Help crack the insect code

Help crack the insect code

Do you love insects and puzzles? This is your chance to make entomology history. We need help matching thousands of specimens to their records from three handwritten books by New Zealand entomologist George Hudson. Curator Terrestrial Invertebrates Julia Kasper explains the details. 

Moths from the Hudson Collection
Moths from the Hudson Collection. Photo by Rachael Hockridge, 2018. Te Papa

What is the Hudson Collection?

The Hudson Collection consists of several thousand dry mounted insects collected between the years 1881 and 1946 by George Hudson, and is perhaps the best private insect collection ever made in New Zealand.

It’s housed in nine beautiful kauri cabinets, which altogether hold 162 glass-topped wooden drawers, scientific letters, and original insect drawings.

The collection is extremely valuable not only as a research and reference collection, but as an early record of the New Zealand insect fauna, especially of the Wellington region.

Julia Kasper shown with the kauri cabinets used to home the Hudson Collection
Julia Kasper shown with the kauri cabinets used to home the Hudson Collection, 2018. Photo by Rachael Hockridge. Te Papa
A selection of mounted flies
Flies from the Hudson Collection. Te Papa
Puriri moths
Puriri moths. Photo by Rachael Hockridge, 2018. Te Papa

The task at hand

We’re looking for enthusiastic code crackers to decipher Hudson’s handwritten collection records.

Inputted into a database, the data you collect will be used by conservation entomologists to compare the status of present day fauna with that of a century ago, and to discover changes due to modification of the environment.

A selection of mounted beetles
Beetles in the Hudson Collection. Photo by Rachael Hockridge, 2018. Te Papa

Hudson’s three registers are the only way we can understand the collection. However, they can be very hard to read.

Hudson invented his own coding system for labeling his specimens. This, combined with his idiosyncratic handwriting, tendency to change names, and delete numbers of specimens, makes for quite the challenge when capturing data. In short, his registers were living documents that changed with the collection.

Crowdsourcing in museums

Museums in New Zealand and overseas are already benefiting from the help of digital volunteers.

At the Smithsonian, 11,710 ‘volunpeers’ have helped transcribe a total of 386,567pages of field notes, diaries, ledgers, logbooks, currency proof sheets, photo albums, manuscripts, biodiversity specimens labels since June 2013.

Auckland War Memorial Museum also have their public helpers, and maybe you’ve already helped Te Papa to bring the Atkins diaries to life.

Julia Kasper holding the three registers that need deciphering
Julia Kasper holding the three registers that need deciphering, 2018. Photo by Rachael Hockridge. Te Papa

How to help

We’ve scanned every page of these fragile aging registers in high resolution.

In doing so, it’s now possible to share and magnify the writing and transfer the data into a database without touching the vulnerable originals.

An example page from Hudson’s registers

The three registers consist of approximately 350 handwritten double-pages each:

Volume 1: Lepidoptera (butterflies and moths), Neuroptera (net-winged flies e.g. lacewings)

Volume 2: Coleoptera (beetles)

Volume 3: Diptera (flies), Orthoptera (grasshoppers and wetas), Hemiptera (e.g.cicadas), Hymenoptera (e.g. wasps)

You can decipher as much or as little as you like. For instance you might like to pick your favourite insect group.

The pictures of the registers as well as your transcriptions won’t have any copyrights and once the transcription is completed, the data will be available to access via Te Papa’s Collections Online website.

To help, contact I’ll let you know what’s entailed and we can discuss which pages you’d like to decipher.

Be part of this unique joint venture of New Zealand scientific history and future research.

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