September 21, 2020

A Stunning Punctured Tiger Beetle Seen in Canada - Observation of the Week, 9/21/20

Our Observation of the Week is this Punctured Tiger Beetle (Cicindèle Ponctuée), seen in Canada by @jeongyoo!

“I have loved watching insects since my childhood, fascinated by their near endless diversity,” says Jeong Yoo, a graduate student in entomology. 

Whenever the opportunity provides, I take a hike to small urban parks in my neighborhood, take a sit, and observe and photograph the insects. Though I’m into all insects in general, my favorite is and will always be Chalcid wasps (a group of mostly parasitic wasps). As an avid student of Chalcidoidea systematics, I’ve been working on various Chalcidoidea research projects with Dr. Chris Darling at the Royal Ontario Museum

Tiger beetles, Jeong tells me, are among the most difficult insects to photograph (which I can attest to) because they are so fast, so skittish, and have great vision. So he originally thought this one was dead because it kept still as he approached.

So I was very surprised when the beetle flinched as I removed the grass for clear shots! Fortunately, the beetle was kind enough to stay a little longer for me to take a few shots before scurrying off, presumably to sleep somewhere else. I was very lucky to photograph this beautiful beetle.

As you can tell from Jeong’s excellent photos, tiger beetles have some impressive mandibles, which they use to catch, kill, and consume their prey after chasing it down. At least one species has been clocked at running 2.5 meters per second, which is the equivalent of about 125 body lengths per second. And interestingly, they’ll often stop briefly to reorient themselves because they’re not able to process enough visual information at those speeds. This particular species, Jeong tells me, gets its common name from the “green punctures lining the length of its elytra.”

While he’s always enjoyed sharing this photos of insects, Jeong (above) credits Dr. Darling with encouraging him to use iNat. 

I soon realised that iNaturalist is an excellent tool for deepening our knowledge and appreciation for the natural world. Since then, I’ve been vigorously taking and uploading insect photos to my iNaturalist project, hoping for whatever small contributions they would make. I would be happy to see people other than myself stooping down in the park to watch insects.


- The Royal Ontario Museum is one of the organizations managing iNaturalist Canada!

- Nice overview of tiger beetles by Florida Museum PhD student Harlan Gough.

- Roll that beatiful tiger beetle footage!

Posted on September 21, 2020 21:35 by tiwane tiwane | 16 comments | Leave a comment

September 20, 2020

50 million observations on iNaturalist!

Thank you for your role in reaching this milestone! Help support iNaturalist as we grow.


DONATE TO CELEBRATE 50M

As of September 20, 2020, iNaturalist has more than 50 million records of wild biodiversity with photos or sounds to allow verification by the community. This year, despite a pandemic and numerous natural disasters, the resilient iNaturalist community continues to forge new connections and discoveries. It has been just 13 months since we passed 25 million observations—continuing iNaturalist’s trend of roughly doubling the number of observations and participants each year since 2012.

Where and what are those 50 million observations? Let’s look at them as dots where each represents 250,000 observations.

Imagine 50 million observations are represented by 200 dots

123 of the 200 dots are of plants and insects. Fish are represented by just 2 dots.

How many dots from each species category?

133 of the 200 dots are from in North America. Africa and South America have the fewest dots.

How many dots are from each continent?

Here's a few more ways to visualize iNaturalist's growth that may be familiar. The graph below shows the number of observations posted each month since iNaturalist was launched in 2008. The site has been roughly doubling each year and there is a pronounced uptick in the northern hemisphere spring and summer. For comparison, it took until November 2014 (or six and a half years) for iNaturalist to reach the first million observations. We broke 3 million observations per month for the first time this year.

Observations Over Time



This map shows the number of observations by country. Just over half of all iNaturalist observations are from the United States.

Observations by Country

iNaturalist is growing differently in different places. In 21 of the top 50 countries with the most observations, the number of observations posted in 2020 is at least double the number posted by this date in 2019. These countries are shown below in descending order. Finland was the fastest growing country this year by this metric. Finland was one of five countries to join the iNaturalist Network of localized iNaturalist portals launched in the last year, along with Ecuador, Australia, Argentina, and Israel. More are in progress.

Where the rate of observations has at least doubled in the last year



In 25 of the top 50 countries, iNaturalist has grown in 2020 compared to 2019, but not quite doubled.

Where the rate of observations has grown but not quite doubled since last year



In 4 of the top 50 countries, fewer observations have been posted in 2020 compared to 2019. All four of these countries had very large City Nature Challenge events in 2019 (notice the peaks around April 2019). The fact that the pandemic made it more difficult to organize in-person events in 2020 probably accounts for the relatively fewer observations this year, even though the baseline of activity throughout the year has increased.

Where the rate of observations has not grown compared to last year



This week on social media we’ll be highlighting observations and stories from each inhabited continent on a different day. You can follow iNaturalist on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.

Naturalist’s Impact

Each of these 50 million observations is an invitation to a conversation about what was seen and its identification. The power of iNaturalist comes from the connections and discussions it enables across borders and levels of professional experience—and the open biodiversity data it creates.

