Dichotomous keys have long been one of the primary tools for the identification of organisms. While the traditional printed format remains a useful tool , technological advancements mean that it is possible to broaden the scope of these keys so they can provide more information and appeal to a wider audience. The Waterbug App is a mobile phone app that is intended to introduce the taxonomy of freshwater invertebrates to a broad audience, utilising high resolution images, movies and sound to supplement text descriptions.
Citizen science is carefully and slowly becoming an accepted source of credible data. To work properly it needs to have practical and accessible tools. The Waterbug App provides such a tool. It utilises a taxonomic framework that has been developed to allow non-professionals to identify waterbugs without the use of a microscope. Characteristics of live animals, such as motion and colour are used to place animals within a hierarchy of taxonomic identification that is constrained to animal groupings that can be distinguished with limited magnification .
The Waterbug App has been designed to be adaptable to use alternative taxonomic frameworks. Inside the app is a generic structure designed to allow any dichotomous key with linked illustrations to be authored as portable apps for Android or iOS operating systems By importing a plan of the dichotomous key in Extensible Markup Language (XML), the underlying engine can generate multimedia apps from existing dichotomous keys.