Natural History Photographs


What's new?
8 September 2019

In my previous note, I introduced the possibility to search on common names in English, Dutch and German - mentioning the possibility that this functionality might be extended to other languages in the future. By now I have found some useful resources on common names in several new languages, French, Swedisch and Norwegian. For these languages, I have now included common names for plants, dragon- and damselflies, butterflies, and birds.

Which scientific name to use for some taxon is often problematic, as despite the fact that scientific naming is strictly regulated, various authoritative resources often contradict each other on specific details. But at least there are agreed upon rules, and such discrepancies in taxonomy can in principle be resolved. The choice for common names is far less regulated than that of scientific names though - it might even be fair to say it's not regulated at all. So even if I found some lists with common names, how relevant these are is hard to tell. I didn't include all the common names I found (sometimes there are many for a single species), so if you search on a common name and find nothing, this could mean I didn't include the name you searched for even though I have photos of that species. Searching for scientific names thus is still more reliable...

25 May 2019

Because of the sheer size of Natural History Photographs, it seems unlikely that its usage will ever be completely "frictionless"; nonetheless, any reduction in the friction of usage is attractive. In my previous note, I described various adjustments that hopefully have streamlined the use of NHP. But from early on, a significant limitation of NHP has been that one could only search it for scientific names. This made the site less accessible for visitors uncomfortable with these names. And although it's true that not all orgnanisms shown have common names, many do have them and allowing to search for these would reduce the friction of usage.

Shortly after we implemented the previous improvements, we started working on the "searching-with-common-names" challenge. My wife Karen addressed the technical aspects, while I started to build a "translation table," i.e. an Excel-file with both scientific and common names. For the time being, the common names will be restricted to English, Dutch and German - but other languages may follow in the future. The technical problems have by now mostly been resolved, while the collection of common names in the various languages is still in full swing. Nonetheless, by now more than a few thousand common names can be used, and hence I herewith "officially announce" the new feature!

14 May 2019

During the winter of 2019 I worked on the pages dedicated to my travels to Crete and Aosta - but this isn't something 'new,' rather business as usual. Yet during this work I adopted a new standard for the sizes of the photos show on Natural History Photographs. This had to do with a new screen on my computer, with higher pixel dimensions. At the new screen, my photos looked much smaller than before, which was not the intention behind purchasing a new screen. To make optimal use of the screen, I adopted a new convention, namely that the vertical dimension of the photos is always 1000 pixels. The aspect ratio of the photos remains as before (1:1, 1:2, 2:3, 3:4, 9:16), though I have noticed I increasingly prefer 2:3 over 3:4.

Two other changes to the site concern the ease of navigation. In my note of 27 December 2017 I observed that I increasingly prefer short pages. Nonetheless, often enough the pages are still so long that scrolling is inevitable. Scrolling means one looses a view on the menu bar, and if the user wants to navigate to another place, they need to scroll back to the top of the page first. While easy enough, this is annoying, and so I asked my wife Karen to fix this. Now the menu bar remains in sight even if the header of the page is scrolled out of sight, allowing for easier navigation.

A further improvement in navigating the site is in the headers of the pages of the systematic part. In these pages you find a summary of the classification of the taxon, in three or four pivotal levels above the taxon. For instance, on the page of the lichen Roccella fuciformes on top one reads Ascomycota - Arthoniales - Roccellaceae, indicating that this lichen belongs to the Rocellaceae, which are included in the Arthoniales, which are Ascmycota. While this may help to locate the taxon, at some moment I realized that the ability to jump to these higer taxa would greatly improve the flexibility of navigation. And so I asked Karen whether we could make this happen. She wrote a routine that enables this functionality, with as an unexpected bonus that I had to review these summary paths and resolve some inconsistencies in them (and correct a few typos). The user can now click on the terms in the summary classification.

