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The butterfly net is one of the commonest pieces of equipment used by an entomologist. The butterfly net is used to catch flying insects and the bag is not suited to being swept through the undergrowth. This is a type of butterfly net with a distinctive kite-shaped opening.
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It's easy to see why we like them: their boldly patterned wings can be beautiful, even jewel-like, and we usually find them fluttering leisurely through hedgerows and flower gardens and not, say, burrowing through rotting wood, or hovering over dumpsters. People have liked butterflies for a very long time, too. Many of the first entomologists "studiers of insects" began as amateur butterfly enthusiasts.

Some took on butterfly catching as a lifelong hobby, and left behind massive collections of pinned specimens accompanied by meticulous descriptions of the life stages and host plants of different species. Unfortunately, a lot of this information is out of reach of the broader scientific community, either gathering dust in the attics of private collections or hidden in the unturned pages of ancient field guides.

To kick off the ButterflyNet project we are producing a complete species-level butterfly phylogeny, the first of any major insect clade, that will let us organize the approximately 18, butterfly species according to their evolutionary relationships. To each species we will then attach all available data on geographic distributions, host plant associations, and other interesting life history traits, collected and compiled from digitized field guides and online resources.

When our work is done, the accumulated knowledge from centuries of observations and ongoing research will be made available through ButterflyNet to expert scientists and amateur butterfly enthusiasts alike. We are in the process of assembling a molecular phylogeny that will reveal once and for all the evolutionary relationships of all 18, species within the butterfly superfamily Papilionoidea, as defined by van Nieukerken.

Butterfly Net

To do this, we are using two types of sampling. We are using a specially designed anchored hybrid enrichment probe set to target around loci within the generalized butterfly genome. These loci include 10 "standard" loci that have been used in butterfly phylogenetic research for many years. We will then map the rest of the 16, species in Papilionoidea onto this highly resolved phylogeny backbone.

This will have the added benefit of allowing us to combine our results with sequence data generated from previous research on butterflies, which will let us estimate evolutionary relationships within each genus with a great deal of confidence!

Summer Fun Butterfly Net

Hunting butterflies used to be a fairly popular hobby, and most collectors were very good at finding them! In the past, researchers had to go through museums and field guides to get at this information which would be scattered, if it was preserved at all.

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Species distribution information is the foundation of most biodiversity research. We plan on combining the disparate sources of species occurrence data described above with modern environmental modeling techniques to produce a "Map of Butterflies," a record of previous and current species distributions supported by ongoing observations from the butterfly enthusiast community.

As part of this work, we are using data and infrastructure from the Map of Life to develop maps and methods of characterizing the geographical distribution of butterfly species worldwide. The ButterflyNet online trait data extraction and atomization database is now online! It is interesting enough to know what types of ecological and life history traits different butterfly species have, but matching this information with our phylogeny and distribution map will give future comparative studies great weight and significance.

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