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Bar Code Labels for Insects

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Insect Inventory Using Bar Code

By Felipe Onoro

Specimen Collection
Specimens are collected in the field by specially trained staff members, recruited among locals near the Conservation Areas. These "Parataxonomists" spend about 20 days a month, collecting and preserving insect, plant and mollusk specimens. They work many day and night hours in the forest using different kinds of traps.

At the end of the month, they come to INBio bringing over their material. Each group of specimens collected in a given time in the same locality and by the same person or group is designated as one "Lot". About 27.000 insects are processed each month. Using this system INBio ensures a very complete time and space coverage which is very important in a systematic inventory.

At INBio, "lots" are given a unique number and its collection information is entered in the database. Out of this information, collection labels are prepared and when enough are ready for printing a master is generated for the printing company.


Actual size. Click to see a close up

Specimens are pinned with the collection and the bar-code labels in a sequential order. The first and last bar-code numbers for each lot are registered. Later, with this pair of numbers, we will be able to tell to which lot does a given number belong to.


The Identification process is carried out by a team of technicians, curators and specialists that systematically separate specimens down to the species level. Actually, the process begins in the field, since parataxonomist have been trained to identify orders, families and, in a few cases, even species. The pre-classified material is further separated by trained technicians under the supervision of a curator. Then the curator carries on and separates specimens to specie or morpho-speciespossible level. At this point the fully identified specimens are added to the collection. When a final identification can not be made by the curator the specimens are studied by group specialists. If the specimen belongs to a new specie, the specialist describes it, contributing with this new taxon to science.

The taxonomical information is then introduced to the database, linking a specimen to a given specie. This is a process in wich the user actually benefits from the bar code, because he can input the taxonomy of a series of specimens by writing genus and species once and then passing the successive specimens of the series under the reader.

With the location, date and taxonomy in the database, a full suite of textual, tabular and geographical reports can be produced.


1) Sequential labeling. We keep track of the first and last barcode numbers associatedconnected with each "range" in a paper form that also contains information about who and when was it labeled. Since January 1994 we also register the preclassification made by the parataxanomist. This is possiblerequire because speciemens are separated in the field to order or family level. Each lot has an average of 450 specimens. Each lot is usually divided into 2-10 "ranges".

2) The use of "lots". This makes the process manageable, because, although we have more than 1.8 million specimens of insects labeled, these represent "only" about 4.000 "lots".
By dividing the material into lots and ranges it is fairly easy to keep track of the information associated with each specimen. The two data bases that hold all the collection information use only 6 Mb. This is the way we relate the barcode number with the collection information.

Barcode Number ---> Range ----> Lot -----> Collection Information

[1.8 million] [7000] [4000]

3) Code 49. Regarding the barcode itself we use Code 49, a so-called three dimensional barcode that allows greater density. Each label is only 2.1 X 0.7 cm. and can hold 16 characters. The labels have the bar code on the left side and the actual text on the right side. Sometimes we manually input this text (e.g. INBIOCRI000234567) in the computer. We use polyester medium indestructible in alcoholassociated, acids, etc. Labels come precut in rolls and the cost of each is about 1 cent.
INBio's label contain a 9 digit non-duplicated serial number preceded by the acronym "INBIOCRI".

4) Bar Code Readers. We use Intermec Co. bar code readers models 1621 and 1545. The first is an old model, very bulky. However both have proven to be effective. The 1545 is small and easier to connect since it does not require an external power supply.

Our Bar Code Readers are connected to Macintosh computers (SEs, Classics, PowerPCs, Quadras, Powerbooks) through an interface called "wedge". These wedges are available for several kinds and makes of computers. No special software is required since the wedge feeds the computer through the keyboard port and scanned numbers appear just as if they were typed.

The operator requires a little practice, but once he gets a sense of were to place the label and how to move it under the scanner it works just fine.

In my opinion, Code 49 is not state-of-the-art. A single line, more dense code probably would work better, since part of the difficulty in reading it has to do with the fact that the laser scanner has to read actually three lines each time. However, in 1989, when we started using it, Code 49 was the smallest format in the market. Overall we are satisfy with it and we will keep on using it.

If you would like to know more about INBio's Arthropods Inventory systems, please feel free to contact me at .

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