[Ed. note — reprinted from the NSF news release]

$1M Available for Digital Innovation that Moves Us Beyond the Bug Box

National competition launched to develop a new tool to digitally capture images and data from museum insect collections

Contacts: Robert Gropp, AIBS, 202-628-1500 x 250, rgropp@aibs.org

Lily Whiteman, NSF, 703-292-8310, lwhitema@nsf.gov

Washington, DC — The U.S. National Science Foundation (NSF) and the American Institute of Biological Sciences (AIBS) have launched the Beyond the Box National Digitization Innovation Competition (beyondthebox.aibs.org).  The initiative will award $1 million to the individual or team who develops a novel way to accurately and efficiently capture digital images of insect specimens and their associated data from a standard museum drawer of insects.

“The Beyond the Box Digitization Competition is designed to inspire the ingenuity of the American public, and to engage scientists, engineers, and everyday inventors, in an effort to solve a problem that has been slowing the rate of scientific discovery,” said Dr. James L. Olds, Assistant Director for the Directorate for Biological Sciences at NSF.

Whether through the beauty of a butterfly, agricultural significance of a honeybee, or the public health implications of a mosquito, insects influence the quality of human life every day.

“Insects are an amazingly diverse group of organisms that represent an overwhelming amount of living biological diversity on Earth,” said AIBS President Dr. Joseph Travis.  “Very few insect species are pests and most play important roles in our ecosystems.  They pollinate many of our crops, recycle nutrients and energy, and are sources of food for the other animals in the food chain.  Unfortunately, despite all we know about insects, we have yet to describe all of the species of insects and, in fact, we are still discovering new species at a surprisingly high rate.”

There are believed to be more than 1.5 million identified species of insects on Earth.  This is hypothesized to be three times the number of all other animal species combined.  Amazingly, it is estimated that there are 10 quintillion (10,000,000,000,000,000,000) insects alive in the world.  That’s more than one billion times the number of people.

“We share the planet with so many insects, wouldn’t it be wonderful if when we find a new one in our backyard we could take a picture of it and have that matched to an image in a museum somewhere. We could learn the name, understand what its role in the ecosystem is, or understand if it is an invasive species that might devastate our garden or nearby crop fields,” said Dr. Norman Johnson, Director of the Triplehorn Insect Collection at The Ohio State University, and the Chairman of the Planning Committee that established the rules for the competition.

For more than 250 years, scientists have collected millions of insects from around the world.  These specimens are now held in more than 1,000 natural science collections in universities and museums across the United States alone.  Unfortunately, many of these specimens remain unknown to science, education, natural resource and public health managers, and the general public.  Quite simply, they have been locked away in cabinets.

“With technological advances in robotics, imaging, data capture and management, among other areas, it is now possible to develop new tools to digitally capture images of insect specimens and their associated data,” said Johnson.

“This is important work that is going to solve some persistent challenges, advance science and engineering, and is also likely to generate new tools that may have secondary commercial applications,” said Olds.

Through the Advancing Digitization of Biological Collections program, NSF has pledged $100 million over ten years to support biodiversity collections research.

Other fields of biology have made progress digitizing specimens and sharing the data with research, education, and other user communities.  Plant scientists, for example, have been developing innovative ways to image herbarium sheets.  Despite these developments, insects have remained a challenge.

Johnson states, “we need to find a way to move from two dimensional to three dimensional images.”

Insects are delicate and have small labels associated with them that have information about the specimen, such as its name and where it was collected.  “These specimens and their associated data provide irreplaceable information about the history and nature of life on Earth, but it is not easy to capture this data in a cost-effective way that does not damage the specimen or label.  We need a creative solution that will solve this problem,” said Johnson.

“AIBS is pleased to partner with NSF on this endeavor,” said Travis.  “This is a unique opportunity to move science and technology forward with a leap instead of a small step.”

Official contest rules and guidance are available at beyondthebox.aibs.org.  Inquires related to the contest must be submitted on the website, where the questions and answers will be posted.

The contest opened on December 5, 2014 and will close at 11:59 p.m. on September 4, 2015.  A winner will be selected following a competitive judging process and on-site demonstration by the finalists.

Julie Palakovich Carr
Public Policy Manager
American Institute of Biological Sciences
1444 I Street, NW Suite 200
Washington, DC 20005

Probably because I was all caught up in the middle of the flight season here, I neglected to mention to LepLog readers the availability of the 2014 edition of “A Catalogue of the Butterflies of the United States and Canada by Jonathan P. Pelham.”  I have the 2011 version on the site, and there have been a number of changes, but I didn’t find any significant changes in the mid-Atlantic fauna as I worked on the checklist of MD butterflies during some spare time over the holiday weekend.

