Scientists address those buggy questions online
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The scientists at Bishop Museum know their stuff, but they're tucked away in their research labs and we're out here with our questions. Like: What is that creepy, too-big-to-be-a-lizard thing on my porch?
A new online service, "Ask a Bishop Museum Scientist," offers inquiring minds the chance to post questions and collect answers via digital cameras and the Internet.
It's all part of an effort to make the museum's staff more approachable.
Knowledge, after all, is a terrible thing to waste.
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CINDY ELLEN RUSSELL / CRUSSELL@STARBULLETIN.COM
Shelley Anne James holds a jar containing a Heterocentrotus mamillatus, or the red pencil urchin, (ha 'uke'uke 'ula'ula in Hawaiian) in her office at the Pacific Center for Molecular Biodiversity located in the Bishop Museum. James is a botanist who helped implement the Ask a Bishop Museum Scientist program where people post images of strange flora and fauna to be identified by the staff. On her computer monitor is a photo that was posted on the museum's flickr account of the rare native hibiscus Hibiscadelphus giffardianus or hau kuahiwi in Hawaiian.
Scientists answer questions online
What is that ugly bug in the back yard? Or that funny-looking plant?
A new online forum, "Ask a Bishop Museum Scientist," provides experts to help answer such mysteries.
Launched late last year, the program is drawing posts from residents seeking information on everything from suspicious spiders and creepy critters to lizards and interesting plants.
Shelley Anne James, the program's founder, said participants sign up accounts with flickr.com, then are able to post photos and ask questions. Providing information such as where the organism was found, its size, color, scent, habitat or physical description, helps museum scientists make an accurate identification.
For example, "rodrock_21" sent in a shot of "a cool lizard" found in a Kalihi backyard. C.H. Kishinami, collections manager of vertebrates, identified it as an Alonis carolinesis, or green anole, a member of the family iguanidae, which includes iguanas.
"J_Crowl" posted a photo of a creeping yellow flower located in a rocky coastal area near Green Sand Beach on the Big Island. James identified the flower as a member of the daisy family. The Hawaiian name is nehe, and it is found on all of the main Hawaiian Islands, most commonly along the coast.
It usually takes three days to receive a response, depending upon the amount of research needed or if scientists are away on field work, James said. "If it is a plant, sometimes I have an answer in 20 minutes."
Insects can prove trickier, and James typically sends them to an entomologist for review. "You have to look at an insect from all angles ... at all their bits and pieces," she said. Since insects can appear similar, an examination of the genitalia is sometimes the only way to make a proper identification, she said.
The program is limited to organisms in Hawaii. James said it serves a need for science outreach. "I'd really like to attract more schoolchildren. The whole idea behind this is to get people to think more about what a scientist does."
The museum has participated in biological and geographical studies for more than a century. In 1992, Hawaii became the first state to conduct a biological inventory of all organisms, creating bibliographic and taxonomic databases. More than 25,600 species that inhabit the islands and surrounding oceans have been identified.
James hopes that through the ask-a-scientist program, that number of identified organisms continues to grow.
After all, residents are Hawaii's first line of defense against invasive species.
To post a question, visit www.bishopmuseum.org
; click on the "Ask A Bishop Museum Scientist" tab. Call 847-3511.