Photographer Hock Ping Guek of Malaysia captured some shots of a lacewing in May of 2011, and uploaded the photos to his Flickr stream — what he didn’t realize at the time was that he had found a completely new species of insect. It wasn’t until taxonomist Shaun Winterton was flicking through images of insects on Flickr and noticed the bug that an inkling of its uniqueness came to light. Who says spending hours browsing photos is a waste of time?
Winterton contacted Guek, but unfortunately the insect was long gone by then. But in 2012, Guek captured and photographed another specimen, which Winterton had him send to an entomologist in London. With a specimen and an some research, they were able to prove that this pale green lacewing with black lines on its wings is a new species.
The insect has been dubbed Semachrysa jade, after Winterton’s daughter, and the story of its discovery has been published in the journal ZooKeys (pdf, online). Since ZooKeys is an open access journal, the images have also been released over WikiMedia Commons, and the paper was written between all three contributors working from different continents.
Guek had talked a bit about the experience on his blog, and this whole process is an astonishing testament to how interconnected much of the world is now. A Malaysian photographer snapped a shot of an insect, which an American scientist saw and recognized while randomly looking through images on Flickr, then a sample was sent to a British entomologist, all three wrote the paper together over Google Docs, published it in an open access journal with the images released into the creative commons, and blogged about it.
But I still think Guek deserved naming rights.