Autumn 2021 Edition:
  • Big Data for Science and Conservation
  • New Tool for Creating Your Own Projects
  • eButterfly Taxonomy Updated
  • Wanted! Your Historic Data
  • Computer Vision: Keeping an Eye on eButterfly
  • Create Your New User Profile
  • eButterfly Tech Team Makes Us Shine
  • Getting Started with eButterfly: Help, Tutorials, and More
'Big Data' for Science and Conservation

They float and flutter over alpine meadows, fields, and flower gardens. They merit angelical roles in poetry, art, and our imaginations. With names like Great Spangled Fritillary, Cranberry Blue, and Fatal Metalmark, they are among the most captivating insects. And now, eButterfly is intersecting our love of watching butterflies for pleasure and recreation with science and conservation through checklisting.

Known for keeping meticulous lists and notes, birdwatchers have provided essential population and distributional data back centuries, which eBird now captures around the globe in checklists. Butterflies are not far behind. Thousands of butterfly watchers and scientists now share their checklists with eButterfly, already amassing more than 460,000 observations and over 100,000 checklists in North America alone. These data are now shared with the Global Biodiversity Information Infrastructure (GBIF) where scientists and conservation biologists can use them. As the community adds new checklists and helps to verify records, the data at GBIF is updated with changes daily.

From climate change effects to COVID-19 impacts, dozens of scientific publications have already used eButterfly data and it has been cited in over 200 publications. Each one started with the first shared observation. For example, in 2010 when the largest butterfly in North America fluttered among an observer's flowers, they knew it was something neat. It was the first record of an Eastern Giant Swallowtail in Vermont. Thousands of shared observations later, the data gave our scientists the ingredients to understand how the changing climate enabled this northward expansion.

Learn more about the value of butterfly checklist data and uses with our eButterfly postdoc, Dr. Federico Riva. In this video presentation, he discusses the importance of the checklists to understand population changes and inform conservation practices. How they help overcome “imperfect detection” – our inability to see all butterflies when we are looking for them – and how we can maximize the number of butterflies that we see at a site. And a bit about his current work with eButterfly that leverages thousands of observations from community scientists to help understand butterfly distribution and regions of conservation priority across North America.

Thank you for all your contributions to eButterfly!
New Tool for Creating Your Own Projects

Our new eButterfly Projects tool allows you to easily and quickly create a hub for your event, club, class, or organization. An eButterfly Project creates a space for you that pools observations of eButterfly users together. You can automatically include all of the checklists and observations that fit the places, taxa, users, or dates that you specify. Whether you’re starting a community science effort, creating a home for your user group, or running a butterfly bioblitz, eButterfly Projects is the new tool for you.

Create a project to take advantage of these features:
  • Easily create a branded hub for your club or organization.
  • Customize your project with a banner, icon, and description.
  • Observations that fit parameters set by you are automatically added.
  • Share your project with a unique web address.
  • See user leaderboards, observation photos, and other statistics and visualizations, with more coming in the future.
  • Add start and end dates/times for butterfly bioblitz events. A bioblitz is an effort to record as many species and observations as possible within a designated place and time period.

Taxonomy System Updated

Months in the making, we made substantial improvements and corrections to the taxonomic backbone for eButterfly. This drastically improves the user experience when entering checklists and exploring data. The eButterfly taxonomy is a hierarchical approach to creating a butterfly list for checklist data entry and identifications. Users can now select a taxon from any level that best represents their identification for the observation: superfamily Papilionoidea (butterflies), family, subfamily, genus, species, or subspecies (coming soon!). If you have a butterfly sighting or image on your checklist and you have no idea what it is, now it can be identified at the superfamily level – butterfly. Or maybe you know it is a swallowtail, but you’re not sure which species. You can select the subfamily Papilioninae (swallowtails). If possible, other users will eventually help you identify it to the species level, which improves the eButterfly database and perhaps helps you learn too! Learn more about these updates on our Blog.
Wanted: Your Historic Data

What's the oldest observation shared with eButterfly? A pair of Painted Lady butterflies from July 7, 1859 found in Ontario, Canada, and shared by the Lyman Museum. There are now almost 34,000 historic butterfly observations shared with eButterfly. Perhaps you have past observations in your notebook, collection, or old photographs?

