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Online 3D Insect Sleuth Tells Friend From Foe

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A new online system could make it easier for Australia to identify invasive fire ants. Accidentally imported into northern Australia two decades ago, fire ants have spread across the country, but exterminating them is problematic because they can be mistaken for native species such as green tree ants and meat ants. "These tiny ants look so similar," says NICTA Queensland Research Laboratory's Xiaozheng Zhang.

Zhang and colleagues are working on a system that will model insects in three dimensions. "With [three-dimensional (3D)] insect models, one can rotate and even cast different lights onto the body to have a better comparison," Zhang says.

The models will be created with an algorithm that combines several two-dimensional photographs, along with textual information defining coloring and the possible length and size of the creature's body parts. The 3D identification system will enable people in the field to upload a photograph of an insect, and the software will compare it to models in its database and estimate whether the insect is likely native or alien.

A prototype for identifying longhorn beetles will be completed this year, but modeling of the fire ant is expected to begin in 2012.

From New Scientist
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