by Susan Butts, Yale Peabody Museum of Natural History; Talia Karim, University of Colorado Museum of Natural History; Chris Norris, Yale Peabody Museum of Natural History; and Dena Smith, National Science Foundation
First let’s deal with a common misconception – iDigPaleo is an educational and outreach site developed by the Fossil Insect Collaborative TCN (FIC-TCN) and not just the paleo version of iDigBio. iDigBio is the national hub for digitized biological collections (including paleontological collections data). It aggregates collections data fed from institutions, provides a national portal for collections discovery, and feeds data to third parties including GBIF. iDigPaleo also aggregates specimen data from institutions, and much of those data overlap with iDigBio. But iDigPaleo is specifically designed for use by the K-12 community and is also a great resource for avocational paleontologists. Our team of paleontologists is developing curricula based on Next Generation Science Standards and will bring collections-based research to the classroom using the activities and tools found on iDigPaleo.
The pilot version of iDigPaleo was developed as part of the FIC-TCN with the aim of including all the digitized records of fossil insects from the partners in the project – eight funded through a grant from the National Science Foundation, together with two federal institutions. We included modern insect specimens from some of our collaborators’ collections as well, because they allow students to do classroom activities that compare modern and fossil insects. Although the current version of iDigPaleo is focused on insects, it’s intended to grow to include other paleontological projects. We are about to begin work on incorporating specimens and developing educational activities for a new project, the Cretaceous World TCN. This focuses on the marine vertebrate, invertebrate, and micro-fossils of the Cretaceous Western Interior Seaway. The classroom activities that will be developed for iDigPaleo for the Cretaceous World TCN will examine food webs and help students understand the complex ecological dynamics of a sea filled with plankton, clams, ammonoids, fish (including the giant Xiphactinus), huge turtles, and predatory mosasaurs, at the time when T. rex ruled on land.
To start using iDigPaleo, the first thing you’ll need to do is register. It isn’t mandatory – you can explore the collection online, just like any other web portal, but registering is free, and lets you save and share your own collections of specimen records and also gives you access to tools that let you do things like measure and annotate specimens. Once you’ve registered, you can browse our collections (click on BROWSE) in the same sort of way that you might browse the collections in person—by type of insect (we’ve included common names to make it easier), geologic period, or geographical region for example. You can limit your search to either fossil or modern insects, or include both. You can choose to explore all specimen records, or just those that have images using the built-in filters (filter by “has media” for only those records with images).
If you hover over a record in your results, you’ll see a tiny suitcase icon. Clicking on it will add that particular record to a group of records – a collection that you can save and return to. Clicking on the gearwheel next to your results tally at the top allows you to add all the records in the results in one go. You can create different virtual fossil collections and image galleries in your account. We call these collections “assignments”, since the main use for this iDigPaleo tool is to allow students and teachers to make sets of records for classroom activities.
Clicking on a fossil record also brings up a larger image of the fossil, plus a map showing the fossil collection locality (if the coordinates haven been provided by the museum). If you click on the image, you’ll have the opportunity to share the fossil with friends by email (we plan on adding social networks soon).
You’ll also see a menu that give you access to a set of tools that lets you add notes and text to images and make measurements of either the whole fossil or particular features. Some examples how of a class could use galleries and annotation are:
- Find and make collection of this type of fossil.
- Find and mark these features on the fossil and make notes describing the feature.
- Where do you find these fossils? What does this tell you about past environments?
- Measure an insect morphological feature. Compare it with those on modern insects.
When teachers register to use iDigPaleo, they get access to the collections that their students create (this is set up during the initial registration process) and can create and share their own collections with the class. Fossil collectors can use iDigPaleo in the same way and can share either individual records or collections. So, if you are part of a fossil club, you could create a gallery of fossils known from the location of your next field trip and share that gallery; iDigPaleo also has tools that let you create a PowerPoint presentation of your specimen images, a PDF handout, or a checklist. You could also make a gallery of museum representatives of the species in your own collection.
High school interns from the Yale Peabody Museum’s EVOLUTIONS afterschool program have created a video introduction to iDigPaleo. Fiona, one of our summer 2015 interns, has a quick introduction to iDigPaleo and the Fossil Insect Collaborative and discusses why we digitize fossils.
To learn more:
Follow us on Facebook—look for the Fossil Insect Collaborative-Digitization Project.
Explore iDigPaleo at iDigPaleo.org. We’ll be adding new fossil insects regularly as the digitization aspect of our project progresses. We hope you visit us soon!