For example, Canadian photographer @pbertner posted photos of of a myco-heterotrophic plant in Peru, which was identified by @kai_schablewski, an amateur botanist in Germany, as Tiputinia foetida - hundreds of kilometers from its only previously known location in eastern Ecuador. And iNat users in both California and Australia collaborated to identify a mysterious sunfish on the shores of Santa Barbara as Mola tecta - the first documented sighting of this species in the northern hemisphere since the late 1800s! Since then, @lauren99 posted a Mola tecta photo from 2015, taken off of the California coast.

@sultana, whose primary interest is malacology, posted some old photos of a weasel caught in his parents’ bathroom, and the iNat community identified them as the first known photos of a living Colombian weasel - perhaps the rarest South American carnivore. And recently @lcollingsparker posted a cicada observation (from her blueberry bushes), which researchers identified as Okanagana arctostaphylae. It was the first known sighting of this species since it was described in 1915!

And in some cases, iNaturalist observations have even led to the description of entirely new species, like the recently described Phidippus pacosauritus jumping spider, first documented in Paco’s Reserva de Flora y Fauna in Mexico.

Conversations about species identifications are happening all over social media, but iNaturalist captures that dialogue in a structured way that enables searching and reuse that is unique. iNaturalist is rapidly becoming invaluable for biodiversity research through the sheer volume, taxonomic diversity, and geographic range of data enabled by the collective efforts of the global community.

In addition to being explored on and exported from the iNaturalist website, the Research-Grade records are regularly shared with the Global Biodiversity Information Facility (GBIF). GBIF brings together records from museum specimens as well as many different citizen science and monitoring efforts. Although far from the largest dataset on GBIF, records from the iNaturalist dataset have been cited more than any other—804 times to date!

Beyond the traditional application of occurrence data that captures what, where, and when, a new trend of biodiversity research is beginning based on characters in the photographic evidence.

iNaturalist photos capture the timing of seasonal events (phenology), and studies on organisms as diverse as mountain goats, Yucca flowers, and Alligator lizard mating are using iNaturalist observations to fill major gaps.

Sometimes photos capture more species than originally expected, like pathogens. Two recent studies on flowers and fish both examined observation photos of the host species for evidence of the pathogens, which can considerably expand the availability of distribution information beyond museum specimens and targeted inventories (which cannot be replaced by iNaturalist, but complemented).

iNaturalist has the fuel for countless studies of phenotypic variation at a scale unimaginable before digital cameras and GPS. For example, thousands of observations of the widespread blue dasher dragonfly were used as part of a study of wing color variation and climate across North America by @moore-evo-eco.

...Because we are now accumulating this remarkable collection of time-stamped photographs of every manner of plant, animal, and fungi through iNaturalist and similar platforms, we're potentially going to have a digitized record of how each of these organisms evolve over the next few decades. We'll be able to watch evolution occurring on a grand scale. From a purely academic perspective, it's every evolutionary biologist's dream. —Dr. Michael Moore (@moore-evo-eco)

We weren’t sure what to expect when the global pandemic struck. Many grassroots events that typically attract and orient new participants were canceled. Amazingly, iNaturalist activity didn’t slow down, but continued apace despite the pandemic. Instead of exploring on trips, people are finding new and exciting discoveries in their homes, neighborhoods, and local parks. Many people have shared on the iNaturalist Forum how important iNaturalist has been to them during the pandemic by providing a way for them to explore outdoors, learn about nature, and connect with others in a safe way. Biodiversity is everywhere! We have so much yet to learn. What else will you discover thanks to iNaturalist?

iNaturalist needs your support

People and the rest of biodiversity face many challenges ahead. At every moment of the day, iNaturalist is building connections among nature enthusiasts, sharing knowledge across borders, and supporting millions of records that offer crucial insights and opportunities to change course. As iNaturalist grows, so do the costs to maintain it. We know that these are difficult times, but if you are inspired and able, can you donate to support this cause?


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iNaturalist is a not-for-profit joint initiative of the California Academy of Sciences and the National Geographic Society, and all donations are received by the California Academy of Sciences (Tax ID: 94-1156258).

Thank you to the millions of people who have shared their observations and expertise. iNaturalist would be nothing without curious people who care about biodiversity—it has an impact because of what you do to support it!

By Carrie Seltzer, Tony Iwane, Abhas Misraraj, and Scott Loarie

Posted on September 20, 2020 13:23 by carrieseltzer carrieseltzer | 48 comments | Leave a comment

September 15, 2020

Using a Taxon Split input as an output

We’ve introduced a new way to use Taxon Splits that gives curators more flexibility. Here’s some background before explaining the change. If this background is already familiar to you jump ahead to the second to last section titled Using the Taxon Split input as the output.

Taxon Swaps
On iNaturalist if you want to change the main scientific name associated with a taxon (e.g. from Species X to Species Y) you do the following steps:

  1. Create a new inactive taxon with the name Species Y
  2. Create a draft Taxon Swap with Species X as the input and Species Y as the output
  3. Commit the Taxon Swap

Fig1

Why do all this instead of just changing the name on the taxon? Just changing the name would mean that if an identifier typed in an identification of Species X it might unexpectedly change to Species Y without any record of what happened. Create a taxon swap leaves a record so identifiers can see when, how, and why the name associated with their identification changed.

Fig2

Let’s call this updating identifications. We’re aware that this might not be the easiest, least disruptive way to generate such a log, especially when the name changes are trivial such as going from Cnemaspis hitihami to Cnemaspis hitihamii. But under the current functionality, taxon swaps are always used to change the main scientific name of a taxon.

