About the Project

     Few insects have endeared themselves to humanity as much as have the butterflies. It's easy to see why we like them: their boldly patterned wings can be beautiful, even jewel-like, and we usually find them fluttering leisurely through hedgerows and flower gardens (and not, say, burrowing through rotting wood, or hovering over dumpsters). People have liked butterflies for a very long time, too. Many of the first entomologists ("studiers of insects") began as amateur butterfly enthusiasts. Some took on butterfly catching as a lifelong hobby, and left behind massive collections of pinned specimens accompanied by meticulous descriptions of the life stages and host plants of different species. 

     The bejeweléd treasure trove of knowledge that has resulted should, in theory, make butterflies the best understood of all insect clades, and ideal subjects of ecological research. Unfortunately, a lot of this information is out of reach of the broader scientific community, either gathering dust in the attics of private collections or hidden in the unturned pages of ancient field guides. What the butterflies need is a network: a cooperative online platform to collect, organize, and distribute this information to the public, free-of-charge, for use in research and science education. 

     To kick off the ButterflyNet project we are producing a complete species-level butterfly phylogeny, the first of any major insect clade, that will let us organize the approximately 18,800 butterfly species according to their evolutionary relationships. To each species we will then attach all available data on geographic distributions, host plant associations, and other interesting life history traits, collected and compiled from digitized field guides and online resources. When our work is done, the accumulated knowledge from centuries of observations and ongoing research will be made available through ButterflyNet to expert scientists and amateur butterfly enthusiasts alike.

For more information, take a look our NSF abstracts:


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