Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Digitizing the Cicada Collection

Containing around 35,000 specimens, the William T. Davis Collection of Cicadas at the Staten Island Museum is the second largest cicada collection in the world. The majority of it was collected and curated over the course of six decades by Davis with help from friends and colleagues. During this time, Davis became an authority on the cicada family of insects, formally describing about two-thirds of the species native to North America.
Alexander Bolesta digitizing
cicada specimens in the Attic
at the Staten Island Museum

In the present day there exist many comprehensive specimen collections, such as the William T. Davis collection, that hold large amounts of data useful to researchers and curious laypeople alike, but are not in an easily accessible form. The National Science Foundation hopes to change that with the Advanced Digitization of Biological Collections (ADBC) initiative. ADBC seeks to create a digital database of the information contained in all biological and paleontological collections at museums in the United States.

The main driving forces behind ADBC are the Integrated Digitized Biocollections (iDigBio) and the Thematic Collections Networks (TCNs). iDigBio is an organization at the University of Florida in collaboration with Florida State University that supports the efforts of ADBC by building connections between institutions and strategizing about the overall digitization process. TCNs are groups of institutions that carry out the digitization of specimen information that fit a particular theme.

The American Museum of Natural History is spearheading a TCN called the Tri-trophic Collection Network (tri-trophic means three connected levels on a food chain). The three levels being looked at which constitute the “theme” part of this TCN are: first, a group of insects belonging to the biological order hemitpera (aphids, scales, hoppers, cicadas, and the so-called true bugs); second, the plants that hemipterans feed on; and third, the insects belonging to the order hymenoptera that are predators to hemipterans. Dozens of institutions are working to digitize their specimen data for the Tri-trophic Collection Network.

Being Hemipterans, the specimens that are a part of the extensive William T. Davis Collection of Cicadas fit in with the theme of the Tri-trophic Collection Network, which makes the Staten Island Museum a natural participant in the project. Work related to the Tri-trophic Collection Network began in September of 2012. So far, over four thousand cicadas, including many specimens belonging to the 17-year species that will be emerging in the New York area this spring, have had their information digitized and added to the Tri-trophic Collection Network. For more information, visit the iDigBio website: and the Tri-trophic Collection Network homepage:

-Alexander Bolesta
Curatorial Assistant, Staten Island Museum and
Database Assistant, Division of Invertebrate Zoology, American Museum of Natural History 

Saturday, February 23, 2013

Welcome to the new natural science blog


The Staten Island Museum is happy to launch our new Natural Science blog on

Please visit again as the site continues to grow in the coming weeks.  You can expect to find up-to-date information about our various citizen science projects, collections and exhibitions, discussions about the history of natural science on Staten Island and current wildlife and plant sightings from around the island.

Have a wonderful day from the Natural Science Staff at the Staten Island Museum