TOOLS: Name That Bug

Science  12 Jan 2001:
Vol. 291, Issue 5502, pp. 215
DOI: 10.1126/science.10.1126/SCIENCE.291.5502.215A

To identify an insect, an entomologist will narrow it down by taking close note of the creature's appearance. Two wings means it's some species of fly, for instance; eight legs, an arachnid. A nifty new software plug-in called LucID makes it easy to build taxonomic “keys” on the Web. To see how it works, download a key for parasitiformes mites created by mite expert Dave Walter of the University of Queensland (UQ), Australia. You'll get a list of various body parts—say, sperm organ or stigmata—which lead to pop-up windows showing close-ups of these features. Choose among images (e.g., barbed legs vs. smooth), and eventually you winnow 46 taxa to just one.

The keys are a big hit among students, Walter says: “The response is fantastic.” Indeed, UQ's Centre for Pest Information Technology and Transfer, which is developing LucID, hopes it will prove useful for everyone from biology professors to farmers to doctors identifying tumors. The standard plug-in is free; a builder's version costs US$280.

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