Thursday, April 28, 2011

Book of the Week: The Illustrations of The Ibis

In our last post, our featured user Mathew Louis named The Ibis as his favorite title in BHL. Thus, we decided to feature this entire series as our "book of the week" this week. Not only is The Ibis full of valuable information on birds, it's also loaded with beautiful illustrations, many of which are featured in Mathew Louis' website:

The website also gives some interesting background on the publication, and on one of the artists involved in the work:

"The Ibis is the organ of publication of the British Ornithologists' Union. It was long issued as a small, octavo edition, but more recently, it has appeared in a larger format. Originally the volumes were numerated as a series, each of which being completed by six volumes for that many years, but this method was later abandoned in favor of numbering the volumes according to each consecutive year.Keulemans contributed to The Ibis every year from 1869--1909. In the 1869 edition (Second Series--Volume V) his name appeared as the lithographer, not as the colorist, on a number of plates."

Slightly abandoning our usual book of the week structure, we're spending the rest of this post featuring many of the beautiful illustrations in this work. Enjoy!

See more work by John Gerrard Keulemans in BHL:

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

BHL and Our Users: Mathew Louis & BHL Illustrations

This week we feature one of our users that has taken a particular interest in BHL for the purpose of images, using BHL to strengthen the collection of scientific illustrations found on his website, As our users have long shown a specific interest in the images associated with BHL content, we expect that this post, and the work of our featured user, Mathew Louis, will prove to be particularly interesting to our user community.

Q: What is your title, institutional affiliation (or alternative place of employment), and area of interest?
A: Mine is a recreational interest in natural history studies and collection of image files from illustrations in natural history publications. I have a website which was originally begun as a collection of images by the illustrator John Gerrard Keulemans but has now expanded to include many other artists and natural history

I also use the service (BHL) to review taxonomic information, such as the original citation or description of a name. For example, I have recently examined a synopsis of names relating to a genus of bats, Pteropus. BHL is useful in allowing me to trace resources which contain descriptions of more obscure names - information I could not have found elsewhere.

Q: How long have you been in your field of study?
A: The website was started in 2007, but I have always been an enthusiast of the subject in general.

Q: When did you first discover BHL?
A: About two-four years ago.

Q: What is your opinion of BHL and how has it impacted your research?
A: I could not have a better opinion of it and how it has been helpful. It is interesting to ask, because at the research library which I frequent, the staff made the decision, three years ago, to deselect and destroy all printed serial publications which were already available on the library catalogue's database (and therefore unnecessary). The library's database had a number of deficiencies: the quality of the images of illustrations, lack of indices/table of contents and other matter, incompleteness, and the database was inaccessible to me outside of the library. I was in the process of having scans made from one series in particular, and would have otherwise been out of luck if it were not for the same series being made available with this website, compared to a decade ago.

Q: How often do you use BHL?
A: I visit the library at the rate of once a week, and use BHL when I am using the computer. Thus, when I visit, I use it extensively.

Q: How do you usually use BHL (read the titles online/download whole PDFs/Downloading High Resolution Images/etc.)
A: I typically use BHL through Internet Archive. I use the online page view, which is excellent in how it allows for high resolution page view; this is an area where the Google Books service is deficient. I also download and save PDF files of texts.

Q: What are your favorite features/services on BHL?
A: The best aspects of the services are as follows: The ability to make requests to have scans of texts made; the efficiency of BHL when reporting problems or making queries; the high-resolution quality of the images of the pages.

Q: If you could change one thing about BHL, what would it be, or what developmental aspect would you like the BHL team to focus on next?
A: It would be helpful to receive email notification when a scan request has been carried through and the item becomes available online.

There are also some issues which might not actually apply to BHL, but rather to Internet Archive, which also provides texts from BHL. First, some of the texts are difficult to locate in a series. One example is Proceedings of the Zoological Society of London, where not all of the years (this series was not issued in numerated volumes) are clearly discernible on the list. Second, the format on Internet Archive for viewing texts was changed in the later part of 2010, and I think it would have been better to restore the previous format - it wasn't broken. It would also be convenient if the scanned images of illustrations incorporated the entire plate, rather than in a number of cases where some have cropping.