Still, there have been a number of changes in nomenclature for western species, plus new additions to the US fauna since the 2011 update, including the new wood-satyrs Hermeuptychia intricata, the Intricate Satyr, in the southeastern US; and Hermeuptychia hermybius from Texas.

The catalogue is also available online.




Norbert Kondla, our good colleague from Alberta, has recently posted to Flickr some new pics of Mourning Cloaks in his collection.  And what variation!  As we noted here last spring, Cloaks in the mid-Atlantic vary from the very dark lintnerii form to the almost-tawny-red hyperborea.  Check them out.

In an online exchange, Harry Pavulaan noted that, “Amazingly, hyperborea is most distinct from all other antiopa subspecies.  Despite descriptions of antiopa in texts, these have a red dorsal ground color.  Some are remarkably red.  Eurasian antiopa is more blackish, as is lintneri.”  Norbert responded that, “Yes Harry, I agree that hyperborea is visually the most divergent taxon from other named Cloak taxa. A wide variety of Cloak color descriptions are present in the literature, partly because of the very real geographic variation in these butterflies (available taxon names are antiopa, asopos, borealis, yedanula, hyperborea, lintnerii, thomsonii) and partly due to the variables that influence our human perceptions of color and perceptions of relative brightness-darkness of a viewed object. And another variable is  the phenomenon of specimen fading with age which is replicated to some degree even in nature when one compares hibernated and flight worn individuals with freshly emerged individuals.”

One wonders if this is simply variation or a collection of cryptic species!  Time (and DNA) will tell.

For many of us, ‘tis the season to give field guides as presents. And 2014 gave me two new field guides to peruse, one (Butterflies of Indiana) that actually came out in 2013, and the new Butterflies of Illinois that just became available. Both are exceptional supplemental guides for those of us in the mid-Atlantic, since a great deal of the butterfly faunas of Illinois and Indiana is shared with Maryland and surrounding states. And both offer outstanding features not found in the traditional guides we usually carry around with us (Kaufman, my go-to guide, or any of Glassberg’s titles).

Butterflies of Indiana, 2013, Indiana University Press.

Butterflies of Indiana, 2013, Indiana University Press.

Butterflies of Indiana: A Field Guide, by Jeffrey E. Belth. Indiana University Press, 2013, 344 pp. [$16.22 in paperback or $9.99 for the Kindle version from Amazon; $20 in paperback from IUP, or $17.99 as an ebook.]   I’ve carried Belth’s Butterflies of Indiana around all summer, either in my field bag or in the car, having acquired it last spring after seeing a note about it on the Iowa butterflies listserv. And while it doesn’t cover EVERY butterfly I’m likely to see regionally, it hits about 90 percent and adds some good ID and natural history information missing from national guides like Kaufman and Glassberg.

The Indiana guide is one of the many fine offerings of the Indiana Natural Science Series edited for IUP by Gillian Harris, and it won the 2013 National Outdoor Book Award for best Nature Guidebook – and deservedly so. Until the Illinois guide came out this year, Butterflies of Indiana was hands down the most complete natural history field guide I’d seen. The high points of this field guide start with the cover – a flexible water resistant coat covering a pocket-sized (~5 x 9) book that fits easily in a back pocket or field bag. And you can tell right away that this guide is designed for a range of audiences: The inside front cover and frontispiece are a guide to differentiating moths from butterflies and skippers, and the following six pages constitute a “quick key” to the major butterfly groups. The species accounts, usually several to a page, are supplemented by color photographs (about 500 of them, with notes about location and date in a special appendix at the back of the book) in cut-out fashion – that is, against a plain white background. Each account has a range map of where the butterfly can be found in Indiana, and across the top of each account is a phenogram showing when the adult is on the wing. Field marks are numbered in the text and refer to diagnostic arrows on the photo. Species that could easily be confused with the species under discussion are often illustrated next to it; so, for example, the illustrations of Dusted Skipper include a side-by-side comparison of Common Roadside-skipper. The pages are lightly glossed, so there’s no glare under a hot summer sun in a baking field of dogbane.

There are other really helpful tips, too, like an enlarged photo of the wing scales to help differentiate Spring and Summer Azure; a “criminal lineup” of all four morphs (overwintering male and female, and summer male/female) of both Comma and Question Mark; and illustrations of all three Indiana morphs of Common Wood-nymph. Taxonomy is up to date, too – Appalachian Tiger Swallowtail has its own species account. There are several pages devoted to day-flying moths, 10 pages of immatures (eggs, caterpillars, chrysalids), and – mirabilis dictu! – 28 pages of larval food hosts complete with ID tips to plant taxonomy. There’s a quick index on the back flap, and a more comprehensive index of key terms, species, food plants, and other content in the book.

