Keep Plucking Chickens

8 June, 2011 15:29 by Simon S

In high school, I bucked the normal Maths/Science stream by studying French instead of Biology (yeah, I’m a rebel). So I spent my evenings memorising the past imperfect conjugations of irregular verbs rather than Linnaean classification systems. Fast forward an undisclosed number of years and while I still haven’t been to France to wrestle with verbs that need more fibre in their diet, I have spent a lot of time in meetings talking about how Phylum, Class, Order, Family, Genus and Species should be displayed in the Field Guide.

When animals are shown in the listing or the search results, you see the thumbnail on the left, common name in bold and scientific nomenclature subtitle.

Screenshot from the Field GuideScreenshot from the Field Guide
Source: Museum Victoria

The subtitle is created and formatted using the taxonomic data entered for the animal. Genus and species names are always displayed in italics. Of course, you may not need to have a species or genus name for a particular animal. A fresh water pond may have dozens of different examples of Copepoda, but your average explorer is unlikely to have a microscope handy to tease them into their different genera.

The logic for creating the subtitle starts with species and works its way back up the taxonomic ranks. In the sample listing, the Yabby has an entry for Genus and Species and the subtitle becomes the full scientific name (e.g. Cherax destructor). The Spiny Crayfish only has an entry for Genus, so Euastacus sp becomes the subtitle. The Cyclops Copepod doesn’t have an entry for Genus, so the subtitle is created using the lowest taxonomic rank there is an entry for, Order. With the value, Copepoda, and Order: Copepoda becomes the subtitle.

And that’s how the taxonomic information about an animal gets converted into its scientific name within the Field Guide code. If you’re wondering about the title of this post, it’s the start of a good mnemonic for the order of the Linnaean ranks: Keep Plucking Chickens Or Face Getting Sacked.

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Comments (4)

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Gerry Parlevliet 11 June, 2011 11:28
The iPad app is a beautiful bit of work. I would love to see the field Guide code used by all state museums. Keep up the great work. I appreciate the amount of work that has gone into this app.
Andrew 26 June, 2011 09:45
Just wondering when the open source for the field guide will be available? Some of the blog entries suggest its available but i can see where... thanks
Simon Sherrin 27 June, 2011 11:43

Hi Andrew

The target date was to have the code up by the end of June, but due to Ash Clouds, changing jobs and other competing priorities, that target has slipped by a couple of weeks. Why not just publish the code as is? We want the code to be "plug and play", so that you can just add your own data to the project without having to get into Objective C programming. Details on how to obtain the code will be published in the blog when the code is available.

Laura Francis 27 June, 2011 13:40
I work for the Channel Islands National Marine Sanctuary in Santa Barbara California. We are working on a rocky intertidal app for our region. We are building it tomorrow (June 27th California time) in partnership with a local technology company that has volunteered one focused day to work with us. We have all the content/photos for our area, but it would help our non-profit/gov/educational group tremendously to be able to use your source code as a starting point for building our app. Any chance you can help us out?
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About this blog

We've released the source code for MV's Field Guide Project under a MIT style license. This blog will help you identify all the material you need to collect so that you can publish a field guide of your own.

MV's Open Sourced Code on Github

View all Museum Victoria's apps

Blog authors

Simon S is the programmer behind the field guide app.

Simon O is the designer behind the field guide app.