As shown above, taxon swaps have a single output which means all identifications of the input taxon can be unambiguously updated with identifications of the output taxon. Likewise, other content associated with the input taxon, such as taxon names (where iNaturalist stores common names and synonyms), taxon ranges, listed taxa etc., is moved or copied over to the output taxon*. Committing a taxon swap also makes the input taxon inactive and activates inactive output taxa.

Using Taxon Swaps to Lump Taxa
Another common curation action is to lump one taxon into another (e.g. Species X into Species Z). A taxon swap can also be used to do this by making Species X the input and the already active Species Z as the output. As described above, committing the taxon swap will inactivate Species X, update all identifications, and copy/move other content over to Species Z.

Fig3

One thing to keep in mind when using Taxon Swaps to lump taxa is that lumping often broadens what we mean by the output taxon. In this example Species Z’s taxon range to the east no longer matches its newly broadened meaning and would need to be manually modified to include the western part of the range. Similarly, imagine Species X’s common name was "Western Critter" and Species Z’s common name was "Eastern Critter". Post-swap, Species’ Z’s common name might need to be updated to something like "Critter".

Fig4

Several uses for Taxon Merges
If you want to lump two or more taxa (Species X and Species Q) into an existing taxon (Species Z) you can use a Taxon Merge. Taxon Merges work like taxon swaps but have multiple input taxa. Since there’s just a single output taxon, identifications and content are also migrated to the output taxon*.

Fig5

Taxon Merges can also be used to lump taxa slightly differently. Imagine that rather than manually broadening all the content associated with Species Z you prefer to just make a new taxon for Species Z. Let's call it Species Z’. It would start out inactive, would have the same main scientific name as Species Z, but would have a different broader meaning and thus different broader content such as range maps.

Committing the Taxon Merge would inactivate the input Species Z and activate the broader output Species Z', identifications of Species Z would be updated with identifications of Species Z’ and all other content would be copied to Species Z’.

Fig6

This approach requires more steps than just manually broadening Species Z (Species Z’ must be created etc.) and perhaps unnecessarily updates all the identifications of Species Z with Species Z` (unnecessary since both taxa have the same the main scientific name). So this way of lumping taxa is generally not preferred, but it is an option available to curators.

Taxon Splits
To carve one taxon off from another (e.g. Species W off from Species X) we use Taxon Splits. Taxon splits have a single input and more than one output. The only way to make taxon splits in the past was to create new inactive taxa for the carved-off taxon (Species W) and for the new narrowed version of the input taxon (Species X’).

Fig7

Since splits have more than one output taxon, identifications are updated to the common ancestor of the outputs. Other content such as range maps and names are not copied over to the output taxa and must be added manually*.

Fig8

Atlases provide some flexibility for determining a single output taxon with which to update identifications. Using the example of the atlases below, identifications associated with observations in Western Australia (WA) and South Australia (SA) would be updated with output taxon Species X’ while identifications belonging to observations in Queensland (QLD) would be updated with output taxon Species W. Only identifications belonging to observations within presence places in both atlases (e.g. Northern Territory, NT) or outside of both atlases (e.g. New South Wales) would be updated with the common ancestor.

Fig9

Using the Taxon Split input as the output
Sometimes only a tiny piece of a taxon is carved off as a new taxon. When the input taxon has a lot of identifications this cran result in many unecessary identification updates (e.g. Species X with Species X’).

We’ve made some changes that allow curators the flexibility, if they choose, to make Taxon Splits where the input taxon is also one of the output taxa. In some ways, this approach is analogous to using a taxon swap to broaden an existing taxon (e.g. Species X) instead of using a taxon merge with a new output taxon (e.g. Species X’) as was described above. In this approach, the input taxon is first manually narrowed by modifying the atlas (as well as other content such as range map, etc.) which will be used to determine the destination of identifications.

Fig10

Upon committing such a Taxon Split, iNaturalist will not inactivate the input taxon. It will still use the atlases to determine which identifications should be updated with which output taxon, but any identification determined to be updated with the output taxon matching the input (e.g. Species X) will not be touched.

Because doing a split this way won’t update as many identifications (e.g. updating identifications of Species X with identifications of Species X’), it will always be less disruptive. But it’s important to remember to manually narrow the input taxon by updating content such as the taxon range and common names that likely no longer match the narrowed meaning taxon after the split.

There are some advantages from the normal way of splitting taxa such as having the inactivated input taxon (Species X) persist alongside the narrowed taxon (Species X’) coexisting in the database for a more thorough comparison of how the taxon was narrowed. However, as iNaturalist has grown, it is our feeling that the disruptive costs both in terms of processing time and in terms of identification clutter of having so many updated identifications (e.g. Species X to Species X’) now outweighs these advantages, especially when there are a lot of identifications on the input taxon (Species X) that are not destined to be carved off (e.g. as Species W). As long as curators remember to manually narrow content such as taxon ranges, we anticipate that this new way of splitting taxa will generally be the preferred way to split taxa moving forward.

Examples
Here are two examples of this new kind of taxon split I committed. The first involved splitting two Caribbean island endemics (Boa orophias on St. Lucia and, Boa nebulosa on Dominica) off from Boa constrictor. Notice that the same Boa constrictor taxon is listed as both the input and an output.