Q: If you had to choose one title/item in BHL that has most impacted your research, or one item that you prefer above any other in BHL, what would it be and why?
A: I greatly appreciate the availability of The Ibis being made online.

Thank you, Mathew, for taking the time to share your experiences regarding BHL with us, and for sharing your website, which provides an invaluable presentation of many beautiful illustrations that might otherwise be difficult to locate.

In regards to your specific comment about providing email notification when scanning requests are completed, we hope to one day be able to provide this service. However, currently our resource limitations prevent the adoption of such a system. It may be helpful to subscribe to our rss feed of recent additions, which provides a list of all new inclusions to the BHL collection and is one method in which users can be provided with a notification of the completion of their scanning requests.

Visit Mathew Louis' website here:

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Book of the Week: User's Choice - Snakes!

This week we decided to put the power of choosing the book of the week in the hands of our users. So, using the "Questions" app on our Facebook Page, we asked you which book out of the four options given you would like to see featured on our blog. The options were The Snakes of Australia, British Dragonflies, La Galerie des Oiseaux, and A Book of Whales. The winner?

The Snakes of Australia (1869), by Gerard Krefft!

The aim of this work was to provide a full account, with original descriptions retained wherever possible, of "nearly all the Australian Snakes discovered and recorded up to the year 1868." The author points out that, by 1854, only "about twenty Australian Snakes were known." In the succeeding five years, thirty were described, and, by the time of the writing of our book of the week, "seventy species were on record."

For our post, we decided to highlight a few of the species presented in this book. So, sit back,
relax, and read about Australian Snakes in the comfort of your own home (unless, of course, you're not at home, in which case, the sitting back and relaxing part is completely up to you).

This non-venomous snake can grow up to 7'10''. It is typically "light brown, with a series of darker rings which become indistinct near the sides." On
the underbelly, the Black-Headed Python is "yellowish-white...with a few dark blotches," while the head and neck are "jet-black above and below." By the time that this publication was written, very little was known about the snake. "The first specimen which the Museum received was captured by Mr. Rainbird, the well-known collector at Port Denison."

The Common Death Adder is one of the most venomous land snakes in Australia and the world, with fangs longer than most of
Australia's venomous snakes. While a majority of Death Adders are gray with dark rings about the neck and tip of the tail, some members of the species may be red with dark spots. The species can be found in sandy locations, feeding on frogs, lizards, and small mammals. The author notes that, when threatened, the snake "flattens out its whole body, and darts right and left." However, as previously thought, it "does not jump, and certainly never jumps backwards."

Diamond Snake (Morelia spilotes)

This non-venomous snakes has nearly every scale marked with a central single yellow dot. "The largest specimen captured near Sydney, correctly measured, without being stretched, was 10 feet 3 inches long," though, the author is certain, that specimens measuring over 11 feet no doubt occur, though much more rarely. In nature, this species eats only living mammals, though in captivity it has been observed swallowing already-dead animals. At the time of publication, the author commented that "the species under review are generally infested by various kinds of intestinal worms, including tape-worms, clusters of which have frequently been taken from their stomachs."

This species is the most common of all of Australia's venomous snakes. It is "found in low marshy places, is fond of water, dives and swims well, and subsists principally upon frogs, lizards, insects, and other smaller mammalia." Its highly venous bite can kill "good sized dogs or goats within an hour." This species rarely grows beyond six feet in length.

This week's book of the week, The Snakes of Australia (1869), by Gerard Krefft, was contributed by Harvard University, MCZ, Ernst Mayr Library.

To see more Facebook Questions, visit our Questions Page. And be sure to visit us on Facebook or follow us on Twitter (@BioDivLibrary).

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Book of the Week: The Threat to the Arctic Fox

As the planet warms, habitats for a myriad of species worldwide are changing, and perhaps those most affected are the species living in the arctic regions of the globe. These areas are seeing significant increases in average temperatures, changing the dynamics for the life found there. A poignant example of this is the Arctic Fox (Vulpes lagopus), a species whose habitat is being encroached upon by the Red Fox (Vulpes vulpes) as increasing temperatures make the arctic more habitable for the latter (see EOL's "Threats" tab on the Arctic Fox page).

