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While out and about recently, we have been uploading a few photos of plants and animals that we have seen to a web site called ‘Project Noah‘ – the Noah stands for ‘networked organisms and habitat’. Backed by National Geographic, Project Noah is a citizen science project documenting the worlds organisms.

Opening screen for Project Noah

Opening screen for Project Noah

You can use an iPhone or Android app to upload a ‘spotting’ while you are out, or, you can use the web interface of a computer to upload photos. Videos can also be included, along with notes and links to further information on other sites (Encyclopaedia of Life, Wikipedia). You can even request help with identification of your find.

Screen for data entry

Screen for data entry

The ‘field guide’ mode shows you the species that other people have found nearby. Once you find something relevant, there is often a link to additional information. It is also possible to ‘follow’ other participants, and to make comments on other peoples spottings.

Some of the arthropod species recorded nearby

Some of the arthropod species recorded nearby

Part of the goal of the app is to enable people to contribute sightings that are of particular interest to researchers. This ‘citizen science’ aspect is supported by the ability to assign photos to any relevant ‘missions’. Some of these are location based (e.g. Biodiversity of the Galapagos), while others are more focused on a particular taxonomic group (e.g. Monarch Migration). And what’s more, anyone can download the data for a mission.

Something we have found frustrating is that it is apparently not possible to search all the missions. Only some missions appear on the list you can look through. We have only discovered some of the most relevant missions to where we are (Christchurch, New Zealand) by noticing a mission link on someone else’s spotting.

You can also create your own missions, although we have been reluctant to start a new one until we can determine what is already underway nearby. This would be a great tool for a BioBlitz project.

Some of the current missions current

Some of the current missions current

Nevertheless, we are enjoying the challenge to find and document more species while we are out and about. Here is our favourite find so far – an Australian leafroller tachinid fly, introduced to NZ for biocontrol of some apple moth pest species (although we are not entirely confident that we have the correct identification).

Sighting for Project Noah 'Flies!' mission

Sighting for Project Noah ‘Flies!’ mission

We found some backswimmers in a water lily pond and bought them home to study. These bugs have an elongated pair of back legs for propulsion and swim on their backs (unlike water boatmen). They are predators, eating other pond invertebrates, including mosquito and other larvae.


They trap an air supply on hairs on their back. You can see the shiny bubble of air in the photo below.


The male animals stridulate, to attract a mate. This chirping sound is made by rubbing a rough area on their legs against their head. In spite of being underwater the sound is quite loud. When it’s quiet at night, you can hear them throughout the house. Here’s a recording of a couple of chirps.

This is the waveform. There are two short chirps three-quarters of a second apart, followed by a string of closely spaced chirps. Typically there are five chirps, but we have observed up to a six and as few as two chirps in the sequence.

Zooming in on a single chirp, it’s a 5kHz tone with an 800Hz modulation.

Silver Y caterpillar – also known as a looper caterpillar. The head is on the right in this photograph.

The youngest member of the Chaos team spotted a new type of caterpillar on a Sunflower plant. To find out what it was, he kept the caterpillar in one of our terraria, and supplied it with fresh Sunflower leaves.

The caterpillar was similar in colour to the cabbage white butterflies we also had, but a different overall pattern, shape and size. They move in the classic ‘inch worm’ style, due to having only two pairs of legs at their abdomen. Eventually it spun a relatively open cocoon,

Pupa, after the silver Y moth had emerged

This was the ornate moth that emerged several weeks later.

Silver Y moth

Silver Y moth (Chrysodeixis erisoma) is our best guess at identifying this species – identifying a moth can be challenging. There are a number of books available on New Zealand species, although none cover all of the species. Identification is further complicated by many of the images in books, and online, being of dead individuals that have their wings outspread. These can look very different, as in this.

Landcare Research provide an extensive image gallery online here.

The silver Y moth, prior to its release.

Our next goal is to find a cabbage tree moth or caterpillar – these chaps have stripes on their wings that match dead cabbage tree leaves, and apparently orient themselves on the leaves so that these line up – how cool is that?

Flickr Photos

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