It’s always a thrill to see the first specimen of an expedition and, if you’re like me, you’ll be eager to get started. However, before you start transcribing data it is important to learn a little bit about the project and the nature of the information you will encounter.

As soon as you join our expedition on Notes from Nature, you will get to a brief welcome and general information page. Once you read that and push the “Let’s Go!” button, you’ll see your first specimen.

First thing you need to know: there are two images for each butterfly specimen, a dorsal view and a ventral view. And, yes, you guessed right, you will need to look at both images to make sure you do not miss any important information. You can switch from a side-by-side view (as in the image below) to a single image view by clicking the icon on the lower left corner of the image. (There’s also a nifty ‘play’ mode in which the images flip from one to the other automatically. Fun! But I digress…) Use the icons on the top right side of the image to zoom in or out, and to move the image as you desire.

Our tutorial contains specific guidelines for each data field, but if you get stuck with a complicated label or have any question while you transcribe data, please get in touch with us.

Geographic Location:

That’s the Country, State, and County in which the specimen was collected. Select the appropriate information from the drop-down menu, starting with country. Note that country may not be explicitly stated on the label. For the first expedition all specimens are from the USA and Canada, but that may not be true for future expeditions. If you are unfamiliar with the geographic names in the label, it’s alright to search online for help.

Useful Tip: When the country cannot be unambiguously inferred from other locality data, choose “Unknown country” and leave State and County blank.

(Click on the images to see up close.)

Typical Label

locality: Coral Harbour
state: N.W.T. (that’s Northwest Territory)
country: Canada



1. Country, State, and/or County may be missing

If country information can be inferred, add it. If it cannot, select “Unknown country”.


2. Sometimes the label is illegible and no geographic information can be obtained

If no locality information is available or if it is illegible, select “Unknown country” and move on.



3. Geographic information may not be at the very top of the label.

O. jutta reducta
Isl. Park IDA.

Our specimen have a peculiarity: many contain taxonomic information (genus, species, subspecies) on the top 1-2 lines of the label. That info is frequently hand-written, abbreviated, or even illegible.  Watch out not to include that info in the locality name (see below).


This is the information that describes the actual place where the specimen was originally collected, and where, if necessary, we might find the original population to which our specimen belonged. It does not include country, state, county, or elevation. You might need to combine several phrases from the label that are not immediately adjacent to one another to complete this entry. It’s alright to search online for help with locality names.

Useful Tip: Sometimes the locality information as we describe is not available in the specimen label.

(Click on the images to see up close.)


Latitude and longitude:

In case you encounter latitude and longitude information in a specimen label, copy that information in the appropriate fields exactly as you see it in the label.  If no lat/long is available leave the fields blank.

Useful Tip: You can produce the degree symbol ° using key combinations (alt + shift + 8 on a mac; alt + 0176 on a PC, with the key pad on the right side of your keyboard).

Elevation of the locality where the specimen was found:

You may encounter “10 m” or “10 meters”; single elevation (1500ft) or elevation range (10-200m). In any case, just copy the information as it is on the label. There is not need to convert the units.

Collection Dates:

This is the month, day and year that the specimen was collected. The date format may vary greatly between specimens. In our expeditions you may find the month in Roman numerals, upper case (I, V, X) or lower case (i, v, x). There are also abbreviations for the month (example: Mar. for March) and year (example: preceded by an apostrophe as ’78 for 1978 or not as 03 for 2003), or the year missing all together.

Useful Tips: If you come across a Roman numeral between 1 and 12 in the specimen label, that is very likely the month. Most of our specimens were collected in the 1900’s (1900 to 1999) so if the year is given with only two digits, it is safe to assume that the year of collection falls in that time interval. A collecting date like 01/02/35 can be tricky. For specimens collected in the USA, you can assume that the format is Month-Day-Year so 01/02/35 is January 2, 1935.


Male or female. If sex is not noted, please select “Not Shown”. If present these will be denoted with the symbol ♂ or ♀ or “m” of “f.”

Taxonomic information:

A few of the butterflies in this expedition have a separate taxonomic identification label (determination label) attached to the specimen. That kind of label usually contains the taxonomic name (genus, species and sometimes subspecies), the author of the species, the name of the person who identified the specimen (the determiner), and the year the id was done.

Sometimes the taxonomic info is written on the top line of the locality label. It is common for the genus name, and even the species name, to be limited to the first letter followed by a period and a space followed by a species or subspecies name.

O. melissa gibsoni
O. m. gibsoni

Other notes:

A field for information that does not fit in the standard data fields. For this expedition, we ask that you report on the presence of:

Detached body parts: Every portion of a museum specimen is important. When parts of the specimen’s body break off accidentally or are dissected for scientific purposes, those parts must be kept in association w/ the specimen. We do that by placing the excised body parts in small glass or plastic vials or pill caps and attaching those to the insect pin. Enter that information in the “Other notes” field as follows: Genitalia vial attached OR Pill cap attached.

That’s it for our project tutorial. We hope it will be helpful to you as you embark on this expedition with us. Please feel free to contact us if you have any questions while you transcribe data.

Thank you again for volunteering your time and expertise to help us achieve our goals. Have fun transcribing and keep in touch!