But Butterflies of Indiana really shines for its general natural history information, from geology of Indiana to tips for watching, studying, and collecting butterflies. The statement on collecting of The Lepidopterist’s Society is a welcome appendix, too. As one of the reviewers notes at Amazon, if he could design a near-perfect field guide, Butterflies of Indiana would be it.

Butterflies of Illinois, 2014, Illinois Natural History Survey.

Butterflies of Illinois, 2014, Illinois Natural History Survey.

Butterflies of Illinois: A Field Guide (Manual 14). Michael R. Jeffords, Susan L. Post, and James R. Wiker, designed by Danielle M. Ruffato. Illinois Natural History Survey, 440 pages. [$24 in paperback from Amazon; $20 from the Illinois Natural History Survey, no ebook version available]. Butterflies of Illinois gives Butterflies of Indiana a run for its money as a dream field guide. Also available in the 5 x 9 field guide format, the extra hundred pages in the Illinois guide come as a consequence of devoting a two-page spread to each species in the Illinois fauna. One of the acclaimed Illinois Natural History Survey manuals, Manual 14 is an update in name only of the previous edition – this field guide is so completely renovated as to be an entirely different animal.

The species accounts each occupy a two-page spread illustrated with large, bright photographs – of the adult in nature on the left side of the spread, and life-size photographs in cut-out mode against a white background on the right. Each species account has photos of both topside and underside aspects, a distribution map, a flight period phenogram, and field notes that describe diagnostic marks keyed to arrows pointing to the marks on a photo. The real advantage of the two-page spread approach is that almost a full page for each species can be devoted to a full description, a note about species it could be confused with, natural history and ecology of the species, and its conservation status. The photographs are also matte rather than glossy to prevent field glare.

A section I find really helpful (although I haven’t been in the field with this guide yet), is a collection of “Commonly Confused Illinois Butterflies.” There’s a two-page spread of uppersides (and a companion two-page spread of undersides) of the “swallowtail mimicry complex” – Pipevine, Black, Spicebush, and black-morph female Tiger swallowtails, plus Red-spotted Purple. I plan to dog-ear the spread on undersides of confusing banded hairstreaks – Hickory, Banded, Striped, Edwards’, Northern, and Gray. (Note: And just in time, too – I learned a new field mark for Hickory Hairstreak now in both of these guides not covered in my other old standbys that made short work of a post by Bryan Reynolds today on leps-talk of six questionable hairstreaks!). Butterflies of Illinois is also taxonomically updated, with a description of Joan’s Swallowtail (even though the authors note that this species from the Missouri Ozarks has not yet been documented in Illinois) and with separate descriptions of Baltimore Checkerspot and Ozark Checkerspot.

Another handy tool that Jeffords et al provide is a quick picture guide to all species in the book (uppersides as a two-page spread of thumbnails as the first two pages of the book, and undersides on the last two pages). Like Butterflies of Indiana, it has a nice state checklist as an appendix.  Readers (and buyers) should note, though, that the comprehensive species accounts come at the expense of covering skippers — Butterflies of Illinois ONLY covers true butterflies, not skippers.

For clarity of pictures and field marks, I’d give the edge to Butterflies of Illinois. For natural history information and host plant guide, and for coverage of skippers, I’d go for Butterflies of Indiana. Both will become part of my car trunk collection, although I also appreciate the fact that I can carry Butterflies of Indiana with me in the field on my iPad mini in its Kindle version. I can’t imagine anyone on my holiday wish list not wanting one or both in their stockings this year.


Adding John Klymko’s post from Maritimes Butterfly Atlas — congrats, John, on a great year!

Originally posted on :

Hello Atlassers,

Except for the odd Monarch or Painted Lady that may still linger (both those were seen today by Derek Bridgehouse in Eastern Passage,) the butterfly season is finished. The end of the 2014 field season marks an important milestone for the Maritimes Butterfly Atlas – the end of the field portion of the project!

Over the past five seasons (2010-2014) atlassers have made an enormous effort to catalogue our butterflies. So far over 20,000 records have been submitted by more than 350 volunteers, and once all the 2014 data is tabulated the number of records will likely exceed 25,000. There have been numerous highlights during the course of the Atlas. Three species new to the Maritimes were recorded: Crossline Skipper (NB), Ocola Skipper (NB), and Peacock (NS). In addition, seven species were added to provincial lists (PEI: Eastern Comma; New Brunswick: American Snout, Fiery Skipper, Giant Swallowtail; Nova Scotia: Dorcas…

View original 172 more words

Applachian Grizzled Skipper [photo courtesy US Fish & Wildlife Service]

Appalachian Grizzled Skipper [photo courtesy US Fish & Wildlife Service]

Every now and then I run into a member of the non-lepidopterologist public who says he or she really likes butterflies but thinks we know everything about them already. Most of you know that’s utterly absurd, and that for even the most common butterflies a lot remains to be studied, much of which can be accomplished by dedicated citizen scientists or amateur naturalists.

