Who are the greatest Armchair Taxonomists? The winners announced!

The Encyclopedia of Life announces the winners of the Armchair Taxonomist competition featured here at Boing Boing. Everyone gets a warm thanks for helping to fill an open-source database with information about animals, plants, fungi, protozoa, and bacteria—but who gets to go on a tour of the Smithsonian?

Last chance to enter the Armchair Taxonomist challenge!

All this month, we've been telling you about a fantastic challenge from the Encyclopedia of Life. Called Armchair Taxonomist, it's an opportunity to research and write about different plants, animals, fungi, and microscopic organisms — and, in the process, help move scientific information from places where it's hard for most people to see, to an open-access sandbox on the Internet.

If you've taken the time to write up an entry, fantastic. We're looking forward to reading them. You've also got a shot at the great stuff up for grabs — including a private, behind the scenes tour of the Smithsonian's National Museum of Natural History. If you've not entered yet, though, this is the last weekend you can. The deadline is Monday, May 20th at 6:00 pm Eastern.

Read all about the Armchair Taxonomist challenge.

And be sure to check out the stories in BoingBoing's taxonomy series: • Learn what leeches and ligers can teach us about evolution • Meet the model animals against whom entire species are judged • Find out what taxonomists and Mr. Spock have in common

Image: Bee-eater Courtship, a Creative Commons Attribution (2.0) image from kkoshy's photostream

Read the rest

What leeches and ligers can teach you about evolution

This is the first story in a four-part, weekly series on taxonomy and speciation. It's meant to help you as you participate in Armchair Taxonomist — a challenge from the Encyclopedia of Life to bring scientific descriptions of animals, plants, and other living things out from behind paywalls and onto the Internet. Participants can earn cool prizes, so be sure to check it out!

If you aren't totally clear on what constitutes a species, or how scientists draw the line between one species and another, don't feel bad.

Quite frankly, the scientists are a little shaky on this stuff, as well.

That's because species aren't easily defined, and there's a lot of debate over whether an individual animal, plant, fungus, or bacterium belongs in one species group or another. In fact, if you want to know what a species is, it's best to not bother trying to grope for a strict definition, taxonomists told me. Instead, every species is really a hypothesis. "It's a testable conjecture," said Mark Siddall, curator of the phylums Annelida and Protozoa at the American Museum of Natural History. "It's a hypothesis about common ancestry, and the recency of that common ancestry."

But that hasn't always been the case. Read the rest

Be an armchair taxonomist! A challenge from the Encyclopedia of Life

Trouble is, a lot of information about living things is hidden behind paywalls or scattered across random sources where the general public can't easily get to it. That's where you come in! Help fill the Encyclopedia of Life's open-source database with information about animals, plants, fungi, protozoa, and bacteria.