Technology is letting scientists discover and monitor species of plants, animals and insects without ever leaving their office. New species have been discovered by scientists using Google Earth and there are apps out now that let citizen scientist upload geo-tagged photos of plants and animals for classification. Now, there's been another great natural discovery thanks to technology. An entomologist browsing Flickr photos stumbled upon a never-before-classified species of lacewing.
Shaun Winterton saw a photo taken by Guek Hock Ping in Malaysia of a lacewing perched on a leaf. Winterton knew that the lacewing was different than any he had studied. He contacted Guek to see if he had captured the insect, but he hadn't, since to him it was just a neat-looking bug he saw while on a hike. But Guek traveled back to the same spot a year later and was able to capture one of the insects and get it to Winterton for examination.
Winterton sent it to Steve Brooks at the Natural History Museum of London who not only confirmed that it was a new species, but found a matching specimen on file at the museum that no one had ever classified.
Winterton, Brooks and Guek worked together to write a paper on the lacewing's discovery, naming it Semachrysa jade and, adding to the digital nature of this discovery, they collaborated remotely from three different continents using Google Docs.
Winterton thinks this way of discovering new species -- through crowd-sourced images and info via the computers in our offices and livingroom -- will become more common. He told NPR, "There's thousands of images a minute uploaded on Flickr. I think there are many more discoveries forthcoming, particularly as more people are getting out into the field."