Insects to go

Michael Scheuerl

A guest contribution By Michael Scheuerl
14.12.2018 | 10 minutes readingtime

Unfortunately, the majority of the approximately 15 million insects from the collection of the Museum für Naturkunde Berlin (MfN) has never been seen by visitors of the exhibition. But this is changing slightly – with the help of a fancy poster!


*‘Buprestidae, Julodinae’* (jewel beetle) – one of many insect boxes at the Museum für Naturkunde Berlin
*‘Buprestidae, Julodinae’* (jewel beetle) – one of many insect boxes at the Museum für Naturkunde Berlin

The project ‘Beetle Poster’ began at the end of 2017 at the Coding Da Vinci Berlin Hackathon. The MfN presented – among other data – about 1600 digitized insect boxes to an audience of programmers, designers and people interested in culture. Now it was time to develop exciting projects with this freely available data. As one of the participants of the hackathon, I recognized the great potential of these digitized insect boxes. My hypothesis was simple and ambitious at the same time: the insects in the collection should be completely re-sorted.

Sorting them by colour would be great! But how do you sort thousands of insects? Fortunately, the two programmers Falko Krause and Olivier Wagener joined me, who felt like processing and sorting these huge amounts of data from the MfN. With enthusiastic coding and important previous experience in the mechanical sorting of coloured chocolate lentils, the two settled down to work.


The team at Coding da Vinci, Photo: Museum für Naturkunde | Nadja Heinisch
The team at Coding da Vinci, Photo: Museum für Naturkunde | Nadja Heinisch

But I didn’t want algorithms to take away the fun of sorting. So I started to sort a small selection of insects by hand according to their colour. A total of 96 animals, all of them *‘Buprestidae, Julodinae’* (jewel beetles), found a spot on my poster in A1 format.

Together with Falko and Olivier I could not only convince the jury of the Coding da Vinci Hackathon 2017, which awarded our project the „Funniest Hack“ award. Also the Mediasphere for Nature team at the MfN was impressed. I could not convince the MfN to change the system of sorting their beetle collection because of this, but together with the Mediasphere for Nature team I started to make the poster ready for printing for the Museum shop so that visitors of the museum can also take insects with them

From January 2019 on there are ‘insects to go’, correctly and well sorted: by colour! And who knows, maybe one day there will be other secrets from the archives of the Museum für Naturkunde Berlin to take away…


  The final beetle poster | © CC-BY-SA-4.0  Created by Michael Scheuerl in cooperation with Mediasphere For Nature powered by Museum für Naturkunde Berlin and Filmtank GmbH
The final beetle poster | © CC-BY-SA-4.0 Created by Michael Scheuerl in cooperation with Mediasphere For Nature powered by Museum für Naturkunde Berlin and Filmtank GmbH

Update from 26.02.19: The poster is now also available in the online shop. The link has been updated.