A New Insect Species Discovered Via Flickr

One day in May of 2011, Shaun Winterton was looking at pictures of insects on the Internet when something caught his eye. It was a close shot of a green lacewing — an insect he knew well — but on its wing was an unfamiliar network of black lines and a few flecks of blue. Winterton, a senior entomologist at the California Department of Food and Agriculture, has seen a lot of insects. But he hadn’t seen this species before. So he sent an email to the photographer Guek Hock Ping, who told Winterton the creature flew away after he photographed it. But:

A full year later, Winterton received an email from the photographer; Guek had returned to the region of the original sighting and found another lacewing with the same wing pattern.

“He told me, ‘I’ve got one in a container on my kitchen table — what should I do with it?’ ” Winterton says.

The specimen was sent to Steve Brooks, an entomologist at the Natural History Museum in London. Brooks confirmed that the lacewing was new to science. He also found a matching specimen that had been sitting in the museum’s collection, unclassified, for decades.

The new species was dubbed Semachrysa jade — not after its pale green color, but after Winterton’s daughter. It was introduced to the world in the latest issue of ZooKeys, a scientific journal focused on biodiversity. In keeping with the digital nature of their discovery, Winterton, Guek and Brooks wrote the paper from three different continents using a Google document.

The moral of the story? The world is full of potential naturalists, Winterton says. More and more people using high-quality cameras that capture the kind of detail scientists need for identification, and they are sharing these photos online.

Semachrysa jade, a new lacewing species, discovered via Flickr.

NPR has the rest of the story here. Amazing world!

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