Historical data represent a precious source of information that help to establish baselines for present and future biodiversity and global change studies. Unfortunately, primary biodiversity data are lost every day. Data sharing has become an important issue in modern biodiversity research to address large scale questions and conserve species. Despite the steadily growing scientific and conservation demand, data are not always easily accessed. Worse, they may be lost forever if they are not properly archived.

This winter, make it a priority to add your past data to eButterfly!
Computer Vision: Keeping an Eye on eButterfly

Imagine verifying every single one of the nearly a half million records in the eButterfly database. With the database growing quickly, eButterfly, in partnership with the Montreal Institute for Learning Algorithms (MILA), has created eButterflyAI, an advanced image recognition algorithm that has learned to recognize the genus and species for most butterflies found in North and Central America and the Caribbean based on an image and location of the observation.

The algorithm was trained by feeding it hundreds of thousands of butterfly images from several sources to help it learn to identify characteristic patterns for each species, like the bright orange spots with deep black backdrop of the Red-bordered Pixie for example. After several months of development and training, the algorithm provides outstanding performance, identifying even some cryptic species.

Create Your New User Profile

Have you ever wondered who is helping to identify and verify your butterfly observations? Or maybe you wanted to learn more about someone that sees a lot of butterflies in your area? Now you can! We just released the first version of eButterfly user profiles. The profile page has a small image, the user level, stats, and their most recent photos. We’ll be adding more features in the future too. Click on any user name in eButterfly and view their profile.

Fill out your own profile so that others can learn about you too! Here's how:
  1. Sign into eButterfly and click the dropdown arrow next to your username in the upper right corner.
  2. Select "My Profile."
  3. Add an image for your profile and fill in the Bio section with a little about yourself.
  4. Click the "Save" button at the bottom and your profile is ready!
eButterfly Tech Team Makes Us Shine

Each week the eButterfly development and operations team meets to discuss our progress and new features. The butterfly watchers on the team can often be heard saying—"that should be easy to code, it's just a few if-then statements." It has become a running joke and always elicits eye rolls from the programmers. Well, needless to say, it isn't as easy as an if-then statement. Thankfully, our lead programmer Xinbao Zhang (who single-handedly coded eButterfly), now has a small team working with him and they have done an amazing job over the last 18 months in making eButterfly shine.

In 2020, Michael Bunsen joined Xinbao as a developer and has helped with everything from squashing bugs (the computer kind!) to updating the taxonomic system and delivering data to GBIF. Now he is working on implementing our new eButterflyAI and upgrading our server structure. We have also had three undergraduate student programmers as part of a co-op program with Waterloo University. Kun Zhu is currently working with us as a web developer through the end of the year. Vivek Alamuri was a student web developer last winter. And our first co-op student, Shivangi Garg joined us for two stints as a web and mobile developer in 2020 and again in 2021. She now works part-time on the eButterfly mobile app (coming to your smart phone soon!).

Thank you to the entire team for putting up with us butterfly watchers and making our wishes come true. And there is more to come! Currently they are migrating backend operations to faster platforms, introducing stronger mapping systems, smoothing out long-standing system kinks, and creating a mobile app! They will reveal some amazing work once again in 2022 as eButterfly gets bigger and better for all of us. Thank you team!
Getting Started with eButterfly

Every time butterfly watchers raise binoculars and cameras to record a butterfly sighting, they collect important data. Recording the number, date, and location of each and every butterfly, no matter how common or rare, may seem trivial, even repetitive— but this detailed information can be invaluable to science and conservation. Butterflies act as early warning signals for habitat degradation, climate change, and other ecological forces. Community Science programs like eButterfly allow volunteers to submit checklists from anywhere, and can quickly amass large volumes of both historic and current observations.

Do you want to learn more about how to use eButterfly? Join Rodrigo Solis Sosa, our Human Network and Data Coordinator, as he explains how to use eButterfly in this recorded webinar.

To learn even more, check out our Help pages that will quickly get you started on using eButterfly. There’s a Quick Start Guide that takes you through each step when entering a butterfly checklist. Learn about our new crowd-sourced data vetting system and our identification tool and how you can quickly get started in helping to verify eButterfly data too. And learn how eButterfly helps you track your life, year, and month lists for countries, states and provinces, and even your favorite locations automatically.

We hope to see you on eButterfly soon!