Flickr, Science Come Together to Bring New Species to Light

Semachrysa jade, new lacewing species. Image: Kurt/Flickr

Photo sharing giant Flickr may not be the internet hipster favorite it once was, but the site remains not just popular, but useful as well — Flickr recently helped connect a scientist with a photographer, making it possible to classify a new species of green lacewing.

Photographer Hock Ping Guek, whose Flickr stream is full of gorgeous macro images, was photographing in a state park in Malaysia when he snapped an image of an unusual-looking Green Lacewing. Guek then uploaded the images to Flickr.

That’s where Shaun Winterton, a senior insect biosystematist at the California Department of Food & Agriculture, happened to see the somewhat odd-looking green lacewing with its distinct wing pattern of black markings and white spots. It didn’t match anything Winterton had ever seen before. He sent the image to fellow scientists, but no one was familiar with it.

Winterton then got in touch with Guek, who returned to Malaysia, this time collecting a specimen that was then sent back to Winterton. Winterton then collaborated with Stephen J. Brooks of the London Natural History Museum to describe the new species. The two, along with Guek, share credit for the new species, which is named Semachrysa jade.

While the three share credit, the paper outlining the new species (available on Zoo Keys) also credits the web for bringing Semachrysa jade to light:

New species are increasingly being discovered by the general public with interests in the natural sciences long before they are recognized as new to science by professional taxonomists and formally described. With the rapid development of digital photographic technology, professional and amateur photographers are unknowingly discovering and informally documenting new species of animals and plants by placing images of them in online image databases long before taxonomists can examine them.

If you’d like some more background on how it all came together, be sure to check out Guek’s blog Up Close with Nature.