A new Android-based program from the online biodiversity site AntWeb:

The Urban Ant Collector app is an Android app that allows you to collect and record data just like a professional scientist. It uses Open Data Kit, a free and open-source set of tools which help organizations author, field, and manage mobile data collection solutions.

Each time you find an ant in a new location, you’ll use this app to:

  1. Photograph the ant
  2. Enter basic information on the ant’s location
  3. Enter basic information about yourself, the collector
  4. Create a collection number for mailing a sample specimen to the California Academy of Sciences

It seems silly to me that we in the U.S. lack a national biodiversity survey program. That is, there’s no biology equivalent to USGS. Our knowledge of where species occur in our country is- and I’m really not kidding- a haphazard history of where collectors have gone on vacation. As a result some parts of the continent are basically black holes. Try finding a comprehensive list of the ants of Kentucky, for example. It doesn’t exist.

That's right. No reliable records of the ubiquitous Formica field ants in Kentucky (via Kye Hedlund)

For most insects we remain with only a vague idea about what is found where. Without baseline knowledge, it is next to impossible to determine if any particular species is in danger of extinction. We can’t effectively track the spread of pests. We can’t test to see if climate change is shifting species ranges. This is a big problem.

In the absence of a serious public commitment to biodiversity, we can augment the efforts of entomological professionals by tapping into the much larger pool of nature enthusiasts. With orders of magnitude more people on the lookout for insects, and in places where entomologists don’t often visit, these initiatives are guaranteed to make significant discoveries.  Especially if contributors take care to send in physical specimens so that trained taxonomists can verify the identification.

Thus, the Urban Ant Collector is a great idea. Now, if someone would just buy me an Android so I could participate…