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How to recruit specialists to ID bugguide images

I have reached out via email to specialists in over a dozen countries seeking help in identifying arthropods pictured on bugguide. Although some are too busy to help, I usually get at least a polite reply from them. Most are willing to look at images linked in my email and offer an informed opinion.

I used to email photos to authorities but eventually realized the smaller message size and ease of clicking on a hypertext link made that method outmoded. Besides, by introducing specialists to bugguide there is always the chance they will register and return on their own to browse through their taxon. They might then begin offering unsolicited IDs or even image contributions.

My most intense effort in this vein has been to reorganize and identify the growing mite section (Acari). I obtained email addresses of specialists from a variety of Internet sources, most notably the taxonomy pages of the Acari Project, but also the Tree of Life site, and a large list of acarologists on the Acarology site.

How did I know where to look for email addresses? I didn't, not at first anyway. I didn't even know what the study of mites is called. I seem to recall finding out by doing a google search on "the study of mites is called," then doing searches on acarology, Acari, etc. to discover sites containing email addresses. Someone endeavoring to find help for other taxa should be able to follow the same approach.

Armed with names, specialties, and email addresses, I drafted a stock letter which I modified as needed to send individually to each specialist. (I have had limited luck with obvious broadcast emails. The personal touch is far more successful.)

I have used both formal and informal approaches and have seen no great difference in results. My salutation on a letter to a Dr. John Bandicoot might be "Dear Dr. Bandicoot:" or "Hi John," whichever strikes my fancy.

Here is a stock letter body I personalized to contact many of the acarologists who have lent a hand with our mites:


Dear Dr. [insert name]:

I need a little help to organize the Acari images (per the Acari Project) on, a site begun privately but transferred to Iowa State University. It is nearing 100,000 mostly live images taken by skilled-to-beginner arthropod photography enthusiasts. Acari are only a tiny fraction of this and your groups make up an even smaller portion.

Although a number of the photos are mine, any expertise I have pertains to Coleoptera, not Acari. I am strictly a beginner, which is why I am appealing to you and other specialists who might recognize their groups among the modest-quality photos we have assembled. I've gotten educated guesses on our velvet mites and water mites from Drs. Joanna Makol of Poland and Heather Proctor of Canada respectively, plus Hans Klompen, Dave Walter, S.V. Mironov, and Pekka Lehtinen have named a few images for us. Dr. Eddie Ueckermann of South Africa has IDed many Anystoidea and some other groups for us.

I am pretty ignorant about [insert name of mite group he/she specializes in]. Supposing we have images of any, they are mixed in with the rest of the unidentified mites. Anything smaller than 0.2mm we don't yet have.

If you can spare a moment to browse through several pages of clickable thumbnail images, you may find that either you can easily identify some for us or possibly can't help us at all.

The Acari thumbnail pages begin here:

There are two ways of providing IDs. Either you can register as a bugguide user and comment directly under any image or you can email me with your comments on specific image numbers (above left hand corner) and I can relay your comments and move the images to their taxons.

Thank you for hearing my plea.

- Jim McClarin


Notice that I provided hypertext links not only to the images I was inviting them to look at but also one to my personal page so they could have some idea who was writing them.

There are many, many thousands of specialists who might be willing to devote a little of their time to making bugguide more valuable. All it takes is contacting them and asking. Why not consider taking on a similar project for some under-identified group of images on our site.

I've been trying to get my friend Jeff Cole to join an help ID Orthoptera which he specializes in.... I'll keep at it.

He's a member
He's a member now, but he's only had time to go through one group of shield-backed katydids...

Nice going, Will.

Great idea Jim,
I've been in touch with a few people who don't review images at this site, but didn't have the presence of mind to ask them to take a look at more 'stuff'. Your letter is a useful example.

Thanks, Hartmut.
I think the larger and better managed our database the more bugguide will be seen by experts as a resource worth visiting, worth linking to on their own sites, and worth devoting some time every so often to identifying submissions here, especially for images within their specialty taxa.