Finally, there is one more increase in functionality. If you click a thumbnail, below the large photo you can now link to a map of the precise location where the photo is taken - that is, if the photo has the relevant information from GPS. Since June 2009 I work with GPS, but if I take a photo before the camera has located three satellites, it hasn't the information needed to calculate the coordinates. But more often than not this information is present, and you can find the precise location where the photo was taken.

28 December 2018

After having incporoated the photos of most 'new' species of 2018 (i.e., photos of species not yet represented here), there was still one major hurdle to be taken: the new photos for the pages on Ecological Interactions. The plant-animal interactions by definition involve a plant as well as an animal, and thus can be ordered either via the plants involved or via the animals, as observed in the earlier entry on this topic. My initial choice was to order them via the plants; but in retrospect this choice was problematic for including the interactions in the index files. Most host plants are already included in the plant pages, so if I wanted to refer to them in the interaction pages as well, I would have to include them twice in the index files. For the parasites this problem doesn't exist, so it makes much more sense to organize the interactions via the parasites. This means that the pages on mines and galls had to be completely revised. Today I finished the first major part, the mines; on 30 December the pages on galls followed suit.

Most of the photos of mines and galls only show the "I was here" sign the insect left behind - i.e., the mine or the gall; more formally this kind of signature is known as the "extended phenotype." To signal the different status these photos have (showing their extended phenotype rather than their phenotype), I have given the species names in the index file a different color.

8 December 2018

The makeover of Natural History Photographs (see previous entry) had several knock-on effects. First, I streamlined various texts that explain choices I made - these texts can be found under 'Background' in the menu bar. Second, the search facility has been updated and streamlined. Most searches can now be done by the search field in the right-hand corner of the menu bar; only for more complex searches you need to go to use the 'Advance search' tool under 'Find' in the menu bar. And to conclude, the entry page now chooses randomly among a range of high-quality photos, representative of the content of Natural History Photographs.

1 December 2018

Today, Natural History Photographs received a makeover! The general look of the site, which has been a hallmark for the last 10 years, has now changed notably - while the functionality remained (largely) unaffected. After having pondered even more significant changes, I decided to only go for a more sophisticated look - as always reliably provided by my wife Karen. There is a few minor changes in functionality though. First, the index files are no longer part of the menu bar, as they were since 2006. Increasingly, their former location felt as a hindrance rather than a added value. Their presence in the header slowed down the loading of pages, while their ephemeral presence once the cursor moved elsewhere meant that the index files could easily frustrate rather than enthuse the user. With the possibility to navigate them on a separate page, without the danger of loosing the entire path because of a slip of the pointer, I hope they will now become more useful to the regular user. Another minor change in functionality pertains to the menu bar, which is now more in line with common conventions about navigation of websites.

7 October 2018

Since a few years, I have increasingly payed attention to all kind of ecological interactions, among which are mines and galls, often caused by insect larvae interacting with plants. Since in these interactions more than one species is involved, it raises the question where to present them. I decided to give such phenomena a special section of the site, appropriately called ecological interactions. Untill now, the species shown in the section ecological interactions were not represented in the index files, which make the material less accessible. With increasing material, this felt more and more restrictive and in the summer I decided I had to change this. This also made me reflect on how I would like to handle photos of eggs, caterpillars and pupae of moths and butterflies. I realized that the only bio-logical choice is to incorporate photos of immature stages in the species pages. In the summer of 2018 I photographed a few nice caterpillars in Aosta, and in working on this material I decided to implement the logical choice; so from now on I incorporate photos of immature stages into the overall presentation.

The photos on ecological interactions do have a different status though, as they often don't show the larvae causing the mines and galls. So these remain in their own section, but I will include the species causing the plant deformation in the index of the relevant groups, so that the material will be better accessible.