In recognition of this threat, we decided to feature the Arctic Fox in our book of the week post this week. In searching BHL for an item highlighting this species, we can across some interesting information regarding the food supply of the species in winter in Dogs, Jackals, Wolves and Foxes: A Monograph of the Canidae (1890), by St. George Mivart. This book, which contains abundant information on the species itself, also showcases the Arctic Fox's unique food storage habits, which allow it to survive through the arctic's prey-deficient winter months.

Scientists were long puzzled by the fox's ability to survive through the long winter months without migrating, when a majority of its food sources had done so. As our book of the week relates, Professor Alfred Newton, in the 1863 expedition to Spitzbergen, wrote,

"What the Foxes do to get a living in winter when the birds have left the country, is one of the most curious questions that has presented itself to my mind for some time. The greater number of them are said to remain on the land, and to be as active during the long polar night as they are in summer; yet there are no berries by which they might eke out their existence, and there can be no open water, on the margin of which they might find food, within miles of their haunts. The most natural explanation which occurs to one is that they lay up a stock of provisions; but nobody, that I am aware of, has ever found such a store-closet."

However, the supposition of "store-closets" was subsequently confirmed by H.W. Feilden during the Arctic Expedition of 1875 under Captain G.S. Nares. Feilden wrote, in reference to their discovery of Arctic Foxes during their expedition,

" our surprise, we discovered numerous deposits of dead Lemmings. In one out-of-the-way corner, under a rock, we pulled out a heap of over fifty dead Lemmings. We disturbed numerous 'caches' of twenty and thirty, and the ground was honeycombed with holes which each contained several bodies of these little animals, a small quantity of earth being placed over them. In one hole we found the major part of a hare carefully hidden away."

The ingenuity of our Arctic Fox was thus established, revealing that, thanks to the thrifty habits of our little friend, the species is able to survive the cruel wrath of the arctic winter without having to migrate to warmer climates to follow their food sources. The competition for this food is now significantly increased, however, thanks to warming climates that allow the Arctic Fox's competitor, the Red Fox, to encroach more and more upon their feeding grounds. We hope that through the increased availability of literature on both species through projects like BHL, and subsequently a better understanding of these animals and their natural habitats, scientists can help turn the tide for the Arctic Fox, saving this glamorous canine for future generations.

This week's book of the week, Dogs, Jackals, Wolves and Foxes: A Monograph of the Canidae (1890), by St. George Mivart, was contributed by the University of California.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

BHL and Our Users: Dr. Petra Sierwald

This week we feature a researcher from one of our partner institutions, the Field Museum in Chicago. So without further ado, meet Dr. Petra Sierwald, a woman with a passion for spreading biodiversity knowledge to ensure equal participation among researchers in all parts of the globe and educating the younger generation on the importance of biodiversity conservation.

Q: What is your title, institutional affiliation, and area of interest?
A: Associate Curator, Arachnida & Myriapoda, Zoology, at the Field Museum of Natural History, Chicago. Interests and Research include biodiversity and evolutionary research in spiders and millipedes. Currently, my special interests are: building scientific infrastructure. In my case (a) a global millipede species database with complete literature citations; and (b) teaching the next generation the importance of biodiversity for the health of our planet.

Q: How long have you been in your field of study?
A: Over thirty years.

Q: When did you first discover BHL?
A: At the beginning of BHL (2007) - the Field Museum library and Field Museum's Biodiversity Synthesis Center are both closely involved with BHL.

Q: What is your opinion of BHL and how has it impacted your research?
A: Libraries are the stewards of the knowledge on which all human civilization is based. BHL is the modern virtual library we desperately need right now and must expand: by capturing the literature digitally, the original paper books can be preserved to last through the coming centuries (in case something should happen to digital storage). Making the biodiversity data, which were initially accumulated within the Western European tradition, available to the rest of the world is our duty and responsibility, as it will allow equal participation of everbody in biodiversity research and thus invite new young talented people from every corner of the world. Finally, the participation of a diverse group of new researchers will benefit all of us, as more students study the biodiversity of their region and protect habitats important for the environmental health of the planet.

Q: How often do you use BHL?
A: Currently almost daily, together with other digital online libraries. All my students (in courses and at the Museum) have to work on species pages and search for literature. BHL is one of the first sources they search in. I always check whether they properly searched in BHL.

