The Butterflies and Moths of WikiProject Lepidoptera
The Lepidoptera collection in Cherni Osam Natural Sciences Museum
This week, we spread our wings with WikiProject Lepidoptera. Started in May 2006, the project has grown to include over 45,000 pages about butterflies and moths. The project maintains a list of tasks, various helpful resources, and a taxonomic checklist showing where work still needs to be done. We interviewed project founder AshLin and members IvanTortuga, Grmanners (GRM), Ruigeroeland, and Shyamal.
What motivated you to join WikiProject Lepidoptera? Does your educational background or professional experience involve working with Lepidoptera or other insects?
- AshLin: When I joined up I found that there was no WikiProject for these creatures. Then IronChris came up with WikiProject Arthropods and I was intrigued. At that time, Shyamal, VirenVaz and I had an informal task force on Indian butterflies which we immediately affiliated to the WikiProject. Over time, I found the courage to set up WikiProject Lepidoptera. IronChris, Kylu, Kugamazog and Shyamal helped me at first. Soon people began to join in and we had a small bunch of enthusiastic editors going about this humungous task. Being an electrical engineer, I had no formal training except for a lifelong passion for the creatures.
- IvanTortuga: I joined the project because of my love for all invertebrates and thought my photographic abilities could help the project. Both my educational and professional backgrounds have lead me to work within the field of entomology. I've worked with the Encyclopedia of Life, iNature and a few other random sites here and there and once worked as an Aquatic Entomologist at Northern Michigan University where I finished a minor in Biology (focusing on entomology).
- GRM: When I returned to the UK in 2003 after 14 years in the tropics, I restarted an "old" hobby of butterfly watching. In the intervening time, I also became seriously interested in conservation. I am an avid reader when it comes to my hobbies and a professional editor and writer. I then "found" Wikipedia and worked on Heath Fritillary as I was doing the same for Butterfly Conservation local branch. One of my fellow Wikipedians then persuaded me to take on a more active role for British butterflies in general.
Writing articles on the taxonomy and anatomy of living creatures can become fairly technical. What can the average editor contribute to Lepidoptera articles, even if they don't have specialized knowledge in the field?
- IvanTortuga: The project always needs help. Even if you don't have knowledge in the field you can still help with general grammar, clean up and vandalism protection.
- Ruigeroeland: I am not an expert at all, but I have learned quite a bit about taxonomy down the road. In my experience, there are two crucial things (with regards to taxonomy) to keep in mind when writing an article on a living thing: 1. always include the original combination (i.e.: the genus the species was first placed in + the name of the species) as a synonym. 2. Add all synonyms you can find. This is the only way to ensure a single species will not be added to wikipedia under various names.
- AshLin: Among the things I felt deprived as a child were good books informing us about butterfly physiology, behaviour, migration etc. I had an urge to help create just such a resource as I had coveted. Sadly, I found there were no experts willing to spare any time. So I decided that this was just the kind of challenge so many Wikipedians have faced and will face again and that it was doable. A simple framework was created and by adding fact after referenced fact and images, slowly but surely an article began to develop on the external morphology of Lepidoptera. Many other editors cooperated in ways big and small and after many months we had a very large article with almost a hundred images developed which we took to Good Article level. This proved to me that amateurs could make substantial contributions. Formal training in biology was less important here than an affinity for biology and scientific temperament in general. So yes, it was proved that an average editor like me could contribute substantially to science despite not possessing formal degrees.
- GRM: Yes, if they have access to relevant taxonomic works.
Which tend to be better covered by Wikipedia: butterflies or moths? In general, how does Wikipedia's coverage of Lepidoptera compare to coverage of other living things? What can be done to improve this coverage?
- IvanTortuga: In my personal experience butterflies tend to get a lot more coverage unless the species of moth is of economic importance (invasives, silk worms, etc.). Though in general the project covers their bases pretty darn well compared to other projects in zoology.
- Shyamal: The situation of Lepidopteran taxonomy is a bit confused and there is as yet no single global project that has reached the maturity level of say the world's birds. Even at the family level, there have been major shakeups in recent times. There are a few expert projects that have attempted to create a systematic index but this is as yet incomplete and that ambiguity spills over as a problem for Wikipedia.
- Ruigeroeland: The number of moth articles is far greater, but this is mainly due to the fact that there are a lot more moth species (I think it was 20,000 butterflies vs. 130,000 moths). I am mainly working on moths and add about 10 new articles to Wikipedia each day. We even have "complete coverage" for some of the moth families. For those interested, you can see the progress here: . In my experience, coverage on Wikipedia is mostly influenced by distribution of the species and not if they are a butterfly or a moth. Information on Neotropical, African and especially south-east Asian species is often hard to find, while there is a lot of info available for European species.
- GRM: I'd guess butterflies. Can we advertise for contributors within Wikipedia itself? Make it clear that the input of the most inexperienced writers who are keen is better than having a stub or no entry at all!
How difficult is it to obtain images of Lepidoptera? Are there specific butterflies and moths the project could use some help photographing?
- IvanTortuga: Its not all that hard to find images of Lepidoptera, I am one of the photographers and I am always on the look out for images that can help the project grow. There is a rather sizable list of Leps that need photos though, anything from the deep jungles and tundras.
- Shyamal: Many of the old works on Lepidoptera have gone into the public domain and the Biodiversity Heritage Library has done a marvellous job of making these available for harvesting (e.g. commons:Category:Lepidoptera Indica).
- Ruigeroeland: We have a lot of pictures of western European and Australian species and quite some for North American species. In my experience it is a lot harder to find images for species from other parts of the world though. I had some success convincing someone from Taiwan to release over a 1,000 images of moths to wikimedia. I would love to see other people try the same.
- GRM: Yes and no. Maybe the Project page should have specific requests. Maybe someone should tell me to get on and upload my images of African Lepidoptera!
Does WikiProject Lepidoptera collaborate with any other projects?
- AshLin: As such we have not had any notable collaboration that I can think off. We are not averse to the idea but no opportunity seems to have come about.
What are the project's short-term and long-term goals? How do you envision the project changing and growing over the next few years?
- IvanTortuga: I would personally like to see the project take on the large scale research of deep jungle Leps. This would take a lot of work but it would be a hugely useful tool for students, teachers and for environmental conservation.
- AshLin: Besides the taxon-related articles, we have a great need for well-developed Lepidoptera biology and conservation related articles. We don't have a complete framework in place on these topics, much less developed articles.
What are the project's most urgent needs? How can a new member help today?
- Ruigeroeland: There are tons of articles on species to be made. At this point, only a handful of people are active in the project and all help would be greatly appreciated.
- AshLin: I concur with Ruigeroeland, lack of eyeballs and minds is a serious constraint to us. Lack of up-to-date taxonomic resources is another challenge we face. For example, our work on Indian butterflies came to a halt when we realised that we were creating more dubious species than valid ones. No dependable taxonomic work on Indian butterflies has emerged since last fifty years. We are now waiting for Krushnamegh Kunte's Indian butterfly checklist which has been under making for a number of years. This will help us decide which articles to delete/merge/rename etc. Lack of access to resources cloistered behind paywalls has also hampered us but Wikipedia:Resource request has been able to help us in many cases.
Next week, we'll find out if the truth is really out there. Until then, trust no one in the archive.
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