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Citizen science and global biodiversity
Citizen science and global biodiversity

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1.1 Identifying Katie’s moth

Week 1 told a story about six-year-old Katie from England, who in 2009 discovered an unusual furry moth on her windowsill. Curious to find out what it was, she showed it to her dad, who helped her to post a picture of the moth o iSpot, in order to determine its species identity.

This example provides a useful demonstration of the process of coming to an identification by using a range of support services and resources. The iSpot team were intrigued by Katie’s unusual and distinctive post. The curator of the site suggested that the image might have been that of a euonymus leaf-notcher. But he wasn’t sure of this identification, not least because this species had never been seen before in the UK – nor, indeed, anywhere in Europe.

Within 24 hours, the iSpot curator’s identification had been confirmed within the iSpot online community by an expert at the Natural History Museum in London, with further confirmation coming from an expert from Thailand. The euonymus leaf-notcher is actually native to parts of Southeast Asia, including Thailand, China and Japan. It has been accidentally introduced to a small area of the USA (where it has established itself but does not seem to be spreading much) and then to the UK.

It is unclear how the moth arrived in the UK, but the most likely explanation is that its caterpillars were transported on some of the euonymus plants on which they feed. It is a possible unintended consequence of the global trade in garden plants.

The moth was dead when Katie found it, but the specimen was kept and passed on to the Natural History Museum in London. There it forms part of the long-term record of changes to wildlife in the UK and can be examined by other experts wanting to know about it.