. But, now that any particular time of year is warmer without any change in photoperiod, animals and plants aren’t encountering the same conditions as they expected.


Colias eurytheme summer form

The Orange Sulfur Butterfly (Colias eurytheme) is one of the species encountering this problem. This butterfly is found throughout the US, and comes in two seasonal forms: in the summer, the dorsal (top) side of the wings is bright orange and the ventral (under) side is pale yellow, but in spring and fall, the dorsal side is yellow with a small orange patch, and the ventral side becomes darker. This darkening helps the butterflies warm themselves faster when bask in sunlight on cold days. These forms, however, are not determined by temperature but instead by the photoperiod. Thus, these butterflies are likely suffering from the mismatch between temperature and photoperiod created by climate change. What we want to know is if these butterflies have evolved to compensate for this mismatch, such as starting to produce the summer form at shorter photoperiods (earlier in the spring and later in the fall). To do so, we’re photographing thousands of these butterflies in museum collections from across the past 6+ decades.


Colias eurytheme spring/fall form

To use these specimens, however, we need to know when they were collected (among other details). This is where you and Notes from Nature come in. Date of collection is right there, recorded on the labels, but we need it digitized in order to work with it in our studies. You can help us access this data by transcribing it. By combining this label data with data we’re collecting about the butterfly’s wing patterns, we will be able to figure out what time of year the butterflies changed between color patterns in different years. We can then, in turn, determine if this color change has evolved in response to climate change, or if the butterflies are falling behind. Our images and the data you enter will also be contributed to LepNet, so future scientists can also make use of it.

This is the first of what will be multiple expeditions featuring these butterflies, this time using specimens from several collections, including the California Academy of Sciences, the Essig Museum at UC Davis, and the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History. This will give us an initial dataset covering a variety of geographic areas. Thank you all for your help!

— Matthew Nielsen, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill


Thanks for your help on the “New World Swallowtail Butterflies from the Field Museum of Natural History II” expedition

Butterfly wings are amazing things, made of two connected membranes, with internal nerves, veins and passages for air inside.  On the outside are pigmented scales that attach to this membrane.  Those pigmented scales give butterflies their vibrant colors that continue to amaze us.  When flying, wings are moved by the rapid muscular contraction and expansion of the thorax, providing lift.  

Scales of a butterfly wing.  Photo from:

The shape of butterfly wings have been sculpted by selective forces, both natural and sexual selection.  How wing shape varies due to biotic and abiotic factors has long fascinated biologists, including my post-doctoral student, Hannah Owens.  She has been working on one of the largest accumulations of butterfly wing morphometrics yet attempted, that includes 1000s of specimens.  One reason we can do this work is because of volunteer help transcribing labels that describe where these specimens were collected. With that information, we can also get information on the environment where those specimens were collected.

  We really appreciate the effort to accelerate research on butterfly wing shape, and we’ll be talking more about her work, especially some key questions she can tackle, in a later blog post.   We have another set of images soon available and more about this neat work she is doing. Thanks for your effort to be part of Hannah and her research project, and for being part of Notes of Nature.   We have some more images coming – what we think might be the last batch – and we hope you’d be willing to help again.

The 3rd and final batch of Forams has launched

We’re thrilled to let you know that the Natural History Museum London launched the third and final batch of the Miniature Fossils Magnified expedition on Notes from Nature last week, although many of you have already discovered it, and the intrepid @PVerbeeck has already done one full sweep of the entire subject set!

At our annual European Researcher’s Night, which we dub Science Uncovered, we showcased the work of the Digital Collections Programme at one of the many tables showing off research that happens at the Museum, which you can see in this image to the left.

We had out our scanning equipment which we’ve been using to digitise our entire louse collection, which you can read about in more detail in this blog post on our Museum website.

As the theme for the night was Oceans, in keeping with our new blue whale display in the main hall and exhibition on wales, we also had a number of marine louse slides for folks to take a closer look at under the microscope.

We also invited folks to help us to process this newly digitised collection by typing in the collection date for each of the marine louse specimen records, using an interface that we developed especially for the night. They did a great job, and processed 129 classifications for us – a great result for a fun night out!

