Hock Ping Guek recently posted some photographs of an interesting looking insect to the online photo-sharing site Flickr. What Guek didn't realize was that he had unintentionally discovered a new species.
Guek (known on Flickr as Kurt) had posted a request along with his photo uploads asking for help in identifying the species of green lacewing. A few months later, insect biosystematist Dr. Shaun Winterton stumbled across Guek's photo. Not recognizing the species, Winterton reached out to Guek and the pair worked together to find another specimen in a Malaysian rainforest.
Writing on his blog, Up Close With Nature, Guek explains:
"I first saw and photographed this species in the wild in its natural habitat on May 10, 2011. A few lacewing experts informed me that this could be a new species. Luckily, I came across this beautiful species again on Jan 27, 2012. Specimen was captured and sent to Mr. Winterton."
Guek and Winteron have named the new lacewing species "Semachrysa jade."
Discovering a new species is exciting enough but the unusual route of detection has caught the attention of the scientific community. The findings were published in the scientific journal ZooKeys, stating:
"The incidental nature of this discovery is underscored by the fact that the species was initially photographed and then released, with images subsequently posted to an online image database. It was not until the images in the database were randomly examined by the professional taxonomists that it was determined that the species was in fact new. A subsequent specimen was collected at the same locality and is described herein along with another specimen identified from nearby Sabah."
And the ongoing role of social media in this discovery doesn't stop with Flickr. The Semachrysa jade already has its own Wikipedia page.