As expected, this observation from St. Lucia was properly updated to Boa orophias whereas this captive observation outside of all three atlases was updated to Genus Boa. And this observation from within the range of Boa constrictor was untouched.

Similarly, this split involved splitting two species (Varanus tsukamotoi from Guam and other Pacific Islands and Varanus bennetti from several other islands including Palau) off from Varanus indicus. Again note that the same taxon Varanus indicus acts as both input and output.

As expected, this observation from Palau was updated as Varanus bennetti, this observation from Guam was updated as Varanus tsukamotoi, and this observation from Papua was untouched.

Note that in both of these examples, I manually narrowed both the taxon range and atlas of the input taxa before committing the splits.

*The details about which content is copied over and which is moved over to the output taxon when a taxon change is committed is complicated. Here’s an attempt to explain exactly what happens. In both a taxon swap and a taxon merge, taxon photos and taxon names are copied over. The copy of the valid scientific name from the input taxon is invalid (a synonym) on the output taxon. Taxon swaps, but not taxon merges, copy the taxon range, conservation statuses, and atlas from the input (unless a taxon range or atlas or conservation status for the same place already exists on the output taxon). Listed taxa are moved/merged from the input taxon to the output taxon for both taxon swaps and taxon merges. For taxon splits, no content is copied over (since the output taxon is ambiguous). Listed taxa are moved to a single output taxon if atlases can be used to uniquely determine one, much like atlases are used to update identifications.

Posted on September 15, 2020 01:54 by loarie loarie | 27 comments | Leave a comment

September 07, 2020

A Jumble of Legs: Huntsman Spider Preys on a House Centipede in Malaysia! - Observation of the Week, 9/7/20

Our Observation of the Week is this many-legged scene of a huntsman spider and its house centipede prey, seen in Malaysia by @msone!

Dr. Masatoshi Sone is a professor of paleontology at Universiti Malaya, and he describes his field as “about half-geology half-biology, so I do like the taxonomic identification and systematics of life.” While he was a keen naturalist as an undergraduate student, his attention turned toward the “ancient” environment until about two years ago, when insect macro photography reignited his interest in the “modern” environment.  “I soon found iNaturalist introduced by biology students of my current university,” he tells me. “Since then, I carry my camera with a macro lens while I do geology fieldwork in the jungle.”

Masatoshi took his family on a trip to the eastern coast of Peninsular Malaysia during last year’s holiday break, and says “[I] love to go finding insects in the coastal bush at night, because life there is a little different from what I usually see in the Kuala Lumpur area or in the western side of the peninsula.” He came across the spider and centipede while out exploring one night, and says

honestly speaking, my first impression was that the scene was just ‘messy’, as there were so many long, thin appendages lying over the leaf. I soon recognised it was another large arthropod, Prey! but was not sure what it was. After I came back to my room and checked the photos, I even got more shocked and excited. It was a big centipede (with long thin appendages of definitely more than 8), and the prey was even larger than the predator. I've never observed some large Scutigeromorpha (house centipedes), but as they are alive they should usually look even more scary than huntsman spiders. Then, I understand why this dead one looked harmless, and it was perhaps an immature one, still medium-sized.  

Giant huntsman spiders (Genus Heteropoda) are native to Asia and Australia, and as you might surmise they do not spin webs in order to catch their prey. Rather, they stalk and pounce on their prey, then inject it with venom to immobilize it. The Giant Huntsman Spider (Heteropoda maxima), found in Laos, is the largest spider in the world if one is going by legspan - its legspan is about 30 cm (1 ft). 

You’ve probably encountered a house centipede at some point in your life. The most common species, Scutigera coleoptrata, originated in the Mediterranean but can now be found on pretty much every continent besides Antarctica, and they are quite comfortable living indoors. Their stings (centipedes don’t “bite,” venom is injected by modified forelegs) is not considered medically significant to humans. 

Masatoshi (above, looking for dragonflies in Borneo), explains that he initially started using iNaturalist because he respects and agree with the concept of citizen science (“This is perhaps because I am a professional scientist and I know the constraints of ‘professional science’.”), but “purely I enjoy making observations and identifications of what I observe. In principle, I try to participate in and enjoy iNat purely as an amateur naturalist (for biology and ecology, yes I am), separate from my science profession.”

And in that respect, he says that iNaturalist has changed the way he sees and interacts with nature “Definitely and dramatically.” He brings up, this photo of a common tit caterpillar surrounded by asian weaver ants. In the field, he was curious about the interaction and 

Just a few hours after I posted my observation to iNat, my question was solved perfectly with some comments from other like-minded people...as I understand, ants were abducting this poor caterpillar to their nest. iNat is not just the database for making identifications but is the place of having support and exchange of knowledge.


- You can check out Masatoshi's home page here!

- House centipedes have 15 pairs of legs, so there might be up to 38 legs in this observation! 

- Here’s some nice footage of a Giant Huntsman stalking prey in Laos. Unfortunately it’s saddled with overwrought narration, music, and foley effects. But worth watching!

Posted on September 07, 2020 19:20 by tiwane tiwane | 11 comments | Leave a comment

August 31, 2020

It's a Ladybird Spider! - Observation of the Week, 8/31/20

Our Observation of the Week is this Ladybird Spider (Rote Röhrenspinne), seen in Germany by @corinnah!

