We need your help to decipher some buggy handwriting

We need your help to decipher some buggy handwriting

In 2018, Curator Invertebrates Julia Kasper put out a call for enthusiastic code crackers to decipher entomologist George Hudson’s handwritten collection records, in her post Help crack the insect code. Approximately 80 people contacted Te Papa and asked about more information and how they could help with the research, and now Julia is putting out the call for volunteers again.

Of those 80 people, 20 have contributed enormously to the Hudson Collection crowd-sourcing project, deciphering one of Hudson’s notes and transferring this information into an Excel spreadsheet. One page means approximately between 50 and 75 collection events, with one or more specimens of an insect species respectively. Many transcribers have done multiple pages – one particular hero, Mark, has done more than 1,500 transcriptions!

The Hudson Collection

Drawer with cicadas. Photo by Jean-Claude Stahl. Te Papa

Once the citizen scientists and busy transcribers have sent in their spreadsheets, our entomologists then edit the lists in order to standardise the data, e.g. locations and date formats. The species names also need checking as many of the names Hudson used are not valid anymore, so sometimes time-consuming research is needed to find the current scientific name for a certain insect. Only after this has been done can the transcriptions be transferred into our database and then included on Collections Online.

Can you help with the task ahead?

The three registers that need deciphering. Photo by Julia Kasper. Te Papa

Currently Volume 2 with all the beetles is under review and will hopefully be available for everyone via our website soon. There is not much left of the beetles but Volume 3 is divided as follows:

  • Of 70 pages with Diptera, with flies, 50 have been transcribed (of which most are already online) with 20 pages to go
  • Of 10 pages of Orthoptera with wētā and grasshoppers, only 2 have been transcribed so far
  • Of 20 pages with Hemiptera, with cicadas, there are still 14 pages left
  • Only a third of the 30 pages filled with Hymenoptera (mainly wasps) have been done so far
  • Of 30 pages with aquatics, 8 are transcribed and 22 two are still available.

Hudson was a moth specialist, which makes Volume 1, with mainly Lepidoptera, his most valuable register of his amazing moth collection. But this is also the most challenging register to transcribe. It is filled with tiny little notes and remarks – the space never enough for all his collections – so he wrote in between lines and even glued pieces of paper into the book to add more information. This volume has barely been touched and still waits for keen transcribers.

A page of hand-written notes in red and black ink.
Example page of notes on Diptera (flies). Photo by Julia Kasper. Te Papa

This is especially important as there is a research project called “100 years moths” that aims to contribute data in order to get a better understanding of the global insect decline. Every month keen Kiwis are monitoring moths at Zealandia at night with bright light traps. The recent data need to be compared with previous studies from the same area, with Hudson’s Karori samples the oldest and most comprehensive we have. Without digitising his handwritten notes, we won’t be able to analyse his findings and compare it with the more recent results.

If you would like to assist with the Hudson research project please contact Julia.kasper@tepapa.govt.nz who will let you know what’s entailed and can discuss which pages you’d like to decipher.

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