I’ve been thinking through what some of the top questions are for Maryland lepsters — amateur or professional — to pursue, and the list is LONG! For contemplation over the winter months, though, here’s a short Top 10 list of challenges that will have me in the field next season:

10. We have plenty of locations in the region where columbine is native, some of them in sizable stands. Why then is  Columbine Duskywing not seen in MD? Or is it, but just not studied closely enough to differentiate it from other spring-flying erynnids?

9.  What the heck happened to Little Yellows the past two years?

8.  What the heck happened to Giant Swallowtails? And do the few remaining annual sightings represent cresphontes that have made the switch to a host plant other than prickly ash? This critter is going gangbusters in the Northeast after a crash in the 1930’s — sightings of 20 or 30 a day.

7.  Can MD Baltimore Checkerspots make the leap to plantain as a larval food source as New England Baltimore Checkerspots have? Or does this suggest there is a cryptic second species in the mix?

6.  How many species of Phyciodes crescents are really in MD? We know we have Pearl, but how about batesii, cocyta, even phaon? Are we paying enough attention to these crescents to know or just writing them off as tharos?

5.  Do any of the vanessids overwinter here? Or are all the early spring ladies and admirals migrants from the south?

4.  What’s behind the crash of Bronze Copper on the Eastern Shore?

3.  How much farther will Carolina Satyr spread in MD?

2.  Is Appalachian Grizzled Skipper extirpated in MD, or is it still hanging on in a small shale barren somewhere in Washington Co? After all, the best known PA location is only a few acres in dimension.

1.  How many more species of wood satyrs will Harry Pavulaan come up with in the region when he’s done rearing out all the odd off-cycle populations?

Those are my Top 10; use the comment button below to add some of your own.

[Dick Smith had some interesting comments that I’ve pulled up into the main text below rather than force readers to go to the comments section!]


I have a few notes to fill in on your top ten, some of which may alter your unknowns slightly, but all of the questions still remain.

10. I found Columbine Duskywing along the limestone banks of the North Branch Potomac (West Virginia side) about 20 years ago. The area is just a few miles south of Cumberland. Of course Columbine grows heavily in that area. I have checked multiple limestone cliff habitats around Maryland with no luck. All are very scant or occur in non-mountainous areas. Paul Opler once wrote that it is a montane species, and I have just not found any location in Maryland mountains with the magnitude of the limestone cliffs in the WV area.
9. I grew up in Maryland, and Little Yellows were relatively frequent in late summer everywhere prior to the 1980s. Then there was almost like a grand extinction for the next 30 years. Starting in 2010 they staged a sudden irruption for several years in the Northeast. Now we are back to zero. Apparently, it just can’t survive winter weather and is slow to emigrate north except in very high population years.
8. Northern Prickly-ash in Maryland is known to be suffering from deer herbivory, and it is very scarce now in previous areas of concentration (usually mountainous limestone habitats). I have checked some of these areas several times recently (Roundtop Hill southwest of Hancock for one), which was popular for Giants 20 years ago, and there were none, nor could I find Prickly-ash. I suspect Hoptree saplings are suffering the same fate. The Giants are still here but they are dispersing far and wide over the state now, probably to find surviving hostplants. Deer are less of a problem further north (more winter die-off?, more Prickly-ash?), so the butterfly is more frequent, even in PA.
7. Occasionally, Baltimore Checkerspot caterpillars are found maturing well on English Plantain in Maryland. I have not heard of any potential species differences related to this. However, except in lawns, I think the plant has a tough time surviving against competing plants at Maryland latitudes, so there is not enough of it locally to support Baltimore Checkerspot populations. In New England, there are apparently large areas with English Plantain, and the butterfly does well in these.
6. I have searched for Tawny Crescents in concentration areas of Wavy-leaved Aster in MD, WV, and VA for over 30 years with no luck, even in one of the species Type Localities (Winchester, VA). I think it went the way of the Passenger Pigeon locally after the 19th century.
5. Interesting question about the Vanessids. In the early spring, I have never found a fresh Vanessid, and they all seem to be “passing through” in any particular spot. Has anyone reared a batch of these locally to see if they can survive Maryland winters?
4. I think your complaint about the extensive roadside mowing and herbicide overuse on the Eastern Shore, even into the drainage ditches now, is right on for explaining the Bronze Copper scarcity. The Blackwater Refuge people need to reserve unmowed areas for them. I think they are only surviving in areas next to state lands where herbicide use may be restricted.
3. Carolina Satyrs were found in Garrett County in 2012, and an MES member even found one in Green Ridge this past June (I just learned this). Global warming may be pushing them up from known occurrence areas further south (it’s southern WV for the mountain population). Butterfliers should keep an eye out for them almost anywhere now. Strangely, there are no records yet for PG or Anne Arundel Counties.
2. I have been searching for Grizzled Skippers in Maryland for 15 years now with no luck. Not encouraging, but maybe need a good year or better spots.
1. No records in Howard County for second brood Little Wood-Satyr varieties. Virginia may be the northern limit for that.

