I am a big fan of citizen science. I love that anyone, even if you have absolutely no training as a scientist and only the smallest interest in what scientists actually do, can contribute something meaningful to science. I myself am amazed by the results that citizen science projects can produce. I have collected nearly 1400 dragonfly swarm reports in the past two years for my own citizen science project and it’s so exciting to see the data flow in! People who might not otherwise ever participate in science send me valuable data that is helping me really understand how dragonfly swarms work. It’s great!
Because I’m on a big photography kick thanks to my recent participation in BugShot 2011, I thought I should share some of my favorite citizen science projects that involve photography. These are all projects that collect photographs of animal and plant sightings and create massive, searchable databases from the information they collect. These databases can be a help to scientists who are interested in how biological organisms are distributed or the movement of those organisms into and out of particular areas, hence citizen science. However, many of these are also incredibly useful if you are a non-scientist hoping to identify an insect (or plant or other animal) that you’ve seen. So, be a do-gooder and help out by contributing your insect photos to one of my five favorite projects:
Odonata Central was born out of a desire to accurately map the distribution of the dragonflies and damselflies of the US. Now it is a fantastic resource that allows users to create species checklists for their counties, compare their sightings to the photo library as an identification aid, and learn about dragonflies. The project is currently accepting mostly late and early season sightings of dragonflies and damselflies, new county records, and species with no photos, so you’ll probably need to know a bit about dragonflies to participate right now. However, progress is being made toward making this a more open system where anyone can submit any photo of any dragonfly from anywhere in the world and have their sighting added to the database. So, save up those common dragonfly photos for now, but remember to submit them later! And definitely make use of this amazing resource in the meantime.
Butterflies and Moths of North America is a place where anyone can submit photos of lepidopterans they’ve sighted in North America. User submitted photos are linked to species pages so everyone can see the range in coloration some species exhibit. Your submissions help create invaluable information about the distribution of each species too. If you don’t have photos to contribute, use the website as an excellent identification tool! The photos and regional checklists make identifying your butterflies and moths relatively painless.
I know I rave about BugGuide, but it’s such an amazing resource! While I think this site is less helpful to scientists than some of the others, I think it’s still well worth the effort to submit your photos because it is an invaluable resource for people who wish to identify North American insects. If you know what species you’ve got, you can simply add your photos to the site with information about when and where you found the bug in the photo(s) and it will be added to the database. If you don’t know what your bug is… Submit your photo as an ID Request! Someone might be able to tell you what it is and then add it to the appropriate species page. Bug Guide is a great website, made possible in part by people like you.
I’ve mentioned Project Noah in another Friday 5 post, but I think it’s a great organization and I want to point it out again. Like Butterflies and Moths of North America, users submit photos of things they’ve seen to the site with information about the sighting. Like Bug Guide, you can request identifications or submit your own identification if you know what you’ve photographed. Unlike either website, Project Noah both A) deals with all biological organisms (plants AND animals) and B) has a smart phone interface that is pretty fun. Snap a photo of an insect (or plant or other animal) with your smart phone and upload it to Project Noah and you won’t even need a computer to participate! There are some really magnificent photos on the site (my favorite is this fruit bat), plus you can see the diversity of plants and animals that live in your area with location tools. I encourage everyone to check it out!
The goal of the Encyclopedia of Life is to document all life on the planet, gathering together information from journals, databases, collections, and the public and sharing it with everyone online in an accessible way. You can help EOL in several ways. One is to create an account on the EOL website and send in photos, articles, etc for inclusion in the archives. Even easier, you can contribute photos to EOL directly from Flickr (click the link for instructions!). Public participation is essential for EOL to continue making progress toward its lofty goals, so help make it the astounding resource it has the potential to be by contributing photos!
Your photos and sightings are incredibly valuable to all of the citizen science projects listed above. If you’re taking insect photos and are happy to share them with others already, why not make the world a better place by contributing images to one of these great organizations? With little effort, you can help both scientists and the public can learn about, identify, and document the insects of the world. There’s a lot of them, so let’s get photographing!