Journal archives for December 2019

December 09, 2019

Parasitic Plant Flowers From 2002 - Observation of the Week, 12/8/19

Our Observation of the Week is this Balanophora laxiflora plant, seen in Taiwan by @tsaiyuwu!

Back in 2002, Tsai-yu Wu took part in “a staff trip to the lovely mountains and forests. In Taiwan, we do have a lot of beautiful mountains and forests.” Tsai-yu had just purchased a digital camera (the Sony P9, with four megapixels of resolution according to DP Review) and this was their first field trip with it. The photo you see above was the 284th photo taken with that camera.

A member of the family Balanophoraceae, Balanophora laxiflora is a parasitic plant, and you would really only notice it when it sends its fungi-like red inflorescences into the air, as Tsai-yu captured. When not in flower, the plant is basically an underground tuber-like organism, attached to its host. Long used in traditional medicine to treat coughs and inflammation, the plant is currently being studied as a source of possible pharmacological compounds.

Tsai-yu (above) is now a bird watcher and bird researcher who is concerned about bird conservation, and traces their interest in nature to the summer before entering college. “Everything started there. The more I touch the wild, the more I love it,” explains Tsai-yu.

Since I am a bird watcher and a researcher, I use eBird and xeno-canto mostly. I am not quite familiar with other animals or plants, although I still like to take photos of them. iNaturalist provides a very good platform to help to solve the "unidentified" records, especially those older photos scattered on my hard disk or slides. It's really nice to know the names of the "unnamed" species I've met before. It's also very good to share species distribution records to other researchers who concerns about biodiversity conservation.

- by Tony Iwane.

- You can see Tsai-Yu’s publications here.

- Balanophora laxiflora may contain compounds that help lower uric acid levels in the blood.

- Balanophora laxiflora footage!

Posted on December 09, 2019 04:34 by tiwane tiwane | 5 comments | Leave a comment

Updates to Privacy Policy and Terms of Service

Hey folks, we updated our Privacy Policy and Terms of Service for iNaturalist last week. Here’s an overview of the noteworthy changes:

Privacy Policy

  • Clarified that direct messages between iNaturalist users can be viewed by staff if issues arise and should not be considered private correspondence

  • Updated the list of named data processors to reflect changes in the analytics services used to monitor, maintain, and troubleshoot problems with infrastructure

  • Updated the list of data processors we work with to facilitate optional activities such as posting to the forum, making a donation, or purchasing from the store

  • Address the kinds of data shared with members of the iNaturalist Network

  • Explicitly note that most information shared with iNaturalist is public by default (i.e. published on the Internet)

  • Updated instructions for obtaining parental permission for users age 12 and under (via http://www.inaturalist.org/user_parents/new)

  • Explicitly note that we train machine learning models on data you contribute

Terms of Service

  • Added National Geographic

  • Clarifies that the Terms also apply to iNaturalist Network sites

  • Removed references to payments and refunds, since iNaturalist is free to use

Seek Privacy Policy

Rewritten to clarify that the core functionality of Seek shares almost no data, but that when optionally posting to iNaturalist, the iNaturalist Privacy Policy applies.

Ok, some detail for those interested:

Staff Can View Your Direct Messages

We rarely do this, and we really, really don’t like doing it because it feels super creepy, but we can and will do this in cases where inappropriate behavior has been reported, such as abuse, stalking, spam, etc. In general, the only thing that is truly private to you and impossible to see even for iNat staff is your password.

Data Processors

The European General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) requires us to enumerate what third parties we share personal information with. Some of these, like the Apple App Store and the Google Play Store, are impossible to avoid if we want to distribute our apps in those venues (it’s impossible to distribute an iPhone app anywhere other than the App Store, and distributing the Android app in venues other than the Google Play Store means most people would never see our app). Other processors, like New Relic and Google Firebase, are services we choose to use because they provide enormous value in monitoring our software and fixing bugs (particularly in the mobile apps). As detailed in the Privacy Policy, we do not share Your iNaturalist User ID, User name, email address, or name with any of these services, but we may share IP addresses, User-Agent strings (text that describes the software making a network connection), and information relating to software stability (e.g. information about software crashes) and behavior (e.g. the sequence of screens visited). That said, we realize some people do not want to share that info so we’re working on a way to opt-out.

