Citizen Science 1960s Style: Butterflies at Sea

By: Duncan Loxton, Category: Museullaneous, Date: 19 Sep 2013

A ship’s captain gets involved in citizen science.

Packman enquiry, 1969

Packman enquiry, 1969
Photographer:  © Australian Museum

Among the papers of Courtenay Smithers (Curator of Insects 1960-1985, Deputy Director 1967-1970), are hundreds of letters from people who took part in butterfly migration surveys. It is these letters (arriving from all over Australia), these observations, that I admire. Smithers kept them all, each earnest and diligent contribution . He’d often reply - some exchanges extending years. He truly valued the help of these scientific confederates.

One letter, signed Captain Leslie G. Packman, had me enthralled. From its obtuse opening to the extraordinary observations of Manta rays in the Timor Sea (page 2), Captain Packman’s letter makes for compelling reading. Smithers’ reply is characteristically enthusiastic.

Today, citizen scientists remain a vital part of scientific enquiry at the Australian Museum. Museum2you runs several citizen science programs, while the Volunteer Biodiversity Portal and DigiVol offer other ways to contribute. See What can you do to participate in citizen Science programs? for other ways to get involved.


Additional information

Some contributors went on to become entomologists (Britton, D.R. ‘Courtenay Neville Smithers – His Career in Australia’, Australian Entomologist, 39, no. 4, 221-230), one of whom is Shane McEvey, our Entomologist and Scientific Publications Editor. For further information about Smithers’ butterfly migration studies, see Peters, J.V. ‘A tribute to Courtenay Smithers and his butterfly migrations studies’, Australian Entomologist, 39, no. 4, 221-230.