why i'm abuzz about bugguide.net

‘WELCOME TO BUG GUIDE,’ Contributing Editor Maury said pretty quickly after I’d posted my first image on the community website called BugGuide.net. The site is where naturalists of all levels share photos of “insects, spiders and their kin” to foster enthusiasm and expand the knowledge base about these often-overlooked (and as BugGuide points out, “oft-maligned”) creatures. Bug Guide has long been a go-to resource for me, but now I’m starting to engage further. How to use this invaluable online tool, and maybe contribute valuable observations yourself.

It’s not all about pretty pictures–when and where a bug was recorded is a big part of the information being captured as the image itself. That’s because the site “helps expand on the natural histories” of its subjects, it says. “By capturing the place and time that submitted images were taken,” it explains, “we are creating a virtual collection that helps define where and when things might be found.”

I would have felt welcome enough after Maury‘s hello, but then pretty quickly things got even friendlier. A previously anonymous recent arachnid visitor of mine—a colorful spider that was the second photo I uploaded (the one above)—got identified by BugGuiders with relative certainty as a Shamrock Orbweaver.

“Maybe Araneus trifolium? Let’s see what the others think,” Contributing Editor Laura said, in the notes that suddenly appeared below my image.

“I’m pretty sure this is A. trifolium,” concurred Contributing Editor Kryontf.

Love it.

Now, just to be clear: BugGuide’s mission is not to be a free service aimed at ID’ing hundreds of photos a day for anyone who didn’t try to help themselves first. The expectation is that you will both give and get (hence my characterization that it’s a community), and that before you upload an image asking for an ID, you will do some searching yourself.

You don’t have to know anything about insects or spiders, but can start simply by comparing their overall shape to the clickable silhouettes in the graphic navigation on the top left of every page (I took a little screen shot; see it below). It will get you browsing similar-shaped creatures. It’s the way I found my Twin-Spotted Sphinx Moth (above), Smerinthus jamaicensis, among other moth-shaped beauties. (More on using BugGuide is at the end of this page.)

I didn’t upload photos of bugs whose IDs I was sure of, or ones BugGuide already had ample good images of, if mine wasn’t going to prove an addition to the collection in some way—unless the insects were doing something not seen in another image so far, for instance, or if they were doing it an unexpected time of year, or at the very least if my photo was sharper and more detailed, perhaps. If a photo doesn’t really add anything, BugGuide is up front in saying it may be sent to the “frass” folder–you know, frass: the powdery refuse that those naughty bark borers left after fatally penetrating my crab apples, or the excrement of insect larvae. In other words, the editors flush it (after a 30-day stay in frass purgatory).

spiny oak slug moth, Euclea delphiniiMy crowning BugGuide achievement so far:

Apparently I uploaded the “earliest Spiny Oak Slug [Moth] posted on BG,” typed Contributing Editor Robert in the comments, which I’ll admit made me smile. And then he added: “BTW like your name … some of my favorites :) ” (And yes, Robert’s comment included that actual hotlink–the one on favorites–which took me to the Roaches he has added to BugGuide.net. Very clever, that Robert.)

Apparently I have found a spot in the greater order of things where I fit right in.

using bugguide.net

bugguide.net logoBUGGUIDE.NET is all about insects, spiders and their kin from the United States and Canada. It was begun in 2003 by Troy Bartlett of Georgia, a keen nature photographer who now blogs at NatureCloseups, and eventually moved under the wing (aren’t I endlessly clever?) of Iowa State University’s Department of Entomology, which today hosts BugGuide.

More than 170 volunteer contributing editors help make it work; more than 500,000 images have been recorded. Here is how to begin:

  • I started at the BugGuide Help page
  • The other way to just dip in: click on one of those body-shape silhouettes in the top-left clickable navigation of BugGuide. Then, looking at groups of photos, follow the taxonomic “tree” to refine and refine your search. So for instance with moths, I clicked the body of what looks like a moth, landing me here, where I read the basics about moths, then clicked BROWSE and started down the world of moths, superfamily by superfamily.
  • Anyone can use the guide, but you must be registered to upload an image or to comment.
  • Like any community, BugGuide has its own etiquette. Read and observe it!
  1. I really got a kick out of this one. I grew up as a bug-a-phobe, and am slowly trying to appreciate them for their often alien, outlandish beauty. Did you see the three-page spread in the New York Times magazine a few weeks ago? I looked at every one and ended up laughing out loud in delight. Thanks!

