A bug's life: ant image collection expanded

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The California Academy of Sciences is using 3D image reconstruction software to create images of 25,000 specimens from major ant collections, which will be uploaded onto the freely accessible AntWeb.

Researchers in the California Academy of Sciences are using a Leica Z16 microscope and Auto-Montage Pro software from Syncroscopy for imaging ant collections from the largest museums in the world, with the aim of producing 5,000 in-focus 3D ant images per year. These will be added to the 11,000 Auto-Montage ant images already on AntWeb; thus completing images of 95 per cent of the world's known ant species and making AntWeb the world's most comprehensive ant resource.

Dr Brian Fisher, curator of entomology at the California Academy of Sciences, explained: 'Currently most taxonomic ant knowledge is in select northern hemisphere museums. We want to make it available via the National Science Foundation supported AntWeb, to everyone with an interest in ants. This will be valuable to those living in diverse tropical regions, as it will strengthen communication between us to maintain up-to-date, taxonomic information.

'Before we began using Auto-Montage in 2001, we tried electron microscopy to produce detailed ant images. This gave us great depth of field, but it was expensive and took us a long time to image just five species, so we knew it would not be practical to achieve our high throughput imaging goal. We have reviewed seven different types of 3D imaging software in the past ten years and Auto-Montage Pro is still the best for producing high-resolution 3D color ant images,' Dr Fisher added.

Martin Smith of Syncroscopy said: 'We are delighted Auto-Montage Pro is helping make it possible for everyone to see images of ants previously locked away in museums. Such an ambitious project at this prestigious institute is a great testament to the fact that Auto-Montage Pro software can deliver cost-efficient increases in workflow for scientists wanting to create accurate insect images.'

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