Twitter being used to study creepy crawlies

5 September 2018, 08:17 | Updated: 5 September 2018, 08:19

Funnel Web Spider

Scientists at the University of Gloucestershire have found Twitter is a great way to study flying ants, starling murmurations and house spiders.

The University ecologists compared their results directly to three previously published studies and found the “Twitter-mined” data was able to replicate most temporal findings, such as date and time of ant mating flights or house spider sightings. 

The researchers could also reproduce the sex ratio of house spiders by analysing the photos tweeters uploaded and, in some cases, received an indication of where in the house the spider was seen. 

Professor Adam Hart from the University of Gloucestershire, who led the study, said: “The retrospective analysis of social media has been used widely to detect earthquakes or political sentiment, but not so much in ecological research. Our study shows that passive citizen science, where we gain information and access to photos indirectly through Twitter or other social media channels such as Facebook and Flickr, can indeed generate robust and interesting data. It is perhaps the immediacy of Twitter, the “urgency” of the phenomena and the desire to connect with other users that have produced so many usable tweets. The emergence of winged ants is also popular in the media and hashtags like #flyingantday often trend on Twitter.

“Twitter can provide a valuable tool for phenological studies of charismatic events and species. Dog owners noting ticks on their animals, or the timing of frog spawning or foxes mating are just some of the questions that could be explored.” 

To encourage more of us to get involved in ecological studies, the researchers suggest promoting specific hashtags that make the search through Twitter archives easier.