The Crab Shack

Capturing specimen data for science

In October 2015, the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County (LACM) joined with WeDigBio for an international two-day effort to make research data about museum collections available to the world.

Inside LACM, the Marine Biodiversity Center is capturing data (“digitizing”) information from the preserved specimens of crabs in the family Cancridae — there are thousands of specimens in LACM’s collection (which, all together, has millions of specimens).

Some of this work was summarized in a poster presented at the 2016 international meeting of the Society for the Preservation of Natural History Specimens in Berlin, Germany.

What happened at the Crab Shack?

We’ve got crabs. Thousands and thousands of crabs. The problem? There is no electronic record of the existence of any of them. We literally have to walk to the shelf to see what is in the research collection. As you can imagine, this does not make it efficient for us (or visiting researchers) to get good science done.

That’s where our visitors came in. We used their help to transfer data from the paper labels in the specimen jars into our database.

For that to work, we needed images of all the labels in the jars — we’ve done that (for all specimens of crabs in the family Cancridae). Next, we needed people to help transcribe data from those labels into a database. Our collaborators at Notes from Nature designed a special interface to make that job easy (well, truth in advertising: easier).

At the WeDigBio event, we gave a brief orientation to the project, got visitors started on digitizing crab data (and yes, that included prizes and games), and gave visitors a peek into the research “back end” of the Museum collections and research space (places the public never sees). Because it’s from 11am – 1pm, we’ll also had a little food on hand to keep visitors going.

Thanks to all the participants who turned out for the Crab Shack event at the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County!

How can I participate?

Sadly, this event has already happened. But we are likely to do similar events in the future.

Data entry help and special characters here.

Who: For this event, participation is limited to undergraduates at the University of Southern California. (If you’re not a USC undergraduate, don’t despair — we will host more events like this!)

When: Friday 23 October and Saturday 24 October from 11:00am – 1:00pm each day.
The event will take place on two days — sign up for only one of the two days (see below).

Where: The Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County
Coming from USC, cross over Exposition Blvd. at Watt Way, directly to the Museum’s main gate. We will meet you there and escort you to the event venue. Note: Your USC ID card gets you into the Museum for free (always, not just for this event).

To participate:

Questions? Contact Adam Wall <>