    1. margaret says:

      Agree, Pam — and hi! I have always loved spiders and most insects, but even more lately, for the very reasons you say. Nice to see you here.

  2. natalie caine says:

    Heading out to see what bugs I missed and where they like to hang out. By the way, did you receive the photo of my french doors I saved and put in my garden with photos in the window panes as an entry to a fantasy secret garden? Happy Fall smells, colors, and planting….Natalie Los Angeles

  3. Patricia says:

    I love the many pics you post of the insects and bugs in your gardens. I am a bug nut. It used to drive my students crazy when I refused to let them kill the many spiders that happened to find their way into my classroom. We would always catch them and put them outside. A school is not a safe place for insects unless they are in a terrarium. We even had the janitor catch the flying squirrel that somehow made its way into my room. Gotta love nature.
    I wonder if this wonderful site that you have shared with us would like a great photo I took of two praying mantises mating. I’ll have to look see if they have a photo of that. They were on the side of my house for hours yesterday and may still be there this morning; I hear that it sometimes takes many hours for them to mate.
    My husband is now calling me a voyeur because of all the pictures I took to get the perfect one.
    Thank again for the link!

  4. Linda B Horn says:

    In shameless self promotion I have produced a series of note cards ACTUALS,(store) http://www.lindabhorn.com of native insects I have collected,scanned and photographed. There are 38 different insects all natives with info on the back of the notecard. Check it out.
    Glad you are sharing insects on the website as they are an important part of any garden. Regards Linda B Horn

  5. Anita Lane says:

    I shared the BugGuide link with my daughter who seems to have acquired an affinity for photographing insects and other naturalist subjects. Thanks for sharing.

    1. margaret says:

      Thanks, Anita. So glad you are both enjoying it. I have such fun with insects and the camera; I need to keep practicing (and learn to get them to stay still longer!). :)

  6. Kathy says:

    Thanks for the info about BugGuide Margaret. Since you had that picture of the spider on your newsletter last week I had been trying to find out what it was through various internet and book articles. Bugs,trees, bushes, plants, animals…..it always interests me to know the names, but I am not very successful in finding them most
    of the time so BugGuide could be a new friend ; ) You might like this story….this time of year in the MidWest as I drive a country road I always try to avoid hitting
    the wooly worms as they crawl from field to field because they turn into those pretty little white, yellow and blue country butterflies. When talking to a British friend about the wooly worms she stopped me to ask what in the world those horrid creatures could be…..apparently that doesn’t translate, ha! I do not in actual fact know the name of that particular caterpillar, but have always called them wooly worms so perhaps BugGuide can enlighten me before there is an international incident……

  7. Valerie Gillman says:

    I have a moral dilemma in my garden and need help from a cool head but one that also doesn’t like to kill. I found four inch long dogwood sawflies which look so pretty, I thought they were a rare caterpillar till I looked them up. My yellowtwig dogwood is three years old and may be able to withstand but I have a new, small red twig that couldn’t. Do I kill all of them, or some?I ordered a hardy aristolachia that came today. How can I protect it till it gets big enough to survive the hoardes? The Spicevine caterpillars I will not kill.

  8. rachelle says:

    Thank you for highlighting one of my fave buggy sites too – in fact, just a couple of days ago i uploaded my photo of a couple of very handsome Oil Beetles, in the Meloe group. I received a reply very quickly from the Bug Guide folks who ID the two beauties sooner than I expected – what service! I’ve been doing more research about them at Dave’s Garden in his bug files and at Whatsthatbug.com – another great place for info about these amazing creatures.
    Enjoy the wonderful Autumn Days still ahead of us,

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