19 June 2018

Most of my photography focusses on individual organisms, often in a rather documentary way. Yet I also do appreciate the beauty of the landscape and every now and then I capture some of that in a photo. And I like patterns! And whenever I see a pattern, I feel much attracted to it, and try to capture it in a photo. A pattern may be in the landscape, but also on a much smaller scale. My landscape and pattern photos were rather diespersed over various pages, but they clearly have something in common - so I decided to bring them together under the umbrella concept of 'landscapes.' A limited selection of landscapes and patterns was already available for a long time; but while I made more and more photos that also deserved a place in the landscape pages, time always seemed to conspire against bringing them there. (In all honesty, it's never about time - it's always about priority. So it's only fair to say this never had the highest priority.) But last summer I made so many landscape and pattern photos, especially in the USA, that I chose to fully revise the landscape pages. I made new and much fatter selections, on a range of topics. I'm glad there is now also a little corner in the website which is inspired by aesthetics alone, since this is also an aspect of Natural History.

17 May 2018

Again just a short note. Early 2018 I photographed various flowering plants from new families, which, once incorporated in the eudicots page, would make it even longer. At some moment, making a page longer deteriorates the overview it provides, and once this happens, intercalating an intermediate level is the only real solution. So for the eudicots I added an intermediate level, that of the order.

31 December 2017

Just a short note, as I already expressed most ideas behind full revision of the oldest pages in the previous note. There I explained that the oldest pages of this website had become rather outdated and needed to be revised. After having done so for the pages on butterflies and on wasps & bees, next to revise were the pages on Robberflies, which date back about equally long ago. The revision can be briefly summarized as follows. I based the new presentation on the recent phylogenetic insights outlined in Dikow 2009; I re-edited most photos from 2007 and 2008 in line with my current standard; I split all 'long pages' by intercalating pages beteen subfamily and species level; and finally, I removed redundant labels for unidentified species. As the last point wasn't addressed in my earlier note, it merits a little explanation here. Before the revision, any unidentified species got its own label, so that for instance three unidentified but separate species of Stenopogon were all represented in the index file. Though this is consistent with the general idea of the index files, it doesn't add much and I decided to bring down the non-specific labels to just one, here Stenopogon spec. As a result, the number of species indicated in the index files has gone down slightly, despite the addition of new species from 2017.

27 December 2017

In my previous note on where this site is going, I mentioned that the butterfly pages were the first pages of this site, and hence were least standardized in their layout - and consequently most in need of a revision. With these pages taken care of, my next focus became those dedicated to wasps and bees. In 2007 and 2008 I was engaged in a photographic frenzy focussed on wasps & bees. I enthusiastically created and immediately expanded various pages showing wasps & bees, but as with the butterfly pages, nothing was standardized yet. Sizes of the photos and especially their aspect ratios were somewhat random, which led to rather messy pages. Back then, I also had a penchant for long pages, the longer the better.

After the initially rather chaotic approach to developing the site, by 2009 I had developed a certain rigour with respect to image size and aspect ratio (outlined below). My predilection with long pages took much longer to wane though. In my previous note I already mentioned the concept of the 'minor reorganization': the fragmentation of a long page into a short overview page that refers to a series of much shorter pages dedicated to a lower level in the hierarchical classification. But I cannot pintpoint any moment in time when this became a leading principle of my presentation; my preference grew gradually in time. A third development of the site is described in a page on my use of taxonomy: the increasingly rigorous approach of presenting the photos in a phylogenetic framework.

All three aspects - consistency of photo size, short pages and phylogenetically organized presentation - came together in the revision of the pages dedicated to the wasps & bees. The publication in 2017 of a few papers dealing with wasp phylogeny, in combination with the inclusion of the 2017 new photos triggered me to undertake a full revision of the Hymenoptera pages. Such a revision brings its challenges though, since even if the phylogenetic relationships now seem to be robustly established, taxonomy hasn't caught up yet with the new insights. For example, while recent insights have it that the bees branch within the digger wasps, the family Crabronidae representing only the digger wasps is still in use. I have no intention to be more Catholic than the Pope when it comes to a phylogenetically based taxonomy; hence I present the digger wasps in line with current usage (that is, as a paraphyletic family, sister group to the bees). But the new insights do show in the Apoidea being the assemblage of bees and digger wasps, necessitating an unranked name for the bees: Anthophila.

