A better way to barcode museum specimens

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In today’s Zootaxa, Jolley-Rogers et al propose a novel way to electronically tag insect collections:

A new, ultra-small, light-activated microtransponder (“p-Chip”) has been integrated into the heads of entomological pins to improve efficiency in collections management and research through radio frequency identification (RFID) of insect specimens. These specimens are typically small, fragile, numerous and especially difficult to track. Globally, the majority are not currently recorded in any database. The application of unique identifiers has previously proven time consuming and difficult. Permanent and integral to the specimen, each p-Chip transmits a unique serial number allowing tracking without contact and reducing the risk of damage to specimens and repetitive strain injuries (RSI) in curators. The p-Chips and the specimens they tag can be linked immediately to biodiversity web services and collections databases. Specimens can be rapidly assigned to groupings as they are sorted and their taxonomic identity refined; and accurately tracked through high throughput methods and analyses. Quite importantly, with the p-Chips, the profile of the pin head is unchanged, and there is no discernible tactile difference from standard entomological pins.
Also. Jolley-Rogers? Really? I need to coauthor a paper with this guy.

8 thoughts on “A better way to barcode museum specimens”

  1. Sounds like having the micro-RFID chip on something that can be ADDED to existing pinned / alcohol stored specimens would be required too.

    Too much of a pain to repin all gazillion existing ones but a little pinnable / addable to vial RFID paper tag would work I suppose. The RFID number schema would have to be pretty large and number conflicts pretty much inevitable.

    Not sure how this whole thing would work out ….

  2. “and reducing the risk of damage to specimens and repetitive strain injuries (RSI) in curators” – well, maybe, but more likely of benefit to the wrists of students and other minions.

  3. I entirely agree with BioBob. It could be a reasonable idea for small/new collections, but the thought of being confronted with re-pinning the entire BMNH or MCZ ant collections is frightening. Also, just how much do these new wonder-pins cost?

    1. I think the relevant calculation is whether the cost of new pins can be offset by the savings in hiring fewer people to manually enter data. My guess is yes.

      Eventually we’ll have collection robots cruising the world’s forests, passing massive amounts of material to the curation robots, who will generate data for the grant-writing robots, who will acquire more money for more collection robots.

      Can’t wait.

      1. Considering that today’s best robots compare rather unfavorably with lobotomized insects, I hold no great expectation that future robots will be capable of discriminating a bug from frass.

        Cyborgs (organic-cybernetic life) have more potential and likely utility but we are so far away from such a possibility in any short timescale is laughably miniscule. After all, selection during millions of years has already done the job of producing a wide variety of ready made intelligences.

        BTW, the pins add nothing other than a built in inventory & tracking system – someone will STILL need to manually enter the all information once at least. All that assumes already entered data isn’t lost to some hard disk crash, hack, or noob error. Our track record in this regard is truly pitiful.

  4. p-Chip was probably a good idea for small collections and may be acceptable for the time when the paper was published, but as for today, we can use a not-so-new RFID Technology, NFC, to tag insects using normal size labels that can be inserted in the insect’s pin (without the need of changing the pin). This labels use a technology able to store 1000 bites of information (a lot more than what we actually can write in a normal label), and you can read the label USING YOUR CELL PHONE !!! It can even link the insect to its database information in a remote server. In fact, I am doing that right now in a system that we are developing and is being used in a pilot project with a beetle collection and the Azuay University herbarium here in Ecuador.

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