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A Simple Plan to ID Every Creature on Earth

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Old 10-02-2008
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A Simple Plan to ID Every Creature on Earth
The utopian lepidopterist holds a pin in each hand. His style is ambidextrous and probably unique. He catches two forewings of a dead moth simultaneously and pins them to his drying board, and then, in a continuous sweep, he does the same with the hind wings. He repeats these motions again and again, like a conductor with tiny batons. Outside, it is hot and bright. Inside, it is hot and dark. The lepidopterist, whose name is Dan Janzen, has been working here in this Costa Rican forest for more than 40 years. He is married to his research partner, Winnie Hallwachs, and the two of them occupy a small house with a roof of corrugated metal whose eaves cast deep shade. During the day they work under artificial light. At night bats flit through the gaps at the top of the wall, do hairpin turns in the air, and exit again without slowing. The utopian lepidopterist's aim is to put names on all the moths and butterflies in the forest. He wants to know more than just the names, of course; he wants to know who lives where and who eats whom and to unravel the mysteries of the ecosystem. But his first question is always the most basic one. This moth, here on the drying board: What is it called?All over the world, farmers, port inspectors, game wardens, exterminators, building contractors, and, of course, professional biologists are staring at some form of plant or animal life and wondering helplessly what it is. Matching living things to their names is so notoriously difficult that the...

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