Here’s a chart I made this morning. It depicts the number of new photos tagged “insects” or “insect” uploaded over the history of the leading photo-sharing site Flickr. Note that the graph doesn’t show the cumulative total of insect photos on the site; rather, it shows the increase from year-to-year. Thus, even though the rate of increase slowed in 2009, the amount of insect content is still accelerating.

Interpretation of the chart is tricky. The increase may reflect several patterns: a growth in Flickr’s popularity, the growth of digital photography, and a growth in overall interest in insects.

I am particularly intrigued by the latter possibility. Is digital photography driving a renewed interest in arthropod diversity?

I would like to think so. Photography is certainly opening a new avenue for raising awareness about entomological issues and about insect conservation. But its effectiveness for outreach will depend on this pattern being driven by newcomers. If the increase in insect photos results merely from people already enthused about insects acquiring cameras, photography won’t pack nearly the same punch.

Acromyrmex versicolor