Bugguide's built-in positive feedback features (thanks, Troy Bartlett) are enhanced the more we succeed in getting images identified. When a contributor receives an ID they are often further motivated to submit more images. Tom Murray, bugguide's top contributor, admits the IDs and other feedback prod him to take and post even more arthropod photos, and many a new contributor who gets a rapid ID winds up submitting more and more images.

Thus, the more identifications, the faster the growth. The faster the growth, the larger and more valuable our database resource. The bigger and better the resource, the more specialists we can attract to ID more images. That's a sweet self-reinforcment loop that can be accelerated by efforts to boost any portion of the cycle. I'm mindful of this dynamic when I contact a specialist to view images in one of our increasing number of taxa.

A good idea,
but I think it needs to be taken a step further. A worst case scenario would be a dozen or more 'BugGuiders' all writing similar letters for help to the same authority. This could have only a negative effect. One solution would be to have an official secretary who would write such letters. He/she would receive suggestions from contributors as to the authority and his/her expertise. This would ensure that an authority would receive just one letter for help.
In the past I have written to 4 specialists for help with BG images and have received positive responses from 3, 2 of whom are currently actively identifying images here. It would be a mistake for another 'BugGuider' to solicit help from these specialists on behalf of BugGuide. But as most people probably don't know who these 4 specialists are, the possibility exists for them to receive further requests for help.
Channeling all such requests for assistance through 1 secretary seems to me to be the logical way to proceed. Any volunteers/nominations for Secretary?
my nomination: Jim McClarin

Well, I guess I would consider handling secretarial duties until they got too onerous, but the worst-case scenario this is intended to prevent I consider terribly unlikely.

As a veteran volunteer recruiter/coordinator in politics some years back I gained an appreciation for how seldom people rise to a task without being cajoled and wooed and wheedled. If there are six others on bugguide who would accept the challenge, I would be pleasantly astonished.

To avoid duplication of effort I think it should suffice to leave a temporary note on one or more related info pages decribing the endeavor to recruit specialists. Anybody thinking of doing this for any group could be expected to study the info page for that group looking for Internet resources. I will try to always leave such a note in the future, as I did while reorganizing the Acari section and as I'll do right now for Dermestidae and Bruchinae :-) (I've just received a bunch of IDs for those groups from Dr. John Klingsolver that I'll be adding.)

Rather than scatter the info on Info pages
why not keep a list somewhere in Forums of those experts who have been approached already about helping with IDs. Names could be listed alphabetically for ease of reference and in the case of experts active here already, could provide a link to their bio (if they've provided one). I'm thinking this would work along the lines of Beatriz's non-native insects list.

An observation
A favorite aphorism of mine is that in many organizations, volunteers are the slow and the weak...

This twist on nature documentary clichés is a bit cynical, but, unfortunately, often close to the truth.

Luckily, in the community
(and in our local Chicago Wilderness community) the volunteers are the strong and the proud. Stay out of their way or you'll be run over!

All of us
Editors are volunteers, including you. Welcome aboard, Chuck.

I meant
volunteers in the specific sense of "we need someone to volunteer to...", not in the sense of anyone who does work without expectation of being paid.

For the secretary --
We have already solicited help on centipedes and millipedes from Dr Rowland Shelley, an expert in North American species. He is already registered as a contributing editor and has said he expects he might have some time this spring after he completes several projects. We will be recontacting him in a month or so to see how we might begin. We have already done some work on the taxonomy in preparation for his visits.

I thought I would take this time to write and introduce myself. My name is Craig Gibbs and I am in the process of finishing my discertation on neotropical drosophilids out of the American Museum of Natural History. I have greatly enjoyed reading and learning on bugguide and have included my input where I felt comfortable and confident that it would be correct. I look forward to participating in bugguide in whatever ways I can. Keep up the good work!

Hi Craig,
If no-one else will welcome you, I will :-)

I would like to read a bit about your research on Drosophilidae of the neotropics. Perhaps you could write a bit about yourself on your personal page (click your name to get there), being sure to include any links to material by or about you on the Web.(Do a [url] before and a [slash url] after any url to make it an active link.)

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