Over the years I've been sent large numbers of specimens to identify, usually through the post and often in matchboxes and the like. Opening those packets that came through the letterbox was always an adventure. I never knew whether one might hold an exotic spider with a nasty bite, a leech (I've had a lot of those), an alien insect (I've even had a few locusts), tiny scraps of a plant that would be well-nigh impossible to put a name to, strange eggs that would need to be incubated and nursed through their life cycle or - more often than not - something that had been delayed in the post and had been dead for days and was very smelly.
These days that natural history lucky dip has been replaced by digital images that come in via an inbox rather than a letterbox. This one was sent yesterday by my son Chris, who found it in the Stormfront Apple computer shop in Durham where he works and who photographed it (inevitably) with his iPhone.
Photo copyright Chris Gates
It is (I think) a lesser swallow prominent Pheosia gnoma, whose attractive markings would make it hard to spot in its natural environment, on the bark of a silver birch tree that's the food plant of its caterpillar, but don't offer much protection in the retail computer environment that it strayed into.
The digital revolution over the last few years, offering easy recording and instant exchange of images, has had a massive positive impact on the study of nature. I suspect that future naturalists will look back on this as the beginning of a golden age of natural history.