Automatic insect identification in the Netherlands

One hundred camera traps, developed specifically for the automatic counting and recognition of insects, will be placed throughout the Netherlands this summer.

This is a first, as this system has never been used before, but it is now so popular that the creators have already received more requests than they can honour this year. The official launch of the project was in Engewormer on 15 May 2019.

Recent publications in scientific research show an alarming drop in numbers of insects in Western Europe and in Dutch nature reserves. The recently published IPBES (Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services) Report emphasises the importance of biodiversity and a wide range of parties is sounding the alarm. Experts are voicing their opinions in national media, the national bee count is raising awareness with the general public and garden centres are all selling seed mixtures for plants that attract bees and butterflies.  Counting and identifying insects gives researchers insight into the numbers nationally and also the effectiveness of measures being applied to restore biodiversity.

Automatic image recognition

Purchasers of the camera traps include provincial councils, who wish to obtain insight into the insect population in order to determine biodiversity policy. The data are currently collected by human counters, but this is a difficult task and rarely covers enough territory. For that reason, researchers from Naturalis Biodiversity Center got together with EIS Kenniscentrum Insecten, Radboud University Nijmegen and COSMONIO Imaging BV and took advice from to develop a system that performs this task automatically. The Netherlands leads the field in the area of automatic image recognition of insects and the technique, sponsored by the World Wildlife Fund, will now be delivered in time for the summer.

Easier and more consistent counting of insects

Using a camera trap 24 hours a day at a single location and for a longer period, the system can count and measure the number of insects present more efficiently and less expensively than a human counter can. Thanks to the system, observation can also be carried out at multiple locations simultaneously. Using the software means that scientists no longer have to catch the insects, which saves a lot of time. Naturalis ‘trains’ the software using a photo database of several million photos collected by the amateurs and specialists at The size and quality of this database is unique in the world and at present, the Netherlands is the only country in the world in which this development is possible.

With the modern system of image recognition incorporated into these cameras, researchers expect that the counting of insects will be much easier. It will consequently be possible to observe at multiple locations simultaneously. Using these automatic counting cameras could contribute to the setting up of a national counting network for the insect population, which could be a follow-up to recent research in the Netherlands.

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