Montana State University

MSU professor creates online photobook of regional insects

May 16, 2016 -- By Jenny Lavey, MSU News Service

Androloma maccullochii is a striking moth. The adult moth has a 10- to 13-mm forewing. The caterpillars feed on fireweed. The image is part of a new website, Insects of the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem, which features close-up images showcasing the bright colors, delicate features and habitats of regional butterflies and moths, beetles, flies, bees, wasps, ants, sawflies, grasshoppers and other types of insects. Photo courtesy of Robert Peterson.Syrphus opinator is a beautiful flower fly. The larva feeds on aphids and other small insects. The adult is 7- to 12-mm long and feeds on nectar and pollen. The image is part of a new website, Insects of the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem, which features close-up images showcasing the bright colors, delicate features and habitats of regional butterflies and moths, beetles, flies, bees, wasps, ants, sawflies, grasshoppers and other types of insects. Photo courtesy of Robert Peterson.This is a sweat bee, probably in the genus Sphecodes. Bees in this genus, characterized by their bright red abdomens, are parasites of other bees. The image is part of a new website, Insects of the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem, which features close-up images showcasing the bright colors, delicate features and habitats of regional butterflies and moths, beetles, flies, bees, wasps, ants, sawflies, grasshoppers and other types of insects. Photo courtesy of Robert Peterson.

Androloma maccullochii is a striking moth. The adult moth has a 10- to 13-mm forewing. The caterpillars feed on fireweed. The image is part of a new website, Insects of the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem, which features close-up images showcasing the bright colors, delicate features and habitats of regional butterflies and moths, beetles, flies, bees, wasps, ants, sawflies, grasshoppers and other types of insects. Photo courtesy of Robert Peterson.

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Tel: (406) 994-4571
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BOZEMAN – A Montana State University professor has created a way for people across the state of Montana and beyond to access photos of an often unseen world.

Robert Peterson, professor in MSU’s Department of Land Resources and Environmental Sciences in the College of Agriculture, has created an online collection of his photos showcasing the insect world of the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem (GYE). Peterson hopes the online photobook – which includes more than 120 images taken over a period of 14 years – will be used and appreciated by the public.

“There’s an entire, hidden world beneath our feet that’s not well understood or appreciated,” Peterson said. “Insects are the most abundant and diverse multicellular organisms in the GYE, and they play a vital role in how ecosystems function, but because they are small and people rarely see them close up, they’re overlooked in regard to their importance. This project is an effort to hopefully enhance public appreciation of, and education about, the incredible diversity and beauty of insects in the GYE.”

The website, Insects of the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem, currently features close-up images showcasing the bright colors, delicate features and habitats of regional butterflies and moths, beetles, flies, bees, wasps, ants, sawflies, grasshoppers and other types of insects. Scientific names of the insects are listed, as is brief information about the insects’ anatomy, behavior and habitat.

The GYE includes Yellowstone National Park, comprises 34,375 square miles, and is one of the largest nearly intact temperate-zone ecosystems on Earth, according to the U.S. National Park Service. Peterson said at least two out of every three species within this ecosystem are insects.

“Their diversity and abundance is staggering,” he said. “Insects aren’t viewed as charismatic as some of the large mammals in the region, but they are critical to any healthy ecosystem because they serve as pollinators that stimulate plant diversity, they’re an important food source for other organisms, they recycle nutrients and are a crucial foundation for watershed health.”

The project includes a Facebook and Twitter page as well, where Peterson posts pictures and descriptions of insects. Photographs of insects can be added indefinitely because there are thousands of species in the GYE, giving scientists plenty of insects to photograph, according to Peterson. Eventually, he hopes to incorporate images from other photographers and encourage novice entomologists to explore, identify and share findings.

“The ultimate goal is to develop an appreciation, support education and spur an awareness of this hidden world,” he said. “You don’t have to go to far-flung places to study insects; there’s a jungle right outside your backdoor. I want people to explore and – if they’re inclined – to contribute to the science of discovery.”

Contact: Robert Peterson, bpeterson@montana.edu or (406) 994-7927