Monday, October 28, 2013

BHL at TDWG 2013 Annual Conference

The TDWG 2013 Annual Conference has kicked off in Florence, Italy and will run through November 1, 2013.  We are very pleased to announce that BHL will be hosting a Symposium today, Monday, October 28, at 14:00 CEST.

The symposium, entitled "Crafting the Future of a Global Biodiversity Heritage Library for Diverse Communities' Needs," will be led by BHL Program Director Martin Kalfatovic and will feature a panel of key members of the BHL-Global, including William Ulate, Trish Rose-Sandler, Jiři Frank, Lucy Waringi, and Connie Rinaldo.

The symposium will focus on strategies for creating, expanding and maintaining a multinational digital library programme; digitisation platforms, standards and services; creating value-added features for discipline-specific communities; use of social media and outreach to increase use and build new audiences; and migration from projects to sustainable programmes.  Panel members will deliver presentations from their perspectives as project-, country-, and continent- collaborators on the Biodiversity Heritage Library, sharing their experiences and promoting a discussion on next steps to improve strategies for meeting the needs of scientists.

The TDWG conference is an annual meeting of the international organization Biodiversity Information Standards (TDWG), also known as the Taxonomic Databases Working Group.  TDWG has a successful track record of fostering international collaborations around biodiversity technology projects and currently focuses on the development of standards for exchanging biodiversity data.

We are looking forward to productive and informative discussions with attendees at today's Symposium and throughout the TDWG conference!

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Book of the Week: Biologia Centrali-Americana : Reptilia and Batrachia

The total number of known amphibian
 species is approximately 7,000, 
of which nearly 90% are frogs. 
Image: Venture Galleries
My first encounter with an amphibian was the all but loveable Kermit the frog from Sesame Street. While reptiles and amphibians are not warm and cuddly like Kermit, these ectothermic vertebrates (cold-blooded) are incredibly interesting. Some of them breathe through their damp skin. They are incredible predators.  Most species have super sensitive hearing that can detect airborne or ground vibrations, and their tongues are super muscular.

Pop culture has embraced reptiles and amphibians portraying them in humorous roles and as villains including the vocal frogs from the commercial for Budweiser beer, Nagini from Harry Potter, Kaa from the Jungle Book, Jafar from Aladdin, Tic Tock from Peter Pan, and the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.   
Amphibians and reptiles are incredibly important to global biodiversity. Dramatic declines have been measured across the globe since the late 1980s and indicate critical threats. There are groups trying to do something about this including the Amphibian Specialist Group of the World Conservation Union, Amphibian Ark, Partners in Amphibian and Reptile Conservation PARC, and the Panama Amphibian Rescue and Conservation Project among others.  

Pioneers in the documentation of these creatures were Frederick Godman and Osbert Salvin  the authors of Biologia Centrali-Americana : Reptilia and Batrachia, one volume in a 63 volume set called Biologia Centrali-Americana. Godman and Osbert set out to create the most comprehensive account of the flora and fauna of Mexico and Central America by hiring many local experts to collect specimens for study. They published the set over the course of 36 years.
Certain frogs can jump up to 20 times 
 their own body length in a single leap.
entire set includes over 900 illustrations. Published between 1879-1915, Biologia Centrali-Americana : Reptilia and Batrachia, focuses on retiles and amphibians and is key to early discoveries in print of a variety of  species.

One critically endangered species, Godman and Osbert wrote about is the Costa Rican Variable Harlequin Toad (Atelopus varius), also known as the clown frog, is a neo-tropical true toad. They feed on small arthropods and their colorful appearance serves as a warning to potential predators of their toxicity of their skin, which contains a neurotoxin.

Micrurus nigrocinctus is also known as the Central American coral snake. This venomous snake lives between southern Mexico to northwestern Colombia. They can be recognized by their color pattern, which varies from two-colored to three-colored with black, yellow and red banding. They are non-aggressive Caecilians that feed on other snakes, small lizards, amphibians, and invertebrates. Their venom contains a strong neurotoxin, causing neuromuscular dysfunction.
Nearly all reptiles lay shelled eggs.

Browse through more of the illustrations from the book of the week in the BHL Flickr here.

Learn more about other reptiles and amphibians by reading the book. This set has been covered before in the BHL blog. Read more about it here.

