Biodiversity Data Journal : Data Paper (Biosciences)
Data Paper (Biosciences)
Database of butterfly and moth observations in the Netherlands: research from 1947-2020
expand article infoFrançois J. A. Slieker, Niels Raes§
‡ Natural History Museum Rotterdam, Rotterdam, Netherlands
§ Netherlands Biodiversity Information Facility (NLBIF) - Naturalis Biodiversity Center, Leiden, Netherlands
Open Access



The Natural History Museum Rotterdam (NMR) is a regional natural history museum in The Netherlands that focuses on nature and biodiversity of the city of Rotterdam and its surroundings. Bureau Stadsnatuur Rotterdam (bSR) is part of the NMR and collects, mainly on behalf of third parties, data on the flora and fauna from primarily urban areas. The NMR has received a large amount of observation data (1,363 different species in 886,902 observations), in particular of moths and mainly from the Provinces of Zuid-Holland, Noord-Holland and Noord-Brabant from the period 1947-2020. The observation dataset was compiled and standardised from 18 different datasets and stored in a database and published at the Global Biodiversity Information Facility (GBIF).

New information

For the first time, a large butterfly and moth observations dataset with historical distribution data for The Netherlands is mobilised and serves as a baseline lepidopteran biodiversity record.


Lepidoptera, butterflies, moths, Netherlands, observations, occurrence, database


Lepidopterans are an important group of arthropods that are particularly sensitive to global climate change and relatively fast change of environmental factors. Climate change will shift geographical ranges of species and will have significant effect on dispersal capacity. Changes in climate conditions have affected survival, reproduction and food availability (Kocsis and Hufnagel 2011).

In The Netherlands, butterflies and moths are under great pressure, both in numbers and in species diversity. Since 1940, one quarter of Dutch butterfly species has disappeared from our country and over 40% of the remaining species are threatened (Bos et al. 2006). Dutch moth data from 1980 onwards show a disturbing picture with a sharp decline in number of individuals of most species, as well as the disappearance of species from the Dutch fauna (Ellis et al. 2013). At present, data on Dutch lepidopterans prior to 1980 are of limited availability and make it difficult to interpret current changes (Bos et al. 2006, Ellis et al. 2013). Historical observations are, therefore, of crucial importance to gain a better understanding in the development and trends of the Dutch butterfly fauna. The database contains 1,363 different species in 886,902 observations (Slieker 2021) and was compiled from 18 different datasets (Table 1), some presented in spreadsheet format, some on handwritten lists, coverering the time period from 1947-2013.

Table 1.

Overview of the 18 datasets used to compile the dataset.

Partial dataset Locality Period Observations Observer(s)
01 Netherlands, Zuid-Holland, Westvoorne, Oostvoorne, Weeversduin 1964 135,329 R.Vis, D.A. Vestergaard and and J.G. v.d. Made (Vestergaard et al. 1973)
02 Netherlands, Zuid-Holland, Westvoorne, Oostvoorne, Weeversduin 1963 130,327 R.Vis, D.A. Vestergaard and and J.G. v.d. Made (Vestergaard et al. 1973)
03 Netherlands, Zuid-Holland, Wassenaar, Bierlap 1955-1956 4,716 J.A.W. Lucas, and A. van Tol
04 Netherlands, Zuid-Holland, Rotterdam, Hoek van Holland 1999-2005 7,375 N.W. Elfferich, J.A.W. Lucas, and R. van Tilborg
05 Netherlands, Zuid-Holland, Albrandswaard, Rhoon 1995-1999 7,369 N.W. Elfferich, J.A.W. Lucas, and R. van Tilborg
06 Netherlands, Zuid-Holland, Dordrecht, Kop van ’t Land (Fig. 1) 1987-2005 8,727 R. Vis, and D.O. Visser (Vis and Visser 2007)
07 Netherlands, Zuid-Holland, Krimpenerwaard, Lekkerkerk, Bakkerswaal 1985-1988 9,590 N.W. Elfferich, and J.A.W. Lucas
08 Netherlands, Zuid-Holland, Westland, ’s-Gravenzande, Staelduinse Bos 1989-1993 7,441 N.W. Elfferich, and J.A.W. Lucas
09 Netherlands, Zuid-Holland, Zuidplas, Nieuwerkerk a/d IJssel, Hitland 2000-2006 2,597 N.W. Elfferich, J.A.W. Lucas, R. van Tilborg
10 Netherlands, Noord-Brabant, Rucphen, Schijf 2000 912 Elfferich, J.A.W. Lucas, and R. van Tilborg
11 Netherlands, Zuid-Holland, Westland, ’s-Gravenzande, Staelduinse Bos 1989-1993 1,525 A.M. van Oosten, and N.W. Elfferich
12 Netherlands, butterflies from multiple localities 1947-2010 909 R. Vis
13 Netherlands, Noord-Brabant, Boxtel, Kampinasche Heide 1959 2,148 R. Vis, D.A. Vestergaard, and J.G. van der Made
14 Netherlands, Overijssel, Dinkelland, Denekamp 2003 627 R. Vis, and D.O. Visser
15 Netherlands, multiple localities 1957-2013 8,816 R. Vis
16 Netherlands, multiple localities 1959, 2008-2009 1,043 R. Vis, D.O. Visser, J.G. van der Made
17 Netherlands, Noord-Holland, Texel, Hoge Berg 2010 190 J. Kuchlein
18 Netherlands, multiple localities 1992-2020 557,261 Team urban ecologists from Bureau Stadsnatuur Rotterdam

Sampling methods


The Netherlands, Provinces of Zuid-Holland, Noord-Holland, Noord-Brabant, Limburg, Utrecht and Gelderland.