Some of the changes may seem somewhat pedantic to the casual user, and this perhaps is indeed true. However, other changes really make a big difference in my view, especially the slicing of (too) long pages. The intercalated overview pages provide a far better view of the group as a whole than do long pages; good examples of this are the tribe Larrini, and the genera Bembix, Anthidium, and Megachile. Also relevant for the user is that I harmonized photo sizes and aspect ratios by reworking the originals for many of the photos of 2007 and 2008. With better knowledge how to edit the original jpg's, the updates often have not only higher resolution but better colors, too. All in all, I hope that you, the user, share my impression that the revision payed off in the end!

1 December 2017

Well, this page is new! Though I keep a record of incremental changes to Natural History Photographs, this elaborate record does not explain my motivation for changes other than simply expanding the range of organisms shown. Increasingly though, I felt the need to sometimes explain to the regular visitor why I made certain changes. This need built up very slowly and gradually, but one day it passed a threshold that made me act on it. This happened around December 1st, 2017, during a period of intense working on the website, incorporating new material.

In working on the website, I often have to make decisions how to incorporate new material, whether I simply expand an existing page or whether I want to break up the page in various pages. For instance, when for some family the number of species I have photos of keeps growing, the page dedicated to that family becomes longer and longer. At some moment, I feel the page is too long and the overview becomes ineffective. Once this happens, new material to be added to the page may act as a trigger to reorganize the page, by intercalating a page between the family and the species level; normally, this intercalated page contains links to pages dedicated to the various genera in the family. In the changes page this is referred to as a 'minor reorganization.'

In the changes page you will find many such instances, so why pay special attention to it now? The reason is that in incorporating my 2017 photos of the whites, I aimed to change a page from the past: this page had a mix of modern digital photos and scans from analogue color slides from the 'prehistory,' so to speak. Of course I always knew that some of the pages of this site had such temporal anomalies, and I never was particularly happy about them; but I ignored the issue for a long time. This had to do with how my interests developed, and also how Natural History Photographs evolved.

As you can read in the page About me, as a young naturalist I focussed strongly on butterflies, and diversification of my focus came only much later. Natural History Photographs obviously reflects my interests, and over the years the site developed in changing directions: first insects, then fungi, plants and geological phenomena. But something else changed as well: over the years my initially rather messy approach to the site became increasingly standardized. Yet this standardization never truly affected the butterfly pages, because of the lower priority they had to me. As a result, as of 2017 these pages had become ugly ducklings, and a revision of these pages was badly needed. The attempt to incorporate the new photos of butterflies I made in 2017 precipitated the trigger for undertaking that revision.

In order to bring the quality of the butterfly pages in line with the rest of Natural History Photographs, I decided to remove all analogue material. Quite a decision, as it concerned still some 75+ scans representing some 20 species of butterflies of which so far I wasn't able to collect digital material. Without the scans, the site is less comprehensive than before; but at the same time, it is more consistent in the quality of the photos shown. Another aspect I wanted to standardize is the dimensions of the photos. When I started developing this site, I had no fixed size for the photos shown; now, any photo should have an aspect ratio defined by whole numbers (so the aspect ratio is 1:1 (square photos), or 2:3 (mostly landscapes), or 3:4, or 9:16, or 1:2 - the latter two almost exclusively for slender plants). Also, I now aim for a standardized size of the photos: square photos are 1000 x 1000 pixels, 2:3 are 1125 x 750, 3:4 are 1000 x 750, and for the slender photos the vertical pixel size is always 1000. By making all pages adhere to these conventions, the site as a whole keeps its coherence and the user knows what to expect.

All in all, the butterfly pages now are much more in line with the other pages of Natural History Photographs, and will allow to incorporate a lot of new material without the need for another revision. It's now time to see whether some other relatively old pages need a similar revision - for instance the pages dedicated to Bombylid flies and Robberflies. These were among the first pages I developed when my interests started to diversify and have since then not significantly been revised. Another set of 'early' pages concern the Hoverflies, but these pages have already been revised before.