Harvard University's Caribbean Insects: About Us

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Databasing & Imaging

The addition of specimen data and high quality digital images into a well structured, web-enabled database turns a traditional museum collection into a scientific tool readily accessible to the global community. MANTIS (Manager of Taxonomic Information and Specimens, click on link for free download) is a standalone FileMaker Pro database application developed by Dr. Piotr Naskrecki (of Conservation International), which in addition to specimen and taxonomic data, has the capacity to store images and sounds. MANTIS also has managers of citations, specimen loans, addresses, can export files to the mapping software IMAP, and has a web-friendly interface.

The Procedure
Following insect collection and preparation (see Collection and Preparation), each specimen is assigned a unique barcode label and is ready to be databased. A scanner, similar to those used in supermarkets, reads the labels and automatically creates a record in the database linked to the bar code where individual information can be added. The database takes as much information as is available, and grows with time. Many of the specimens collected on our trip have so far only been identified to the family level. Because each specimen can be traced from its unique bar code number, more information can be added at any time. The web interface will permit unidentified specimens to be identified by experts around the world through the images in the database online (see "search the databases").

High quality digital images
of representatives of each species are taken by students and staff in the lab on this fieldtrip. The onsite set-up was designed by our MCZ staff who are responsible for the database of type specimens in the MCZ Department of Entomology. The set-up consisted of two Nikon DX1 cameras for larger specimens, and one Coolpix/Leica microscope setup for smaller ones. For very small specimens where the depth of field was narrow the "3D" imaging program Auto-Montage (Syncroscopy) was run from a Toshiba laptop.

Auto-Montage is software that generates one, fully in focus image from a series of photos taken through the range of focus (see comparison of photos opposite).This chrysomelid beetle (genus Chalcosicya) is a species endemic to the Dominican Republic. It is very small, about 3mm long, and is very rounded in shape, the kind of specimen which is impossible to see in full focus under a microscope at high magnification, and therefore impossible to photograph effectively. Auto-Montage software permits the external characters of this chrysomelid beetle to be viewed from a photograph, more than can be seen at one moment under the microscope.

This exercise provided the participants with direct experience of the newest techniques of collecting and preparing specimens for data and image capture for distribution of the information via the internet, tne future of biodiversity and conservation studies.

The Portable Imaging Set-Up

This set up is the most portable and economical solution for imaging small specimens that we have found.

The important elements are labeled here. Pictured is a Leica MZ12.5 microscope, but almost any dissecting microscope will do. We have a Coolpix 990, but CP950 and CP995 are also suitable. The accessories needed are an adapter (from LM-scope, MVIA or Mark Simmons) to allow the camera to sit in the place of the eyepiece of the scope plus a remote control to avoid movement while taking pictures. A power supply cable rather than batteries is also recommended. A full screen live image is preferable for accurate focusing and previewing, but not essential since the LCD display on the camera is adequate. For a full screen live image a TV can be connected via the video out port on the camera, or an analog to digital converter can be used to connect the camera directly to the computer monitor. The important elements for Auto-Montage are a sliding optics carrier to position the camera directly above the specimen rather than to one side to avoid the parallax problem, and fine focus so that small increments between the different levels of focus can be achieved.

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