Two news stories that have warmed my heart in the past couple of weeks both involve non-scientists making important scientific discoveries. If you follow any biology blogs, you’ve probably heard about the new species of lacewing that was discovered on Flickr (here’s the paper describing it). Semachrysa jade was photographed by Gueg Hock Ping in Malaysia, and when entomologist Shaun Winterton saw the photo on Flickr, realized it was an undescribed species. Guek captured a specimen—necessary to confirm that the species was new—the following year. Along with Steve Brooks, another entomologist, they published the description in the open-access journal Zookeys. Interestingly, they found a second specimen of S. jade, already in a museum collection—one of perhaps millions of specimens that no one has yet realized represent new taxa.
The second story is a bit more old fashioned but exciting for a Mary Anning fan like me. The Keating family, while walking their dog, stumbled across a spectacular fossil on a rocky Nova Scotia beach. The beast is a juvenile sail-backed mammal-like reptile (maybe something like Dimetrodon) from the Carboniferous period (i.e. pre-dinosaurs). While this discovery is more low-tech than the lacewing from Flickr, what they both have in common is (1) someone with a keen eye getting out in nature and (2) the layperson connecting with scientists who can properly identify and document their find. In one case, a scientist reached out to the photographer, while in the other the family sought out experts when they found the fossil. Anyone could make the next cool biology headline.
So, in the words of Ms. Frizzle, get out there and explore!