_Crowdsourced Beetles

To collect data about an elusive beetle, one researcher turned to the Internet.

_Dan Duran

Daniel Duran is an assistant teaching professor in the Department of Biodiversity, Earth & Environmental Science.

In order to study the elderberry longhorn beetle, Dan Duran had to do some experimenting with crowdsourcing.

Duran, who is an assistant teaching professor in the Department of Biodiversity, Earth & Environmental Science, believes that the beetles may hold clues to the effects of habitat fragmentation.

But getting data on the species is a project in itself. Most records about the bug, formally known as Desmocerus palliatus, are from more than 30 years ago. Plus, the location and number of beetles are believed to have declined since then, though no one really knows for sure.

The beetles live in wetlands all over eastern North America, and Duran couldn’t possibly visit them all.

The solution? Duran asked the public for help through SciStarter, a website that connects volunteers with scientists to collect and analyze data. He posted his project last May, right before the beetles become most active.

He asked people to take photos of the beetle, along with information about what the beetle was doing, whether or not it was on a plant and when and where the picture was taken.

“Getting regular people connected to science and conservation is the only way to make this happen,” Duran says.

Desmocerus Palliatus


The beetle’s long antennae and bright cobalt blue and yellow colors — Drexel colors, almost — make it easy to spot.

By taking the project outside of the ivory tower and into the yards and swamplands of the public, Duran has received more data than he hoped for. Nearly 900 people in Pennsylvania and surrounding states have signed up for the project, and 38 people wrote in with sightings in the first seven months of the project.

He’s received more than just photos, and the project isn’t just about the beetles. Anyone who responds to the SciStarter campaign already has a general interest in the beetles and Duran’s project, and most ask more about the beetles or results when they submit photos. It’s safe to say that Duran has learned a lot more than just the locations of the beetle — which is exactly what he wanted.

“I’m always interested in anything that gets the public interested in science,” Duran says.