Scientist Discovers New Insect Species While Browsing Flickr Photos

California-based entomologist Shaun Winterton was browsing Flickr back in May 2011, when he discovered a new species of insect.

That’s right: he made a scientific discovery by simply looking at pictures online.

According to NPR, Winterton was looking at some pictures by Malaysian photographer Guek Hock Ping, when he spotted some photos of a green lacewing. Quite familiar with the insect, Winterton was surprised to see patterns on the wings that he had never seen before.

Here’s one of the images in the set of pictures by Guek:

After sending the photograph to some colleagues and hearing the same thing, Winterton realized that the image showed a new species of insect.

He then contacted the photographer, who informed him that the image was taken the the jungles of Malaysia. Without a specimen, however, there was no way to learn whether the image was in fact a new species — or simply some kind of outlier.

One year later, Guek returned to the spot, found another identical lacewing, and this time trapped it in a jar. The specimen was then sent to an entomologist in London and confirmed to be new. The discovery was recently published in the scientific journal ZooKeys, with the new insect named Semachrysa jade after Winterton’s daughter.

Makes you wonder: what else will be discovered by mankind by browsing online photos?

Image credit: IMG_1630 copy by Guek Hock Ping/ZooKeys and used with permission

  • cat a tonic

    Unfortunately, scientists trolling through pages of cat photos have had no such luck…

  • Darvoid

    Named after his daughter with no mention of the photographer who captured it? Wow.

  •!/thelonelylights Adam Cross

    He could have named it better, with a nod to the photographer instead of just naming it after his own daughter…

  • Maria Fernanda Gonzalez

    sucks though they should have given the photographer some credit for it, without the picture they would have never known!

  • TheLonleyPhotographer

    Should have named it after the photographer instead of the person’s daughter. IMHO :)

  • Bill

    Does being a co-author on the paper not count as credit?

  • Hornk

    Rules are you can’t name a species after yourself.

  • Tanja Schulte

    there are so many insect species (~900.000) … how did he know this one was new?
    you sure canĀ“t know all species.

  • geeztanja

    Sorry, but for someone who called America “Land of the Dumb”, that sure is a question that would make you a citizen

  • Randall “texrat” Arnold

    newly IDENTIFIED

  • Ronald Ford

    This scientist is a cnut

  • Graysmith

    I for one will call it Semachrysa Guek.

  • Sparda79

    Wow! Kurt (Guek), you made us proud again.

    Kurt Guek, is a well known photographer. He is a Canon Malaysia Macro Photography tutor. He also has been featured in several international photography magazines.

  • Benjamin Franzmayr

    That’s not correct, the photographer was made a co-author on the scientific paper – an appropriate honour and certainly not “no mention of the photographer”. The scientist would have spent years of study and fieldwork to be able to identify a new species by sight. He is the one who identified the species as new (ie he ‘discovered’ it) and it’s entirely appropriate that he can name the species. I think it’s a bit arrogant for people to give more credit for the discovery to the photographer. It’s a fantastic photo but that’s not the same thing as identifying a new species.

  • Erik Lauri Kulo

    First he took a picture of this very small insect, uploaded it, made it available for the scientist to discover and then he went out again, captured one in a jar and sent it to an entomologist in London… I’m not saying that the scientist didn’t do any work, but yeah, he should’ve named it after the photographer instead of his daughter.

  • Roberto Reyna

    Scientist’s daughter will sleep with Guek in the future. Take that selfish Shaun.

  • Jake

    Big foot, although he will be more difficult to capture…

  • peterson90210

    Identifying it as another specie does not necessarily means he discovered it. Identifying it is just that — identifying it. The credit for the discovery goes to the photographer. Should have been named after Guek’s family, not after the daughter of an armchair entomologist.

  • chiller

    wow can’t wait to see the new bugs not. i hope they don’t come to morro bay