Corinna Herr is currently a master’s student at the University of Freiburg, and she discovered iNaturalist last year, when someone at the university told her about it while on a trip to Romania. “Since that trip,” she says

I have been using INaturalist to improve my knowledge of species and to help generate knowledge about the distribution of species through my own observations. As often as possible I go outside with my camera to explore nature and upload my findings.

She also shares her photos on Instagram, telling me “I try to inspire people for the world of insects and our other little fellow creatures. I'm not a professional photographer, but I'm trying my best to improve my skills.” So she was very excited to go on a trip with nature photographer Joachim Wimmer to the Kaiserstuhl in southwest Germany, an area of volcanic origin.

On the way…[Joachim] told me that it is possible to see [ladybird spiders] there this day. I had never seen this spider myself before. And actually he was right: we saw two male individuals on our tour through the hilly landscape. Their striking coloring made them easy to spot on the dry ground. I was fascinated by their extraordinary appearance immediately! At first, the individual in the photo was running around but calmed down soon, so that it was possible to photograph it and hold it in my hands.

Ladybird spiders are members of the Ereside, or velvet spider family, and can be found across much of Eurasia. They build tubes of silk in crevices or tree bark, and one female’s tube has been measured at one meter (!) in length. (Miller, et al. 2012) Females lack the red coloration and vivid pattern of the males, and unlike some other species in the family, they do not partake in matriphagy. A study in Spain showed that ants make up a large portion of their diet, and they also enjoy dining on darkling beetles.

Speaking of beetles, Corinna studied ground beetles (Family Carabidae) for her bachelor’s thesis (above is a photo of her using radio telemetry in the Black Forest to study their locomotion patterns), and her master’s thesis focuses on both ground beetles and hymenoptera in grassland habitat. This habitat was recently created as mitigation for the construction of a soccer stadium, and Corinna has been studying the efficacy of soil transfer in bringing along insect species. They’ve found that it’s been successful so far, and she even recorded the first iNat observation of the Notiophilus quadripunctatus ground beetle in Germany. 

Once she graduates, Corinna plans to continue her work in nature and species conservation.


- Here’s a nice videodocumenting a ladybird spider conservationist in the UK, where it was once thought to be extirpated.

- This isn’t the first velvet spider featured as Observation of the Week, check out @vipinbaliga’s Stegodyphus tibialis find from back in 2016!

Posted on August 31, 2020 21:03 by tiwane tiwane | 17 comments | Leave a comment

August 24, 2020

In Tobago, a Male Glass Frog Guards Its Eggs - Observation of the Week, 8/24/20

Our Observation of the Week is this Eastern Glass Frog, seen in Trinidad & Tobago by @zakwildlife!

Last week, after posting the above photo as our Observation of the Day, I saw that it was shared 75 times on Facebook, a significantly higher number than usual, even for a great photo like Zak’s. Scrolling through the shares, there were so many supportive comments from local nature groups, like this:

It was really great to get a glimpse into the naturalist community in the country, so I reached out to Zak get the story behind his observation. 

All of seventeen years of age now, Zak Ali says he first became involved in wildlife conservation at age eight, and credits his family camping trips into the primary forests of Trinidad for sparking his interest in nature, as well as wildlife books and Steve Irwin’s documentaries. He began by “training raptors that can't be released to become educational ambassadors.

I first started as an avid birder (mostly raptors) but currently at the age of seventeen, I have interests in everything from Reptiles, amphibians, birds and mammals. Other than the scientific aspect, I also love the wildlife photography aspect of it. My passion for wildlife drives me to protect and conserve, to learn and understand.

Zak and some of his colleagues recently traveled to Trinidad’s sister island, Tobago, which has endemic reptile and amphibian species. After sailing over, they journeyed to the Main Ridge Reserve to explore. 

The first night we encountered a crab-eating raccoon hunting on a river bank, unbothered by our presence, [and] I saw the glass frogs that night (Hyalinobatrachium orientale) and took a few images but wasn't pleased with them. The next night, with no reptiles in sight, I searched for the glass frogs and I noticed this glass frog sitting on a clutch of eggs, I had to photograph it!! (from my observation on site, the most mature set of eggs was guarded the best). The father guards the eggs from wasps, snakes and other predators, occasionally kicking off wasps that land on eggs. This was my second encounter with the Tobago glass frog, one I will not forget.

Eastern glass frogs are found on Tobago and parts of eastern Venezuela, and belong to the family Centrolenidae. Glass frogs get their name from the skin on their abdomen (ventral side) and legs, which is translucent in some species, making their internal organs visible. Mainly arboreal, these frogs lay clutches of eggs on the undersides of leaves overhanging streams. When the tadpoles are ready (or when disturbed) they’ll leave their eggs and drop into the water below. It is believed male eastern glass frogs cover egg clutches to not only protect them from predators, but to prevent fungal growth, infection, and desiccation.

Zak (above) says he uses iNat to record this observations and to scout out biodiversity and geographic distribution in an area. He and other naturalists also used iNat to record findings for last year’s Tabaquite Bioblitz, and Zak is also a co-founder of West Indian Herping, a group dedicated to educating people about reptiles, amphibians, and other wildlife of the region. “For a small twin island nation,” he says, “Trinidad and Tobago has a lot to offer, it has a very wide array of biodiversity...iNaturalist has made it easier to get locals interested in recording observations and getting involved.”


