Zettelkasten Forum

TA for entomological database

I started to integrate my entomological database (before I used a custom made highly complex FileMaker DB) into my Zettelkasten running with The Arcive. And man, it works great!

From time to time my previous FileMaker solution has given me strange problems, since the database began to grow. So I started to search for a stable and reliable solution. I know, that many entomologists work with Excel sheets, which for me is much too inconvenient. Most museums use database programs. Many years ago there where different special database solutions available on the net, but meanwhile you can't find them anymore (only a solution for MSACCESS (I don’t use Windows) and another one for FileMaker).
I was tired to rely on complex but fragile solutions. I need a workhorse, simple and strong!
So I thought - maybe I can do it with .txt files only. And yes, it works great!

What do we need for an entomological data collection?
1.) Data for each taxon
2.) Ability to change a taxon to synonym status without changing the original file (to keep all links)
3.) Links to the place of storage for each specimen and back
4.) Links to hostplant data and back
5.) Images
6.) Easy way to copy data for label printing
7.) Ability to add data for detailed event decriptions, detailed locality descriptions, loan data, literature data etc. etc.

Everything can be done with simple .txt files. The main advantage is the beautiful simplicity and the speed - you can search and find data much faster than using a complex database program. You can store everything in one folder on your harddrive, and each file represents one specific datum (with database programs everything is hidden encrypted somewhere inside your program).

If you really want to break everything down to taxonomical steps, you can do so. What only means: much more files. I decided to use tags - so e.g.

Carabus (Acoptolabrus) constructicollis heilongjiangensis

will be tagged as #coleoptera #carabidae #carabus #acoptolabrus

that's it. Everything will be available, regardless if you need subfamily, tribus, subtribus or what ever status in addition.

Maybe this can help other strange nerds like me, who have this inordinate fondness for beetles (or other insects)...

Ahoy -


P.S.: As you can see, I also use TA for botanical data (interlinked with the coleoptera data) as well as for lepidoptera data.

P.P.S.: Posted this article on my blog


  • Is The Archive software now available?

  • @ChrisJohnson Man! That's awesome. (The first books I read were animal encyclopedias :smile: )

    I thought about taxanomy a couple of years ago as a use case for the ZKM but never never elaborated on that thought further.

    @raluke Not yet. To keep up to date subscribe to the newsletter.

    I am a Zettler

  • @Sascha Yep, the biological taxonomy system is a binary one (thanks to good old Carolus Linnaeus), perfect for being tranferred to computer. Nevertheless, to see the simple things sometimes is a difficult task...

    TA provides (.. cough ...nearly* ... cough..) everything you need to run a complete entomological data management - that's really, really wonderful! I can remember some years ago a company sold a relational database software for museuems and entomologists for hundreds and hundreds of Euros - the truth is, such a complex system is abolutely not neccessary. Textfiles and a program like TA will do it for you.

    That means:
    1) total control over every single datum, because it's a textfile;
    2) no need to read bulky instruction manuals anymore;
    3) possibilities to adjust your system exactly to your personal needs;
    4) security: the structure is simple and rock solid, even when your program crashes it won't affect your data.

    Anyway - I'm really happy :)

    *Nearly? The only thing I miss (a bit): whether an integrated markdown preview as we know it from nvALT or inline view for images.

  • Can you tell us about the biggest challenges you had?

    One example you mentioned is the right ratio of files to tags. This is true for any application of the plain text approach.

    PS: Image preview will definetely come. :smile:

    I am a Zettler

  • The biggest challenges? Hm. I guess, to free my mind from the idea that a highly complex FileMaker-DB would be the best solution for my ento data management. And to start from scratch to find a solution as simple and as solid as possible. Since I worked on my Zettelkasten solution in the last month (and testing so many different things like nvALT, VoodooPad, FSNotes, Quiver, DokuWiki, MediaWiki, Sublime Text, Emacs, Vim and some more) I asked myself how it would be to integrate my ento DB into my Zettelkasten (following the idea that one datum is represented by one Zettel). And here you have it - TA plus Zettel - BANG! Long way, easy solution ;)

    So, for whom it may concern:

    1) Each taxon has one Zettel. No ID needed, cos the Taxon IS unique.

    2) Metatags provides title/tags/ref/quantity

    3) Tags refer to genus and higher taxa

    4) Zettel provides data for valid taxon/synonyms/description/distribution/hosts/specimens/storage/images/literature - but you can add whatever you need.

    5) From each datum you can link to a corresponding Zettel - e.g. if you have more detailed data for a certain collection event (of which your taxon datum is part of); link to a hostplant (botanical Zettel); link to the collection drawer, which hosts your specimen (that's handy - one click and you have the exact overview what is in your drawer) etc. p.p.

    6) If you have specimens which are not idetified yet (or the determination is uncertain) - just add a prefix to your Zettel title to make sure, that this is material which needs to be worked on later.

    Image preview will come - wow - that's great news!

  • @ChrisJohnson This is really great. I was just researching today for a better (simpler) contact management solution, or as some like to call it customer relationship management system.

    Basically all you need are basic contact details: Name, Company Name, Title, Phone Number, Email, Address, etc.

    The other thing that is useful is to link multiple contacts to the same Company. That way, if you want to reach someone at Microsoft, for example, you can easily find all the people you have in your database who work there.

    There are so many complex software related to CRM that it is overwhelming and unnecessary. I've been playing with the idea of using a basic txt file system to manage this.

    I guess a major disadvantage with this specific use case is you wouldn't have the numbers saved in your phone, which would make it more difficult to make calls or have caller ID. And in your email app you wouldn't have the contacts saved either....

    I'm still playing with this concept but you have alluded to some of the possibilities of database management in the Archive!

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