By Kai Alexis Smith, Marketing Intern, Biodiversity Heritage Library, Fall 2013

Amphibians of Panama. (n.d.). Atelopus varius. Encyclopedia of Life. Retrieved from

Amphibians of Panama. (n.d.). Atelopus varius Lichtenstein and von Martens 1856. Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute. Retrieved from

Andrew, Elise. (14 September 2013). Untitled. I [Freaking] Love Science. Retrieved from
Unknown. (n.d.). Micrurus nigrocinctus black-banded Coral Snake. Encyclopedia of Life. Retrieved from

Unknown. (n.d.). Fun Reptile Facts for Kids. Science Kids. Retrieved from 

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

BHL at the Eighth Meeting of European Bird Curators

BHL recently participated in the 8th Meeting of European Bird Curators, held in Prague, October 3-5, 2013.

Porphyrio poliocephalus.
From: A history of the birds of Europe.
London: Published by the Author, 1871-1881.
Alison Harding, of the Natural History Museum in London, delivered a presentation entitled “BHL: The Vast Library of Life.”  The presentation provided an overview of the Biodiversity Heritage Library and showcased the tools and resources which BHL offers as a free, open access project.

Many attendees were already familiar with BHL and were very complimentary about the ongoing progress of the BHL consortium. Overall, BHL’s participation in the conference was a wonderful experience, providing opportunities to interact directly with some of our users and to gather feedback and answer their questions.

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

National Fossil Day : Eurypterus remipes

Do you know your state flower or bird? What about your state fossil? It is okay if you know the first two and not the third. Many don't know their state fossil. There's no better time to discover it than today -- National Fossil Day.

Eurypterus could swim as fast as 9.8 to 13 feet per second, which is slightly faster than a sea otter or sea turtle.

The state of New York has a pretty amazing fossil. It's Eurypterus remipes also known as the giant sea scorpion. They existed over 400 million years ago and thrived in warm, shallow marine environments in the Middle and Late Paleozoic. This extinct relative of the modern king crab was adopted as the State fossil in 1984. The species designation "remipes" is from Latin meaning "oar" and "foot. What I find especially intriguing about them is that they are one of the first animal groups to venture from sea to land. 

This is a comparison of an average adult human male 5.6 ft with the average Eurypterus remipes length 7.9 inches and the largest known Eurypterus remipes fossil 4 feet 3 inches. Image from Wikipedia.

Eurypterus are the most commonly found genus fossil of eurypterids because during the Silurian period when the second super continent was being formed, they rapidly colonized Euramerica. This invasive species became the dominant eurypterid. Eurypterus was both a predator and hunter. While it is not entirely known what they dined on, sources speculate that they had a healthy diet of trilobites, cephalopods, and worms. 

The largest  Eurypterus remipes fossil ever found was 4 foot 3 inches long that is more than half of the height of a average human man which is 5 foot 6 inches. You can see the specimen on display at the Paleontological Research Institution in Ithaca, New York. 

Rev. H. N. Hutchinson writes about giant species that no longer exist in Extinct monsters and creatures of other days : a popular account of some of the larger forms of ancient animal life.  J. Smit, Alice B. Woodward, J. Green, Charles Knight, and others bring them to life through detailed illustrations. In this book, you can also learn about sea lizard, fish lizards, giant sloths, mastodons, great sea serpents, and the dragons of old time … dinosaurs.

Hutchinson’s excitement can be felt through his writing as he describes these long gone species. Here Hutchinson talks about the sea scorpion species, “What curious animals they must have been, using the same limbs for walking, holding their prey, and eating!”

Adult Eurypterus migrated en masse to shore areas in order to mate, lay eggs, and molt. Image from Smithsonian Institution's National Museum of Natural History.

Check out the beautiful illustrations from the book here.

Also, learn all about fossils at the National Museum of Natural History's FossiLab here.

By Kai Alexis Smith, Marketing Intern, Biodiversity Heritage Library, Fall 2013

Knight, PhD.,  Graham. (n.d.). The story of one man's plight to make fossils swim.  Retrieved from

Merck, Jr., John W. (31 October 2007). Eurypterids, arachnids, and the arthropod invasion of the land. University of Maryland. Retrieve from

Share, Dr. Jack. (31 May 2012). The Eurypterid "Eurypterus remipes" is the Official Fossil of the State of New York: Part I - Evolution, Phylogeny, Morphology and Tectonics. Retrieved from

Share, Dr. Jack. (29 June 2012). The Eurypterid "Eurypterus remipes" is the Official Fossil of the State of New York: Part III - The R.A. Langheinrich Museum of Paleontology in Eastern Central New York. Retrieved from

Unknown. (n.d.). Eurypterus remipes NPL4415. Texas Natural Science Center: Non-vertebrate Paleontology, The University of Texas. Retrieved from

Unknown. (27 April 2009). New York State Fossil - Eurypterus Remipes. New York State Library. Retrieved from