- iNat user @raindernd’s observation of a Stygian Owl back in 2018 was a first for Trinidad and Tobago! Check out the article here and a great video from Chaguanas Public Library about it here.

- @ldempewolf’s observation of a Microceris dulcinea butterfly also represents a first for this species in Trinidad and Tobago! Paper here

Posted on August 24, 2020 21:24 by tiwane tiwane | 10 comments | Leave a comment

August 17, 2020

A Young Marine Scientist Sees a Large Feather Star in Micronesia! - Observation of the Week, 8/17/20

Our Observation of the Week is this Variable Bushy Feather Star, seen in the Federated States of Micronesia by @marlinleeling!

Born and Raised in Micronesia, Marlin Lee Ling says his father Dana (@danaleeling) “would take us (my two sisters and I) on Frizzles;

basically adventures into the forest to see rivers and waterfalls and other cool stuff. We called them Frizzles because of the Ms. Frizzle Magic School Bus books. My dad teaches Ethnobotany at the College of Micronesia and so on these Frizzle's he would name pretty much every plant in the forest, he could name the scientific name, the English name, and even the name in the 4 main local languages (Pohnpeian, Kosraen, Yapese, and Chuukese)  if that plant had one.

Two years ago, Marlin began studying marine science at the College of Micronesia, got his SCUBA certification, “and from there my interest in the ocean grew.” This summer, Marlin is interning with the Conservation Society of Pohnpei, an NGO protecting the island’s natural resources and habitats. He’s helped conduct coral reef monitoring surveys, and saw the feather star at Pehleng Pass, one of 25 sites being studied. “The channel was full of life from dolphins, to manta rays, to turtles, and the walls were incredible,” Marlin says, “it was like swimming through an underwater canyon.  On that day I also got my first observation of a turtle, something I've always wanted to have.”

While they are echinoderms, feathers stars are unlike the more familiar sea stars in many ways. For one, they are mainly sessile - attaching themselves to a substrate and using their arms to feed on bits of plankton and detritus. They start out with five arms, but those divide into other arms. If an arm is broken, at least two will grow in its place. 

“My dad was the one who introduced me to iNaturalist,” says Marlin (above). “He is a huge fan of the app. He calls it his ‘game’, like candy crush or solitaire, [and] he can spend whole hours sifting through observations of plants and identifying them. 

He began using it in his Ethnobotany class to help the students learn the names of plants. I realized I could do the same thing but for marine life. It's been really helpful for learning the name of fish and corals. For example if I saw a parrotfish, I'd snap a pic and upload it to iNaturalist, it would get identified as a Bleeker's Parrotfish (Chlorurus bleekeri) and so the next time we'd go out diving and saw one I'd be like “Oh, that's a Bleeker's Parrotfish.”. With iNaturalist I'm able to better identify things because a lot of the time ID books use picture perfect photos and when you see the things in the water they don't look exactly like they do in the books, and so over time I learn what certain things actually look like underwater and when I see them I know exactly what they are.

Photo of Marlin was taken by Shanalin Lee Ling, Marlin's sister.


- Feather Stars usually stay in one spot, but they can swim, and when they do so it’s pretty great.

- There are over 1,700 feather star observations on iNaturalist, check them out!

Posted on August 17, 2020 22:05 by tiwane tiwane | 13 comments | Leave a comment

August 12, 2020

A Naturalist Picking Blueberries Makes First Sighting of a Rare Cicada in a Century - Observation(s) of the Week, 8/12/20

Our Observations of the Week are these Okanagana arctostaphylae cicadas, the first documented in over 100 years! Seen in the United States by @lcollingsparker and @easmeds.

[As the hoodwinker mola observations showed, one of the coolest things about iNaturalist is how it can bring people of all interests and experience levels together, and here’s another cool example. I apologize for the tardiness of this post, but it took some time to synthesize everything.]

Lucinda Collings Parker (@lcollingsparker, photo below) tells me “I spent my early life and the past 20+ years living in the country and mountains, which I love, but never really paid attention to the individual plants, animals, insects, or fungi.” After retiring two years ago, she took an iNaturalist class run by UC Davis and the American River Conservancy and credits iNat, along with nature journaling, “[as playing] a big part in learning to really look. My current aim is to get familiar with what lives in my part of California, first focusing on my own property. I’m still just a beginner.”

Last month, while out picking blueberries in her garden (a garden surrounded by many wild plants, including manzanita), Lucinda found the cicada you see above in the shade cloth draped over her blueberry bushes. She posted her photo to iNaturalist, where Will Chatfield-Taylor (@willc-t) identified it as the first documented observation of Okanagana arctostaphylae since 1915. “It was exciting to see how quickly the researchers responded and how more sightings were quickly made,” she says, “and since I mainly use iNaturalist to learn about what I’m seeing, it was fun to be able to give back, however accidentally, with a helpful observation.”

Will is collaborating with Jeff Cole of Pasadena City College (@bugsoundsjc) and Elliott Smeds (@easmeds), a Master’s student at Sonoma State University, and they’re “currently working to create a complete molecular phylogeny of the 57-species genus [Okanagana] and numerous species that will need to be described,” he tells me. 

iNaturalist has become a critical way for us to obtain specimens that we would be unlikely to ever collect. You can see the full list of contributions on the Okanagana Citizen Science Project I created on iNaturalist. It's become so important that we are actually considering writing it into a grant as a citizen science aspect to reimburse costs for shipping specimens from people.

