Aug. 13, 2012 at 1:36 PM ET
A pretty picture of bug posted to a social media website led to the real-world discovery of a new species of green lacewing in the Malaysian rainforest.
Guek Hock Ping took photos of the green lacewing and posted them to photo-sharing site Flickr where entomologist Shaun Winterton from the California Department of Food and Agriculture stumbled upon them.
A network of black lines and flecks of blue were something the expert had never seen before. He shot Ping an email.
Unfortunately for science, Ping said he’d taken the pictures and let the bug fly away. No bug captured, no bug for analysis.
A year later, however, the photographer was back in the forest and found another green lacewing. This time he captured it for the sake of science and emailed Winterton with the news.
The entomologist arranged for the specimen to be sent to colleague Steve Brooks at the National History Museum of London, who found a matching unclassified specimen in the museum’s archives.
Working together via Google Docs, the trio wrote a paper describing the lacewing, which they named Semachrysa jade. The paper was published in the latest issue of the open-source biodiversity journal ZooKeys.
Given the number of photographers out there with high-quality camers and posting their work online for the world to see, Winterton told NPR that many more such discoveries are forthcoming.