1.8 Million Web Pages Can't Be Wrong
The Encyclopedia of Life boasts that in the coming future each living species on this planet will have their own presence on the Web. A Web page for *every single* species? All 1.8 million of them?!? Heck yes! was the underlying statement made by E.O. Wilson a few years ago when I was lucky enough to hear him lecture on his vision for the future of what scientists call taxonomy. Taxonomy is not the act of stuffing squirrels on a mossy log in an acorn-threatening stance but is the way we categorize living things. For example, if I say "Check out that red car!", you might wonder what kind - Volvo? VW? Vauxhall? Then what's the model? 240? Beetle? Astra? Or how about J.Crew's web site...Men's or Women's? Mens. Sweaters or Jeans? Sweaters. Cardigan or rollneck? - you get the idea. Well taxonomists do the same. "Check out that red bug!" tells us it probably has six legs and is likely an insect. Okay, so that narrows it down to about 80% of the world's species. Does it have a couple of hard forewings? Beetle. Now we've narrowed it down to about 350,000 described species out of 1.8 million, and we continue on. Scientists name species according to what the organism looks like, how it's DNA compares to other similar-looking life forms, what it eats, how it reproduces, if it has a tail, can it get all the Rubik's cube or just one side. The EOL gets most of its images and data from contributing scientists (I will be submitting my images of chiggers soon - no I am serious). The Encyclopedia of Life is a terrific site because it is a clearing house or giant COSTCO of species with hundreds of people involved in cataloging life. Whether you're trying to determine the distribution data for Bobkabata kabatabobbus, doing a report on monarch butterflies or just want to see some pretty pictures of bugs on flowers, then you should check it out.
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