Network Member Data Sharing

There’s no real change here, we’ve just tried to make it clearer that when you choose to associate with a member of the iNat Network (i.e. any site other than iNaturalist.org), the people and organizations associated with that Network Member can access coordinates that you have chosen to hide from public view and your email address, as described in your account settings. As trusted partners with which we have formal agreements, we may also share with them coordinates for observations that are automatically hidden from public view, for non-commercial research and conservation purposes.

Machine Learning

Automatic species suggestions (in the mobile apps, in the species autocomplete on the website, in Seek) are all powered by machine learning models we’ve trained on iNat photos and identifications. That hasn’t changed, but we wanted to make it clear that it is happening.

As always, we’re happy to answer any questions you have about these documents, or about data privacy specifically.

Posted on December 09, 2019 23:12 by kueda kueda | 4 comments | Leave a comment

December 20, 2019

Year In Review 2019



Another year, another Year In Review! 2019 was another record-breaking year for iNaturalist, as you can see in the site-wide growth stats, with continued exponential growth in observations and users:



Once again, we have City Nature Challenge to thank for a lot of that growth, which was a real doozie this year, bringing in 920k+ observations by almost 40k people of 32k+ species! No doubt it will top a million next year. CNC organizers, give yourself a pat on the back (there are hundreds of you at the city level, but @kestrel, @rebeccafay, and @lhiggins paved the way and lead the international coordination). We're also continuing to see strong growth from countries in the iNaturalist Network, particularly Mexico and Canada, but also members who joined this year like Argentina, Ecuador, and Australia. However, I'm always most intrigued by growth in areas where we have no direct collaborators, and I think Russia takes the prize in that category this year, where we had a huge surge in participants and observations. We suspect this is at least partly due to the recruitment efforts of the Flora of Russia project and its organizers at Moscow University Herbarium (mostly @apseregin), but I feel like we also need to thank @katya for translating an extraordinary proportion of the site, the apps, and Seek into Russian.

That's a good segue into translation! We added a table of translators to the Year In Review this year, largely because I dedicated a lot of time this Fall to making the site more translatable and replying to questions and comments from translators. Of which there are quite a few! Special shoutout to @wouterkoch for pretty much single-handedly translating the entire site into Norwegian Bokmål (and for answering some questions I had about what languages people speak in Norway). What you can't see in that table is how fast some folks are at translating! Usually when we post new text, it gets translated into Russian (@katya), Italian (@danieleseglie), Turkish (@sakatur & menver), Danish (NCAA & Lekkim), and more, usually within 24 hours. Almost all of these folks are volunteers, so our heartfelt thanks to all of you for making iNat better for people all around the world.



Another addition to the Year In Review this year is streaks! Some of you may remember I wrote a blog post about this WAY back. Well, surprise surprise, @jmaughn is still having an incredible run, but @sambiology is right behind him:



I was going to add this chart to the individual stats pages, but honestly it wasn't that interesting because most people don't go on streaks of more than a few days (@atlnature made this neat thing if you're curious about your own streaks). Jim and Sam have both added an observation a day for more than 1,700 days. That's over four and a half years. Might I also add that they are both exceedingly knowledgable naturalists and a pleasure to hang out with in the field?

Also, can we hear it for Seek? We hired @abhasm and @albullington last year to completely redesign and rebuild Seek from the ground up, and @alexshepard, @budowski, @pleary, and @gvanhorn did a ton of work to shrink our computer vision model down so it could fit on a phone and work offline. Seek currently has 514k installations on iOS and 379k on Android, and we hear great stories about it almost daily, often from people who have never heard of iNat or would never use it, so we really think we're helping a different demographic get outside. I just want to point out how proud I am of Amanda and Abhas, both of whom are working on app development for the first time since transitioning out of other careers, and yet did a phenomenal job on this app with practically zero oversight. Amazing work.

