TRACKING BUTTERFLIES: Students Design New App

Even though January just started, many of us are thinking about spring. You can get a taste of it at Reiman Gardens in Ames where hundreds of butterflies fly around throughout the year. Now, there’s a new way to track the important insect around the world thanks to a few Iowans.

We all see them fluttering around. Iowa State University Graduate Cameron Whipple says, “They’re amazing creatures.”

Reiman Gardens Butterfly Wing Curator Nathan Brockman says, “Butterflies are great because they’re pollinators.”

Brockman says the beautiful insects are critical to the environment. He says, “They’re also good indicators, indicator species that kind of let us know as individuals out in the wild how the habitats are doing, how the environment is doing, how insect populations are doing.”

But, there was no standard way of tracking butterflies around the world. So, Brockman asked four Iowa State University Computer Engineering students to design an app to do just that.

Whipple was part of the team. He says, “We needed to come together to figure out what all information do we need to collect to be able to basically make it so it will work for everybody.”

The team spent about a year developing the Unified Butterfly Recorder. Users just tap on the type of butterfly they see, how many and where. You can even take a picture. Brockman says, “And it will record GPS points, the time you saw it, tying it all together, information you put in, like the weather information, things along those lines.”

You don’t have to be an expert on butterflies to use the app. You just have to have an android device, for now, and then start tracking. Brockman says, “We’re actually trying to make this app so that anyone around the world can use it anywhere. One of the pieces we’re working on right now, or the students are working on, is putting in the other languages.”

Several dozen people around the world are using the app so far. Whipple says, “Being able to actually build an app that is going to help and hopefully revolutionize the way conservation efforts is done is really, really cool.”

The Unified Butterfly Recorder App is now available in the Google Play Store. Look for the icon of a monarch butterfly under “Apps.” Creators hope to have it available for apple users by next year.



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