It might be a few months, but next time you see a Monarch, Regal, Painted Lady or another species of Lepidoptera you can record it in a new cell phone app designed to help researchers and enthusiasts.
A group of Iowa State University students released an app this month called the Unified Butterfly Recorder, in which users record butterfly sightings, and the app attaches geographical and environmental information.
"The things most exciting for the users will be all the data we can collect in the background," said Curtis Ullerich, 22, a lead developer who graduated from the computer science program this month. "It tracks humidity, pressure, temperature, has light sensors and GPS. That enables so much more fine-grained and accurate data than other methods of collection."
The Unified Butterfly Recorder, which is available through Google Play on Androids, could provide a more uniform data set than what currently exists. The information would be valuable to scientists around the world, who use butterflies as an indicator of environmental conditions.
The app includes 800 butterfly species in the United States and all European species.
Nathan Brockman, curator of the Reiman Gardens' Christina Reiman Butterfly Wing, initially proposed the app to Diane Rover, an electrical and computer engineering professor, and her students, who must complete a design project. Ryan Scheel, Julie Tillman and Cameron Whipple also worked on the project with Ullerich.
Data collection occurs at Reiman Gardens as part of the Iowa Butterfly Survey Network, but the collection methods are difficult to access and compare because they are not standardized, Brockman said.
"It's been a great process working with this group," Brockman said. "They took my ideas and enhanced on it. It was a real partnership to pull it all together."
Brockman said the data from the app can be exported and used to make a wide variety of maps, better visuals, and to track changes over time and region.
Ullerich said they used an "iterative development process," in which they updated the functionality and look of the interface every two weeks or so based on feedback.The students have been working on the app since spring, and a new group of students could potentially develop a version for iPhones in 2014, Ullerich said.