We may be asking for more help with this collection soon, so do keep your eyes peeled.

But in the meantime, a huge thank-you to all of you who are helping us to set our Foraminifera data free, the microscopic single-celled organisms that can tell us so much about the history of our oceans, going back 150 million years!


Nothing’s BETter than BETULACEAE!

The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill Herbarium (NCU) once again seeks the aid of Citizen Scientists!  We’d like you to join us for an expedition through the Betulaceae (birch) family!

The Betulaceae has six genera and 167 species within its family.  The combined production of edible nuts and the tough bark that denotes this family makes Betulaceae a tough nut to crack!  However, we trust that you all will handle it with ease!

It’s always an incentive to lend a hand to the family that gave us hazelnuts!  From coffee additives to chocolate bars, what is not to like?! Please help us map these trees across the Southeastern United States, and thank you for your company on our expedition.

PhenoMuse: 100 Years @FloridaMuseum

We are excited to announce a collaboration with the Florida Museum for their 100th Anniversary. This is a special museum kiosk expedition being used for their special exhibition. Feel free to take a peek, but realize that this expedition is designed to be used as part of a special onsite exhibition.

The expedition will continue with our recent phenology theme, but it will only consist of one question. The idea is to prioritize specimens for future scoring expeditions and to give visitors a sense of how citizen science projects work in a museum context. There is also interpretive material that goes along with the kiosks. In addition, we hope that these onsite visitors will be motivated to check out some of our more extensive expeditions on Notes from Nature.

— The Notes from Nature team

Thank you! Skipperlings Complete!

Thank you, citizen scientists, for helping complete the Poweshiek skipperling expedition! During this expedition, you saw and transcribed the 155 specimens from the McGuire Center for Lepidoptera and Biodiversity collection. This data will be compiled with other records of Oarisma poweshiek from other institutions so researchers can begin to look for the potential drivers for the sharp decline of populations.

Be on the lookout for another expedition of specimens from the McGuire Center for Lepidoptera and Biodiversity at the Florida Museum of Natural History. And thank you for taking the time to help!

— Stacey L. Huber, Digitization Coordinator, McGuire Center for Lepidoptera & Biodiversity

An update on the WeDigFLPlants project


On August 8, 2017, leadership from some of the largest plant-focused communities in Florida met in iDigBio’s Gainesville conference space to plot the future of the WeDigFLPlants project. Attendees represented the major herbaria in Florida, as well as the Florida Native Plant Society, Florida Wildflower Foundation, Florida Master Naturalists Program, Florida Master Gardeners Program, Notes from Nature, Biospex, and iDigBio, the US NSF’s National Resource for Advancing Digitization of Biodiversity Collections.

The WeDigFLPlants project seeks to engage the public in digital data creation about the million+ plant specimens collected in Florida over the past 200 years for the benefit of science, society, and the flora. These plant specimens are each labelled with the who, what, when, and where from the collection event. About 570 WeDigFLPlants participants have produced 28,000 transcriptions of those labels at Notes from Nature to date.   WeDigFLPlants organizers seek to provide a rich learning (and sometimes social) experience for participants through its dashboard, Twitter account, educational resources (e.g., and, and onsite events during WeDigBio (e.g.,

What does the future hold? Expect to see more Notes from Nature expeditions tailored to the interests of the membership of each of Florida’s plant-focused groups. Expect to see more educational modules that incorporate Notes from Nature activities aligned to these groups’ existing education portfolios. And expect to see WeDigFLPlants-branded incentives. We are actively seeking financial sponsors—please let us know if you are interested.

Together we can build the historical baseline with which to understand the current and future diversity and distribution of Florida’s 4700+ species. Thank you, if you have contributed to a WeDigFLPlants expedition. There are currently two active expeditions on Notes from Nature: one focused on the sedges of the Florida Panhandle, and one focused on the grasses of the Florida Peninsula. Join in today!

To learn more about WeDigFLPlants, contact Austin Mast ( or Jillian Goodwin (


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