Dick Smith
Columbia, MD

Puzzling sighting of Funeral Duskywing by Kurt Hasselman from NJ's The Great Swamp NWR [see Kurt's Flickr account for better image at https://www.flickr.com/photos/dah_professor/15042760647]

Puzzling sighting of Funeral Duskywing by Kurt Hasselman from NJ’s The Great Swamp NWR [see Kurt’s Flickr account for better image at https://www.flickr.com/photos/dah_professor/15042760647%5D

It’s been quite the interesting – and sometimes frustrating — season, an exceedingly slow start for many of our larger butterflies especially, low numbers but reasonable diversity through the summer, some puzzling absences of several usual suspects and few individuals of often-abundant species, and a final explosion of grass skippers but few of the southern migrants that makes autumnal lepping here in the mid-Atlantic so rewarding.

This final Forecast of the season on the weekend of the Autumnal Equinox fits the pattern; little new to report again this week from our region but the dwindling of most of our summer butterflies. No new migrants to share with readers; even Common Buckeye numbers are fairly paltry unless there’s a last-ditch emergence in late September or a surge from a coastal storm coming up from the Carolinas. But even to our south, in the Carolinas and Virginia, southern strays have been hard to come by.

From NJ comes our most interesting sighting, a report of a very fresh Funereal Duskywing in The Great Swamp NWR in Gillette. Odds are this is a hitchhiker on nursery stock or legume hay from the south; the mint condition could only have come from a locally eclosed specimen and the nearest Funereals are in the Deep South and Southwest.

A few Long-tailed Skippers have made their way into the region but still far to the south in VA and NC; true also of Eufala Skipper and Whirlabout. Ocolas and Clouded Skippers remain rare to unusual sightings for us locally. Gulf Fritillaries are having a good year – in southern NC, where Little Yellow numbers also seem to have recovered in this last brood.

Apple and pear windfalls make some of the most interesting observation posts for butterflies this time of year, with the last of the Red-spotted Purples, Viceroys, and the few Red Admirals we’ve seen this year clustered around rotting fruit. Lingering satyrids will also be found there, as will the anglewings – Comma, Question Mark, Mourning Cloak – that will soon hibernate for the winter and greet us again in 2015 as overwintered adults.

A Giant Swallowtail caterpillar was photographed for the Maryland Biodiversity Project website this week on cultivated rue at Cromwell Valley Park near Baltimore.

And I can close out the season’s Forecast with the good news that Monarch numbers are far above last year’s throughout the Northeast, and we should be seeing a quite robust southern flow of these butterflies along the coast and through the mountains for the next month or so. Reports from Canada and the Upper Midwest also note large roosting and staging congregations; whether these Plains populations do well crossing the many still-drought-stricken regions between them and the Oyamel fir forests in Mexico is anyone’s guess. While we’d all like to credit more Monarch Waystations and backyard milkweed patches with the boost, the scientist in us all compels recognition that – at least here in the East — these are just natural population fluctuations of a very resilient and hardy critter.

Thanks to all of you who’ve provided excellent fodder for the Forecast this year, notably Tom Stock, Beth Johnson, Matt Orsie, Barry and Bev Marts, Fran Pope, Monica Miller, Curtis Lehman, Harry Pavulaan, Kathy Barylski, Jim Wilkinson, Sheryl Pollock, Walt Gould, Michael Drake, Mike Smith, Rick Cheicante, Pat Sutton, faithful posters to MDLepsOdes, and the folks associated with the Maryland Biodiversity Project who, along with many others, helped me share sightings and field notes with readers of the Forecasts this year to expand and enhance our enjoyment of butterflying afield in the mid-Atlantic.

Look for the Forecast to return next spring with the Mourning Cloaks.




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