Because no one had seen this cicada in over a century, Elliott (below) says “all of us were understandably freaking out a little bit. I live a couple of hours away from the area, so I ended up being the one to go look.

I got into cicadas largely thanks to iNaturalist. I had just received my degree in Biology and I was trying to figure out what to do with it. And meanwhile I had begun looking at local cicada observations on iNat and very quickly realized that there was a staggering diversity of species right in my backyard. At that point there were no active iNat users with expertise in Western North American cicadas, so the identifications were often either very broad or completely inaccurate. So I dug into the literature and started cleaning things up. I created a project called Cicadas of the Western US to keep track of all the observations people post. It became clear that there is precious little known about these Western taxa, and I decided I wanted to help fill that gap.  

Alas, his first day on the hunt was unsuccessful, and as not much is known about this species Elliott had no idea if he would find any at all. But while driving back from the field,he heard a call very similar to its likely closest relative, Okanagana opacipennis, and “got chills.” He returned the following day, received permission to search a stand of manzanitas from the property owner, and found them (*photo below).

“Cicada biology is not a large or glamorous field,” says Elliott. 

Collecting this species and including it in our research was going to be big news for maybe fifteen people on the entire planet. But finding that beautiful insect, camouflaged so perfectly against the smooth red bark, and knowing that I’m the first scientist in 100 years to see this creature—that’s a moment I will cherish for the rest of my life.

Elliott heard quite a few more individuals in the area, and two more independent observations of Okanagana arctostaphylae have been posted since. So, “as for why it took so long for anyone to find it, the main answer seems to be that no one was looking particularly hard...the population is not small by any means,” he surmises. But now that they know where to look, this species can be monitored over time.

“I currently have 4 different people actively collecting cicadas for us,” says Will. “One in Utah, one in New Mexico, and two in Eugene, Oregon. @birdernaturalist (Rich Hoyer) possibly re-found a species called O. sequioae, which was last seen in 1964 when it was described.” Another quite rare cicada was found in Ontario, Canada by an iNat user and @silversea_starsong (more on him below) contacted a friend and a specimen is on its way as well.

“iNaturalist has been an invaluable research tool, but just as importantly it has made me more curious about organisms that I might have overlooked previously,” Elliott says. “It is now almost effortless to snap a few photos of a plant and have an expert tell me what it is, and going forward I will have that knowledge filed away in my head for the next time I encounter it. I am a better biologist thanks to the iNaturalist community.”


Bonus Content!

This is not the only manzanita-loving cicada in California that has recently been photographed on iNaturalist. @silversea_starsong and @ronvanderhoff posted the first known photographs of living Okanagana opacipennis last year. Unlike most members of the genus, these two species do not have transparent wings. And as Elliott mentioned above, the two have a similar call. James explains, 

I've been hearing the song of "opacipennis" in that part of the state, and when I was out with Jeff and Will, we also heard this song and were puzzled by it. It's fitting that this song turned out to be arctostaphylae -- the two manzanita species are closely related in habits, appearance, and genetically, so the shared song makes sense. That song type is quite distinct to all the other Okanagana.

James, who has currently observed the most species of anyone on iNat, visited the Bay Area last summer and was kind enough to talk with me on camera about the cicada find, as well as iNat in general. Here’s the cicada part of our discussion, I’ll post a longer video soon (hopefully!).


* This photo is taken from another observation made later on the same day, to give a clearer view of the bug. :-)

Posted on August 12, 2020 21:07 by tiwane tiwane | 37 comments | Leave a comment

July 27, 2020

A Bright Pink Mushroom in Tasmania! - Observation of the Week, 7/27/20

Our Observation of the Week is this Porpolomopsis lewelliniae mushroom, seen in Australia by @franklinhermit!

“I often warn people that if you see a pretty mushroom be careful, because you may develop symptoms of a lifelong disease called Mushroom Madness/ aka Fungi Fever!" says Heather Elson (aka franklinhermit). “I’ve seen it happen to literally hundreds of people over the years, who start out only wanting to know if they can eat them, but on learning more about them, then finding a new appreciation for them in their role in ecosystems and their stunning beauty. It is great to see a growing interest in fungi around the world in more recent years.”

Heather has been photographing and studying fungi for about 15 years, and this year is working with Dr. Genevieve Gates from the University of Tasmania, 

[who] has kindly offered to mentor me to learn to identify fungi through microscopic characters so that I may be able to further identify the fungi that I find and perhaps one day I may be able to further contribute to science by describing new species...Compared to plants and animals, we really know so little about fungi. For example, in Australia alone, it is estimated that only 5% of around 250,000 species of fungi have been formally described.

Heather resides in a tall, wet eucalypt forest in far south Tasmania, and that’s where she found the fungus you see above. “[It’s] one of many found on the property over the years, she says,

Tasmania's Gondwanan heritage and diverse ecosystems carved from climatic, physical and biological impacts has created unique habitats with equally unique fungi. I have been recording observations of fungi on the property with the aim of providing this data to Fungimap for their research, policy and conservation.

Found in eastern Australia, Tasmania, and New Zealand, Porpolomopsis lewelliniae is a small (its cap measures about 3-6.5 cm) common mushroom that often grows in leaf litter during fall and winter. While there are other pink mushrooms about, this one’s cap splits right down the gills as it grows.

