Montana State University

Big Sky Institute revamps website featuring thousands of North American butterflies, moths

February 8, 2011 -- MSU News Service

This Blue Copper Female is one of thousands of North American butterflies and moths featured on a website maintained by MSU's Big Sky Institute. (Photo courtesy of Paul Opler, BAMONA).   High-Res Available

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MSU News Service
Tel: (406) 994-4571
BOZEMAN -- A comprehensive website featuring thousands of North American butterflies and moths has recently been revamped so scientists, hobbyists and the general public will find it easier to use and even more helpful.

Montana State University's Big Sky Institute hosts the Butterflies and Moths of North America (BAMONA) project and has recently overhauled its website at Since 2004, the U.S. Geological Survey's National Biological Information Infrastructure (NBII) Network has funded the Big Sky Institute's efforts to collect and share data via a modern interactive and searchable online database.

"It's really exciting to see so many people energized by the new site. In the first three weeks alone, we've had more than 350 new users register accounts and nearly 2,100 new records submitted," said Kelly Lotts, project coordinator for BAMONA.

There is a critical need for a comprehensive, high quality database for scientists studying North American species of butterflies and moths, which can be valuable indicator species for monitoring climate and ecosystem changes, Lotts added. BAMONA offers easily accessible, digitized, and reliable species data in one location. The site also provides public access via species pages that contain identification tips and life history information, a distribution map of verified records, and vibrant images.

BAMONA requires lots of scientifically credible data, and citizen scientists are encouraged to participate, Lotts said. She added that the website overhaul has transformed both data collection and dissemination. Submitting records is now much more efficient: a photo upload, a few mouse clicks from logged in users, and verification by BAMONA's dedicated volunteer expert coordinators replace an outdated multi-step email process.

Verified records are immediately available on the home page, species pages, and a "What's New?" section. New interactive Google-based maps enable the display of any verified sighting, including Canadian data that was conspicuously absent on the previous site. Visitors can zoom, click on dots pin-pointing sighting locations, and see the details of each sighting record - all features not available previously. Visitors with user accounts can also track the progress of their sightings and view their contributed photos through new tools for logged-in users.

The BAMONA project has its roots in U.S. county-level data collection efforts begun in 1995 by the USGS Northern Prairie Wildlife Research Center (NPWRC). Lotts said the partnership between the Big Sky Institute and the USGS NBII has been a natural collaboration between organizations that recognize the value of easily accessible, digitized, and reliable information to support scientific research and resource management - and the expanding role of citizen science in such efforts.

The first BAMONA website was launched in 2006. Both usage and participation soared in the ensuing years, Lotts said. Monthly highs of 28,000 unique visitors and 50,000 page views in 2006 grew to highs of 111,000 visitors and over 1.3 million page views in 2010. Now, the BAMONA website provides access to more than 281,000 occurrence records, over 3,100 photographs, and more than 4,600 species pages.

The new site uses cutting edge technology and a vast network of recreational and professional lepidopterists to once again transform the project.

What's next for the BAMONA team?

"In the short term, collecting and displaying more Canadian data from partners is a high priority, as is making our data available through tools on the NBII website," Lotts said. "In the long run, we envision mapping host plant information and developing a smartphone application for easy sighting submissions."

The BAMONA website is housed, developed, and managed at the Big Sky Institute by Lotts ( and Thomas Naberhaus (, with scientific oversight from Paul A. Opler. It is supported through a partnership among the USGS National Biological Information Infrastructure (NBII), the NBII Pollinators Project, the Big Sky Institute , and the USGS Northern Prairie Wildlife Research Center.

Evelyn Boswell, (406) 994-5135 or