Q: How do you usually use BHL (read the titles online/download whole PDFs/Select Pages to Download/Download High Resolution Images/etc.)
A: At the current pace I am using BHL, I read online. Since BHL is always available, I do not need to download, print or store articles and volumes electronically. I save that step. I use BHL the same way I use Field Museum's excellent library. I find the book or volume, check what needs to be checked and put the volume back (or close the window in BHL). I know BHL rather well; I always find what I need. This saves me the work of organizing a separate library on my computer.

Q: What are your favorite features/services on BHL?
A: That I can read entire articles, cross check bibliographic information (title, publication dates), and that I can search in many articles for key words. The scanning quality is very good.

Q: If you could change one thing about BHL, what would it be, or what developmental aspect would you like the BHL team to focus on next?
A: Filling gaps in journal runs and the author list must be cleaned up. For example, Snodgrass is in BHL twice, as Snodgrass R.E. and as Snodgrass, Robert Evans. Both author entries (referring to the same person) are linked to different publications. Since I am using BHL heavily as a bibliographic reference tool, I would greatly appreciate to have clean author lists. BHL needs support and the scientific community must help in this endeavor.

Q: If you had to choose one title/item in BHL that has most impacted your research, or one item that you prefer above any other in BHL, what would it be and why?
A: My co-authors and I were able to determine that the species Euzonus zonatus does not exist, but that the name is based on a misinterpretation by Giebel. The original publication: Giebel, C.G. (1856) Die Insecten und Spinnen der Vorwelt mit Ber├╝cksichtigung der Lebenden, monograph. dargestellt. 2. Bd. Gliederthiere. 1. Abth. Insecten und Spinnen, 484-496, is available in BHL.

Resulting Publication: Brewer, M.S., Sierwald, P. & Bond, J.E., 2011. A Generichomonym Concerning Chordeumatid Millipedes (Arthopoda: Diplopoda) and Opheliid Worms (Annelida: Polychaeta). Zootaxa 2744: 65-68.

Thank you all at BHL.

And thank, you Dr. Sierwald, for taking the time to share your thoughts and experiences with us. We have, per your notification, merged the duplicate author entires for Snodgrass in BHL. De-duplicating author lists is definitely of concern for BHL (and indeed for any collaborative digital library project where multiple contributors submit data in various formats), but we need the support of our users, as Dr. Sierwald points out. If you notice multiple entries for the same author in BHL, send us a message via our feedback form and we'll take care of it. As we continue to explore options for author de-duplication en mass, we highly appreciate the eyes of our users to take care of this issue one author at a time.

For more information on Dr. Sierwald, visit the Insects page on the Field Museum's website.

Photo Credit: © The Field Museum, Z94083_1c, Photographer John Weinstein

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Book of the Week: World Health Day & Medicinal Plants

April 7, 2011 is World Health Day. This year, the focus of World Health Day is Antimicrobial resistance, which is a type of drug resistance where microorganisms are able to survive exposure to antibiotics. To combat the spread of this problem, the World Health Organization is releasing a six-point policy package. These six points include:

  • Commit to a comprehensive, financed national plan with accountability and civil Society engagement
  • Strengthen surveillance and laboratory capacity
  • Ensure uninterrupted access to essential medicines of assured quality
  • Regulate and promote rational use of medicines, including in animal husbandry, and ensure proper patient care
  • Reduce use of antimicrobials in food-producing animals
  • Enhance infection prevention and control
  • Foster innovations and research and development for new tools
For our recognition of World Health Day, we thought we'd highlight one of our rare books on medicinal plants. So, this week we feature A Curious Herbal: Containing Five Hundred Cuts, of the Most Useful Plants, Which are Now Used in the Practice of Physick Engraved on Folio Copper Plates (1737-39), by Elizabeth Blackwell. The purpose of this work, as is stated in the Introduction, is,

"The Undertaker, being desirous to make this Work more useful to such as are not furnished with other Herbals, is resolved (for their sake) to give a short description of each plant, the place of growth, and time of flowering, with its common uses in physick, chiefly extracted from Mr. Joseph Miller's Botanicum Officinale with his consent, and the ordinary names of the plant in different languages."

For our post, we selected just a few of the five hundred plants discussed in this work, and present them to you. Take a look at these, examine the many other natural remedies not presented in this post, and read more about World Health Day and consider what you might be able to do to help.