Heather (above), tells me she uses iNaturalist “to support the work of Fungimap - an Australian non-profit organisation who raise awareness, educate and advocate around the important role fungi play in our environment.” After ten years of observing fungi, she’s happy to have found a platform where she can finally share her archive of observations.

I have begun entering years of these fungi observations to the iNaturalist Fungimap Project, so that I can ensure these observations are of some value to the scientific and general community rather than sitting on my computer! Uploading to iNaturalist also provides the added bonus of serving as an online backup of these images and information so that they do not get lost in the event of a digital disaster at home which is also one less thing for me to worry about! I really encourage others to use iNaturalist so that their sightings can reach a broader audience and help science.


- You can check out Heather’s website here, and the Tasmanian Fungi Facebook group, which she admins, here.

- I interviewed iNat user and mycologist @leptonia a few years ago, and he has some tips for finding and photographing mushrooms in this video.

Posted on July 27, 2020 23:37 by tiwane tiwane | 16 comments | Leave a comment

July 21, 2020

A Pair of Vultures in Kenya, Photographed by a Nature Enthusiast from India - Observation of the Week, 7/21/20

Our Observation of the Week is this pair of griffon vultures - Rüppell's on the left and white-backed on the right - seen in Kenya by @rujutavinod!

A resident of Pune, just east of the Western Ghats range (also known as the Sahyadri mountains), Rujuta Vinod recalls first becoming seriously interested in nature in the 1980s, when local environmentalists began raising awareness about the ecological issues of the mountain range - one of the world’s biodiversity hotspots. “Thereafter,” she says, “I kept a track of news about continued devastation of nature-wilderness-wildlife in India, with lot of concern.”

By the mid-nineties, she started visiting local natural areas, such as the wetlands in her district, and tells me “I got terribly fascinated by the winter migratory birds. WWF India, Pune division was the organization, which conducted field trips and weekly free classes, where renowned naturalists presented their work and expressed concern over the rapidly declining number of wildlife species in India.” However, balancing work responsibilities (she practiced anesthesiology and psychotherapy), parenting (she was raising two sons) made wildlife study and documentation difficult. And by the year 2000 or so she was discouraged by her “inability to stop the speed and extent of loss of wildlife,” so she stopped her field visits.

But in 2013, after retiring from her position as a psychotherapist, Rujuta says 

[I] restarted pursuing my real passion of documenting wildlife. I now started using cameras. Side by side, I started learning and then contributing in eco-restoration. I got my life back when I saw forests and wetlands and grasslands and deserts and saw the wildlife again with my own eyes and captured the species in my camera. The whole experience was of “healing from within” as my practice had drained my energy.

She started uploading her observations to the India Biodiversity Portal (7,500 so far), eBird, and more recently iNaturalist. Then, last June, after years of watching documentaries about the great migrations in Africa, a dream came true for Rujuta when she visited the Maasai Mara in Kenya.

The vultures you see above were photographed after she and her tour group watched spotted hyenas drive away two lionesses from a wildebeest carcass.  

We saw Black-backed Jackals, many species of vultures (Lappet-faced, Rüppell's Griffon and, African White-backed), Marabou stork, and of course a clan of Spotted Hyenas around that carcass. [The] Hyenas were so hungry that the whole time they claimed the meat and crushed the bones (I still remember the sound), they did not allow anybody to come closer.

However, the jackals and Marabou stork were sneaky and snatched the meat while the hyenas were busy pulling the parts of that carcass. Vultures continued to stand at the periphery and tried to get a few pieces whenever the road was clear for them. I saw those wonderful vultures for the first time and liked the design on the feathers of Rüppell's Griffon and the head & face of Lappet. This shot was the only one I got with good clarity of the animal in the focus.

A very large bird, with a wingspan of about 2.26 to 2.6 meters (7.4 to 8.5 ft), Rüppell's griffons are thought to fly at a higher altitude than any other bird, as evidenced by one colliding with a plane flying at about 11,300 meters (37,000 ft). They’re known to often soar at at 6,000 meters (20,000 ft) and use vision only to spot their next meal. According to the IUCN, the wild population of Rüppell's griffons is about 22,000, and their main threats are habitat loss, hunting, and poisoning. White-backed vultures aren’t as large or known to fly as high as the Rüppell‘s griffons, but they are unfortunately vulnerable to the same threats, and their population is in decline as well.

Rujuta (above, in the Maasai Mara) uses iNaturalist to create an electronic public biodiversity record, “and to help indirectly the forest department and biodiversity officials to protect the habitats, critically endangered and endemic wildlife.”

[The] more I work on this portal with my heightened enthusiasm, my feeling of hope replaces my frustration. I get a good peaceful sleep at night.

I have joined many projects on iNaturalist, which has a worldwide database. I see wonderful high resolution Macro images uploaded by people around the world. I get inspired by those who have identified thousands of images and those, who have uploaded hundreds of thousands of observations. When I see a record of a single species in many thousands – I feel amazed at the hours and energy spent by those individuals.


- Sir David Attenborough shows us how Rüppell's griffons use warm air to take flight.

- This short piece in The Hindu reflects on the Save the Western Ghats march of 1987.


Posted on July 21, 2020 16:28 by tiwane tiwane | 9 comments | Leave a comment