Sampling description: 

Each occurrence contained fundamental information, such as location, coordinates, date, name of observer and identifier. Coordinates were determined directly on site with the help of a GPS device (554,476 occurrences). In other cases, Google Maps (2020) and Google Earth were used. The margin of error in both measurements of coordinates is 11 m. The accuracy of determining coordinates is up to the fourth digit. In all occurrences, the WGS-84 geodetic datum is used.

One subset of data (135,596 occurrences) contains environmental data in the “dynamicProperties” field Measured values include cloud cover, mean sea level, pressure (HPa), relative humidity percentage, lunar surface illumination percentage, rainfall (mm), air temperature (°C), mean wind direction, windforce (Beaufort) and windspeed (m/s).

Quality control: 

Voucher specimens were taken from two subsets of data (Table 1, partial datasets 01 and 02) and obtained by sampling with a modified Robinson moth trap. These specimens are kept in the Rotterdam Museum of Natural History. Observations in partial datasets 03 t/m 17 (Table 1) were made by experienced entomologists, mutually verifying each other's observations. Partial dataset 18 contains data monitored by a team of senior urban ecologists, including experienced entomologists.

Geographic coverage


The dataset contains information about the occurrence of Lepidopterans in The Netherlands, primarily originating from six Dutch Provinces: Noord-Holland, Zuid-Holland, Noord-Brabant, Limburg, Utrecht and Gelderland. The different sites cover a wide variety of habitats ranging from dune areas with shrubs, low dune grassland, foreland osiers, urban parks, as well as new land reclaimed from the sea. A density map with the records is shown in Fig. 2.

Figure 1.  

Netherlands, Dordrecht, Kop van 't Land, observation site of moths listed in dataset 06. Aerial image courtesy of Manuel Schiesser.

Figure 2.  

Overview of observations made in the Dutch Province of Zuid-Holland (91.6% of all sightings in the total dataset).


52.2066 - 52.9352 N; 3.4494 - 7.1188 E.

Taxonomic coverage

Taxa included:
Rank Scientific Name Common Name
kingdom Animalia Animals
phylum Arthropoda Arthropods
class Insecta Insects
order Lepidoptera lepidopterans
family Adelidae
family Alucitidae
family Argyresthiidae
family Autostichidae
family Batrachedridae
family Bedelliidae
family Blastobasidae
family Bucculatricidae
family Choreutidae
family Coleophoridae
family Cosmopterigidae
family Cossidae
family Crambidae
family Depressariidae
family Drepanidae
family Elachistidae
family Epermeniidae
family Erebidae
family Eriocraniidae
family Ethmiidae
family Gelechiidae
family Geometridae
family Glyphipterigidae
family Gracillariidae
family Heliozelidae
family Hepialidae
family Hesperiidae
family Incurvariidae
family Lasiocampidae
family Limacodidae
family Lycaenidae
family Lyonetiidae
family Micropterigidae
family Momphidae
family Nepticulidae
family Noctuidae
family Nolidae
family Notodontidae
family Nymphalidae
family Oecophoridae
family Pantheidae
family Papilionidae
family Pieridae
family Plutellidae
family Psychidae
family Pterophoridae
family Pyralidae
family Saturniidae
family Sesiidae
family Sphingidae
family Stathmopodidae
family Thyrididae
family Tineidae
family Tischeriidae
family Tortricidae
family Yponomeutidae
family Ypsolophidae
family Zygaenidae

Temporal coverage

Data range: 
1947-1-01 - 2020-12-31.

Usage licence

Usage licence: 
Creative Commons Public Domain Waiver (CC-Zero)

Data resources

Data package title: 
Natural History Museum Rotterdam - Observations
Number of data sets: 
Data set name: 
Natural History Museum Rotterdam - Observations
Data format: 
DwC & GBIF API terms
Data format version: 
DwC 2021-07-15 & GBIF API v.1

A set of 886,902 observations of Lepidoptera made between 1947 and 2020 in The Netherlands compiled from 18 datasets (Table 1), partially including phenological data.

