Amateur Naturalists Are Discovering All Kinds of New Insect Species

More and more, amateurs are contributing to the discovery of new species, especially of insects - but can they keep ahead of the extinction curve?

Feedloader (Limelight Networks)

Around the world, amateurs are picking up on the rallying cry to identify, describe and name new species—especially insects. From retirees to enthusiastic hobbyists who go bug-hunting in their spare time, the new wave of species-hunters are filling in gaps on the arthropod phylogenetic tree, the BBC reports.

Taxonomists, the scientists who make a career out of identifying and classifying species, often assume there’s nothing much left to be discovered in Europe, as enthusiasts have been snatching up the continent’s most intriguing specimens since the Scientific Revolution. Europe, though, is one of the epicenters of amateur efforts, according to the BBC:

One such place where this is happening is Mercantour National Park, at the foot of the Alps on the border between France and Italy. While Jean-Michel Lemaire goes hunting in inaccessible nooks and crannies, there are still plenty of creatures waiting to be found in a more accessible place like this.

“We have a very good knowledge of birds, and mammals” in Mercantour says Marie-France Leccia, an ecologist at the park. “Less for the insects.”

Scientific papers identifying and naming new species come out today about three times more frequently than in earlier decades. And around the world, many of these efforts are both driven by amateurs and concern arthropods. As the New York Times Green Blog reports:

Quite a few of these people were working from home addresses, suggesting that they are high-level amateurs who pursue taxonomy as a hobby rather than a profession.

Currently, around 16,000 papers announcing new additions to the tree of life come out each year. Most of these findings represent arthropods, the group that dominates global biodiversity and includes crustaceans and insects; mollusk discoveries are also plentiful.

In Europe, the numbers of discoveries submitted by amateurs rank even higher, at an estimated six out of ten new species. Some amateurs specialize in aquatic beetles, others in mayflies, spiders, slugs or wasps. They arrive at sites like Mercantour sporting nets, buckets, flashlights and jars. One retired Welshman recently found a new species of slug in his back garden.

More from

Match the Species Game 
New Lacewing Species Discovered on Flickr 

Get the latest stories in your inbox every weekday.