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SALT LAKE CITY — A new species of insect has been discovered after a nature photographer and an entomologist separated by 8,500 miles were united by image-sharing network Flickr.
Guek Hock Ping first snapped a picture of the recently christened Semachrysa jade in the jungles of Malaysia in May 2011, but did not recognize it as a new species. He later uploaded the image to Flickr, where entomologist Shaun Winterton noticed it while browsing through bug pictures.
Winterton had never seen that type of green lacewing, neither had his colleagues.
"I realized: this thing's new," he told NPR.
Winterton and his team could not confirm the species was new, though, because they did not have an intact specimen to study. That is, until Guek returned a year later to the location of his original finding.
"He told me, 'I've got one in a container on my kitchen table — what should I do with it?' " Winterton said.
Entomologist Steve Brooks at the Natural History Museum in London was able to confirm the new discovery, which was ultimately named after Winterton's daughter, according to Russia Today.
A joint paper by Guek, Winterton and Brooks, appropriately written via Google Docs on three different continents, was published in the latest issue of ZooKeys, a biodiversity journal.
Winterton believes the potential for social networks to drive scientific discovery is only beginning to be tapped.
"There's thousands of images a minute uploaded on Flickr," he said. "I think there are many more discoveries forthcoming, particularly as more people are getting out into the field."