Sharing Your Historical Data with eButterfly

By Peter Hall, Ottawa, OntarioShort-Tail Swallowtail Photo Peter Hall

My butterfly watching began in childhood when I chased a Cabbage White around a schoolyard in Ajax, Ontario, and caught it in my cap. Almost sixty years later I’m still at it. In the early days, I did some collecting, but did not keep any field notes as there was nobody to share my observations with. While a teenager, I met a fellow enthusiast and we discovered the first Peterson butterfly field guide. We became a network of two. Now butterfly enthusiasts have multiple field guides, many local networks and eButterfly.

In the early 1980s, I started keeping detailed field notes – species seen, where, when and how many. Again, I had no way to share these with others, so it was word of mouth to alert a few more interested friends of what I had seen. Since that time I have also been photographing butterflies, first slides then digital, and have collected some voucher specimens which are all now in the Canadian National Collection of insects in Ottawa. Most importantly, I got help from Ross Layberry and databased all my field notes in spreadsheets. Still, there was no place on our computers to make this data available. Then came the Global Biodiversity Information Facility and suddenly all this data had a home for others, including scientists, to view and use it worldwide.


Now we have eButterfly and after several years of talking with Max L’arrivee about how to integrate all this data and images, we are moving towards the technological solutions to make it happen. My almost 10,000 record databases of mostly Canadian observations will soon be uploaded in bulk to eButterfly. It’s a dream come true to have all my records and images in one place.

One final step for me was to consider what to do with my U.S. records that sat in paper checklists in the back of local and state butterfly books that I had collected over the years on my visits across the continent. Most of these records in the checklists were annotated with locations and dates but not usually numbers of each species. I set about placing them in eButterfly. Some were far from complete with the necessary data, but happily, by cross-referencing my butterfly checklists with my sometimes more detailed bird checklists – yes, I’m also a birder – I was able to make more sense of my butterfly records. In addition, my very organized wife, Judy, had also kept all our annual calendars over the years and they had dates for all our trips. I was also able to dig out some old butterfly slides taken in my travels and on each I had placed the location and date that they were photographed. I got these slide images digitized. Of course, some sightings simply didn’t have enough data to accurately enter them in eButterfly, so they will have to remain off the list.

Once I had completed my U.S. records in eButterfly, I checked the Top 100 Lists on the Explore eButterfly page and I was surprised to see my name in the number one spot for species seen and there are still more species to be added with the bulk upload that eButterfly folks will be completing this fall and winter. However, this is not what is important. I know others will continue to build their lists and far surpass my totals. What is personally important for me is to get all my records in one place. Even more important is to make all those historical records available to the scientific world, through eButterfly, for comparative studies of species distributions over time.