Useful for "provoking urine and strengthening the stomach"
Strengthens the stomach, cools the heat of fevers, as well as useful in the treatment of "coughs, spitting of blood, and scurvey"
"Mr. Boyle commends a large dose of the full ripe berries as a remedy against the plague. The gum is said to take spots and freckles out of the face. Can be used as a remedy for tooth-aches and to kill Lice
Useful for treatment of pestilential fevers, "and is useful to drive anything out from the heart, for which it is given in the small pox and measles"
Useful for treating "obstructions of the liver and spleen," and is used to "dissolve congealed blood and to provoke urine"

This week's book of the week, A Curious Herbal: Containing Five Hundred Cuts, of the Most Useful Plants, Which are Now Used in the Practice of Physick Engraved on Folio Copper Plates (1737-39), by Elizabeth Blackwell, was contributed by the Missouri Botanical Garden.

Friday, April 1, 2011

Birds De-Evolving?

Scientific Breakthrough Alert! Recent studies have revealed that we may soon be seeing dinosaurs again in our modern age! How is this possible? One scientist has found that birds, the closest living relatives to the behemoths that have so completely captured the imagination of humans, are showing signs of de-evolution, reverting back to the forms of their dinosaur ancestors.

The evolutionary relationship between birds and dinosaurs is based upon their commonality in several distinct areas. Take, for instance, feathers. Many "feathered dinosaurs," such as Archaeopteryx, have been discovered, displaying features intermediate between modern birds and modern reptiles. Such feathered dinosaurs are often considered the missing link between birds and dinosaurs. Recent discoveries regarding "protofeathers" even suggest that the Tyrannosauroids may have had feathers.

Skeletal evidence also supports the link between birds and dinosaurs. Bird and dinosaur skeletons display similarities in the neck, pubis, wrist, arm, pectoral girdle, shoulder blade, clavicle and breast bone. Furthermore, theropod dinosaurs, like birds, have been discovered to have hollow sacs in their skeletons into which air is pumped. And, of course, most people are aware of the similarity between dinosaurs and birds regarding their hollow skeletons.

So, while the development of dinosaurs to birds is well-established, what is happening now to suggest de-evolution back to dinosaurs? Dr. John Hammond believes he has the answer.

Dr. Hammond, in his studies on the Cyanocitta cristata, commonly known as the Blue Jay, has found that they are beginning to display dinosaur characteristics. In his recent study, many of the young he studied possessed on average fewer feathers and a stronger disposition to avoid flight in favor of hunting for food on the ground, using their legs instead of their wings. Their legs are also on average bulkier and stronger than those of their predecessors, while their wings display a decidedly weaker muscular structure. The blue jays are instead using their wings for "wing-assisted incline running," which, in the past, may have led to the development of flight in the dinosaur-bird transition.

More importantly, however, Dr. Hammond has discovered what appears to be the beginnings of a raised sickle claw on the second toe of the Cyanocitta cristata young. Such an appendage was an iconic feature of the Velociraptors, and, in light of this in addition to the discoveries discussed earlier, Dr. Hammond believes that we may be witnessing a de-evolution of the Blue Jay back to something resembling the Rahonavis. Further study on this species and additional species of birds is needed, and there are still no concrete hypotheses as to why birds would be reverting back to their dinosaur roots.

In light of these discoveries, we felt it only appropriate to feature a book on our dinosaur friends, particularly if we will soon be sharing our planet with them. Thus, we feature Extinct Monsters: A Popular Account of Some of the Larger Forms of Ancient Animal Life (1893), by Rev. H.N. Hutchinson. Are we entering another Age of the Dragons, as our book of the week describes it? Will we remain on the top of the food chain? Will the nightmarish scenes of dinosaurs hunting and tearing humans limb from limb, which are so commonly depicted in film, become a brutal reality for the human race? Only time will tell, but learning more about our ferocious competitors, for instance by exploring our book of the week, may help even the odds. Good luck!

Oh, and, by the way, April Fool's! ;-)

This week's book, Extinct Monsters: A Popular Account of Some of the Larger Forms of Ancient Animal Life(1893), by Rev. H.N. Hutchinson, was contributed by Harvard University, MCZ, Ernst Mayr Library.

- Special thanks to Erin Thomas for her assistance with this post.