Formalizing and extending the North Carolina Insect of the Week

You may notice that today’s Insect of the Week post looks a little bit different, with its embedded Google Map of NCSU specimens, its more regimented categories and embedded images, etc. What’s going on? Well, Matt Yoder, a researcher in the Museum, has been rewriting certain aspects of the database software we use for digitizing specimens (mx) in order to enable Web-published species pages that directly incorporate NCSU specimens. This functionality isn’t new, mind you, as we’ve already used previous variations to publish species descriptions to the Web (e.g., this page for Alobevania tavaresi). What is new is the ability to plug the content into just about any other Web resource using the generated iframe. Next up: XML mark-up that enables the Encyclopedia of Life to scoop our content for their species pages (hence the more formalized sections of this post – Diagnosis, Natural History, etc.)

ou may notice that today’s Insect of the Week post looks a little bit different, with its embedded Google Map of NCSU specimens, its more regimented categories and embedded images, etc. What’s going on? Well, Matt Yoder, a researcher in the Museum, has been rewriting certain aspects of the database software we use for digitizing specimens (mx) in order to enable Web-published species pages that directly incorporate NCSU specimens. This functionality isn’t new, mind you, as we’ve already used previous variations to publish species descriptions to the Web (e.g., this page for Alobevania tavaresi). What is new is the ability to plug the content into just about any other Web resource using the generated iframe. Next up: XML mark-up that enables the Encyclopedia of Life to scoop our content for their species pages (hence the more formalized sections of this post – Diagnosis, Natural History, etc.)

The North Carolina Insect of the Week series will roll on, showing up here on Fridays, as usual. Future pages will also be indexed on a new and improved Insect Museum database site. We’re very excited!

 

Student collections

I teach the Insect Biodiversity and Evolution class every fall, and the one requirement I get the most feedback about is the insect collection. All (serious) entomology programs offer a course on insect systematics/classification and evolution/taxonomy/etc., and the collection component is, or at least should be, a right of passage for all entomologists. I’ve been directly involved in teaching or taking this kind of course at three universities, and from my experience students overwhelmingly find the experience to be rewarding because:

  1. they were exposed to numerous kinds of sampling methods and habitats (often including fun field trips)
  2. they got to experience (intimately) the shear diversity of Hexapoda
  3. they learned about natural history, often by observing the specimens while they were alive
  4. they love the treasure hunting nature of this exercise
  5. they typically feel a profound sense of accomplishment at what they were able to achieve (coupled, however, with the depression that it’s all over!)

But there are always those students who underestimate the amount of effort it takes to pull this stunt off – collecting, mounting, labeling, rough sorting, keying, curating, … etc. The exercise consumes a lot of time and energy and cannot be put off until the very last day or even week. It is this aspect that forces me to tinker with the collection requirements every year (here’s the latest collection incarnation), so that students are not only graded fairly but also so that they don’t feel like they’ve been kicked in the head afterward, during the mad scramble to get it done in December. I’ve revisited past requirements, consulted with colleagues at other departments, implemented complex, taxon-specific grading algorithms, raised, lowered, and then raised again the minimum number of orders/families or had no minimums at all – you name it!

Well Gimmel and Ferro (2017) recently published an article in the latest American Entomologist that is a must read for anyone charged with developing or taking this kind of course. I enjoyed it so much I made my students read and discuss it during their first week of class. The take-home message was pretty clear: collect early, collect often, process early, process often, determine early, determine often. It can be done and it will be fun.