Column label Column description
catalogNumber An identifier (preferably unique) for the record within the dataset or collection.
recordNumber An identifier given to the Occurrence at the time it was recorded. Often serves as a link between field notes and an Occurrence record, such as a specimen collector's number.
occurrenceID A single globally unique identifier for the occurrence record as provided by the publisher.
kingdom The full scientific name of the kingdom in which the taxon is classified.
phylum The full scientific name of the phylum or division in which the taxon is classified.
class The full scientific name of the class in which the taxon is classified.
order The full scientific name of the order in which the taxon is classified.
family The full scientific name of the family in which the taxon is classified.
genus The full scientific name of the genus in which the taxon is classified.
specificEpithet The name of the first or species epithet of the scientificName.
infraspecificEpithet The name of the lowest or terminal infraspecific epithet of the scientificName, excluding any rank designation.
taxonRank The taxonomic rank of the most specific name in the scientificName.
scientificName The full scientific name, with authorship and date information if known.
identifiedBy A list (concatenated and separated) of names of people, groups or organisations who assigned the Taxon to the subject.
countryCode The standard code for the country in which the Location occurs.
locality The specific description of the place.
stateProvince The name of the next smaller administrative region than country (state, province, canton, department, region etc.) in which the Location occurs.
occurrenceStatus A statement about the presence or absence of a Taxon at a Location.
individualCount The number of individuals present at the time of the Occurrence.
collectionID An identifier for the collection or dataset from which the record was derived.
decimalLatitude Latitude in decimals between -90 and 90, based on WGS 84.
decimalLongitude Longitude in decimals between -180 and 180, based on WGS 84.
coordinateUncertaintyInMetres The horizontal distance (in metres) from the given decimalLatitude and decimalLongitude describing the smallest circle containing the whole of the Location.
coordinatePrecision A decimal representation of the precision of the coordinates given in the decimalLatitude and decimalLongitude.
minimumElevationInMetres The lower limit of the range of elevation (altitude, usually above sea level), in metres.
rightsHolder A person or organisation owning or managing rights over the resource.
recordedBy A list (concatenated and separated) of names of people, groups or organisations responsible for recording the original Occurrence. The primary collector or observer, especially one who applies a personal identifier (recordNumber), should be listed first.
establishmentMeans Statement about whether an organism or organisms have been introduced to a given place and time through the direct or indirect activity of modern humans.
eventDate The date-time or interval during which an Event occurred.
day The integer day of the month on which the Event occurred.
month The integer month in which the Event occurred.
year The four-digit year in which the Event occurred, according to the Common Era Calendar.
bibliographicCitation A bibliographic reference for the resource as a statement indicating how this record should be cited (attributed) when used.
dynamicProperties A list of additional measurements, facts, characteristics, or assertions about the record. Meant to provide a mechanism for structured content.
basisOfRecord The specific nature of the data record; for example, PreservedSpecimen, FossilSpecimen, LivingSpecimen, MaterialSample, Event, HumanObservation, MachineObservation, Taxon, Occurrence, MaterialCitation.
institutionCode The name (or acronym) in use by the institution having custody of the object(s) or information referred to in the record.
collectionCode The name, acronym, coden or initialism identifying the collection or dataset from which the record was derived.
continent The name of the continent in which the Location occurs.
country The name of the country or major administrative unit in which the Location occurs.
eventID An identifier for the set of information associated with an Event (something that occurs at a place and time). May be a global unique identifier or an identifier specific to the dataset.
geodeticDatum The ellipsoid, geodetic datum or spatial reference system (SRS) upon which the geographic coordinates given in decimalLatitude and decimalLongitude are based.
georeferencedBy A list (concatenated and separated) of names of people, groups, or organisations who determined the georeference (spatial representation) for the Location.
georeferenceVerificationStatus A categorical description of the extent to which the georeference has been verified to represent the best possible spatial description for the Location of the Occurrence.
habitat A category or description of the habitat in which the Event occurred.
institutionID An identifier for the institution having custody of the object(s) or information referred to in the record.
language A language of the resource.
lifeStage The age class or life stage of the Organism(s) at the time the Occurrence was recorded.
nomenclaturalCode The nomenclatural code (or codes in the case of an ambiregnal name) under which the scientificName is constructed.
occurrenceRemarks Comments or notes about the Occurrence.
organismQuantity A number or enumeration value for the quantity of organisms.
organismQuantityType The type of quantification system used for the quantity of organisms.
samplingProtocol The names of, references to, or descriptions of the methods or protocols used during an Event.
taxonomicStatus The status of the use of the scientificName as a label for a taxon. Requires taxonomic opinion to define the scope of a taxon. Rules of priority then are used to define the taxonomic status of the nomenclature contained in that scope, combined with the experts' opinion. It must be linked to a specific taxonomic reference that defines the concept.
type The nature or genre of the resource.
verbatimCoordinates The verbatim original spatial coordinates of the Location. The coordinate ellipsoid, geodeticDatum or full Spatial Reference System (SRS) for these coordinates should be stored in verbatimSRS and the coordinate system should be stored in verbatimCoordinateSystem.
verbatimCoordinateSystem The coordinate format for the verbatimLatitude and verbatimLongitude or the verbatimCoordinates of the Location.
vernacularName A common or vernacular name.
license A legal document giving official permission to do something with the resource.


The authors would like to thank Ir. Garry Bakker (Bureau Stadsnatuur Rotterdam) for compiling the distribution data in Figure 2.


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