Sunday, June 26, 2011

Identifying insects with simple internet searches

insect photo

Nature walks are a great social activity, and our College Student Personnel organization (BGSDA) decided to add a photography contest to the hike. By taking the extra step to identify insects in the photos, you can use the internet to explore a personalized biology lesson.

As part of the Summer "Cruise" of pre-planned social events, the summer CSP grad students went to Wintergarden Park in Bowling Green, OH to snap some pics during a hike.

Here are a few more of my favorite shots (below). Basically, the micro-lense is my "thing" when it comes to nature photography. It's a lot of fun! The contest album is on Facebook where you can Like your favorites.

I thought it would be fun to try to identify the insects I spotted by using my favorite tool: the internet! In my experience, a lot of people don't realize just how powerful internet searches can be. They view Google as a portal for typing keywords to call up a specific site. I view it as more of a process, and if you want to find something, try being as blunt as possible.

Oncopeltus fasciatus
Oncopeltus fasciatus
Here's the image search I used to identify this orange and black insect: "orange and black insect in Ohio" which produced a page full of images. I selected this image because it was a pretty good match to my own photo, however the pattern on the wing wasn't quite right. Turns out the image in the image search was a "false milkweed bug." Well if the false milkweed bug is pretty close, let's try searching for "milkweed bug." Bingo! The large milkweed bug (Oncopeltus fasciatus) is a perfect match.

hover fly Eristalis transversa
Eristalis transversa
Let's try it again with the next insect. This one is a black and yellow fly, so let's search "black and yellow fly in Ohio" which brings up this photo. Looks good to me, this is a black and yellow hoverfly. Well, it turns out there are 6000 species of hoverfly covering over 200 genera. Thankfully, this gallery of North American Hoverflies was able to help me narrow the list to my best guess of Eristalis transversa.

black and yellow centipede in Ohio
Sigmoria sp.
Ok, I'll do one more. How about this photo of what is apparently a centipede. Based on an internet search for "black and yellow centipede in Ohio" I came upon this site with photos of what the author calls the cherry millipede. Looks pretty close, and the bugger is identified as a Sigmoria genus of millipede. It is, in fact, a millipede and not a centipede because millipedes have two pairs of legs per body segment.

Below are the rest of my nature walk photos. Looks like some wildflowers and yet another species of hoverfly. The hike itself was a fun way to socialize with my grad student peers, but taking the time to identify what I actually saw was an interesting self-taught lesson in insect species. By taking the next step and learning more about these buggers, I have a greater appreciation for my own photographs, and I learned something along the way!

What I learned: The Internet is a powerful learning tool, but it's not going to do all the work for you.