Other updates from the team: @carrieseltzer scaled the walls of accounting and marketing to bring you the iNat Store so we can all finally have the iNat t-shirts we so richly deserve, and the Monthly Supporters program, which is a small but growing part of the income that pays our bills. @tiwane ran herd on the Forum, mediated many disputes, and bounced around the world spreading the love of iNat far and wide. @alexshepard juggled computer vision training with iPhone app development with aplomb, and @budowski tolerated my incessant issue-filing on Android. @pleary (in addition to computer vision stuff) superheroically kept our servers running despite all that exponential growth, insane events like CNC, and a nearly constant onslaught of bots and scrapers downloading iNat photos en masse (downloads that we have to pay for, even though there's not too much we can do to prevent it). Since Patrick hasn't been free to do much user-facing feature development this year, here's a good chart depicting what he has been doing:



Conclusion: we should all be greateful Ken-ichi isn't running the servers. @loarie hustled hard to secure the rest of our funding while tackling taxonomic monsters for "fun," and I... complained a lot. And broke some stuff. And maybe fixed some stuff.

Finally, a huge and hearty THANK YOU to you and everyone in the iNat community from everyone on staff. As I try to emphasize in every talk I give and every conversation I have about iNat, none of it works with people getting outside and recording observations, and folks inside (or on the train, or waiting in line, or when they're supposed to be working) adding identifications. iNat is and has always been a group of people who love nature and helping each other learn about it, and everything else, the data, the maps, the charts, the machine learning models, the scientific papers, and the enormous privilege we on staff have to work on this stuff full-time, derives from that communal effort and that fundamental sense of wonder about all the other creatures with whom we share this world. So again, thank you. Here's to another year of exploration in 2020, and yea, another decade of the same.

P.S. Protip: you can play with the data behind any of these Year In Review pages by appending .json to the URL, e.g. https://www.inaturalist.org/stats/2019.json

Posted on December 20, 2019 23:43 by kueda kueda | 21 comments | Leave a comment

December 23, 2019

A Tadpole Shrimp is Found in Spain - Observation of the Week, 12/23/19

Our Observation of the Week is this Iberian tadpole shrimp, seen in Spain by @mario_mairal!

“I am an evolutionary biologist and naturalist,” says Mario Mairal, who is originally from Spain but is currently a researcher with Stellenbosch University in South Africa. “I am working with different topics related to biodiversity and evolution [and] I am especially focused on the biogeography of sub-Antarctic islands and African sky-islands, extinctions as drivers of biogeographical patterns, or the loss of dispersal on island hypothesis.”

Mario’s research and interests have led him on expeditions in the Canary Islands, Magascar, Northern Africa, the Galápagos Islands, and of course his home country of Spain, where he came across the tadpole shrimp you see pictured above.

“In March 2014, along with other young passionate friends of nature, we decided to make a weekend trip to visit a forestry guardian friend in a rural region of Spain (Piedrabuena, Ciudad Real),” he recalls.

My friend is an expert in the area and it was the perfect time to photograph daffodils, amphibians and Eurasian otters. When we were looking for amphibians near a pond, we found suddenly a great abundance of Triops.

Triops is one of two genera in the family Triopsidae, commonly known as “tadpole shrimp” in English. While it is a crustacean, this omnivorous creature is not a shrimp and is definitely not a tadpole, although its silhouette resembles that of larval anurans. These creatures tend to live in temporary ponds, and their eggs can tolerate long periods of dry conditions, hatching only when the pond’s water has returned.  

Mario (above, in South Africa) of course focuses on research, but also tells me, “I am especially interested in the dissemination of science. As a scientist I find that dissemination should be an obligatory task.” He released photos for free use on his website, and joined both iNaturalist and Instagram as well, “because I think that nowadays is imperative to arouse curiosity, educate in conservation and warning about the current biodiversity crisis.”

Although he only joined iNaturalist this past July, Mario says that “I have quickly learned many things which, before using iNaturalist, I would have spent hours looking up in other publications. I am impressed by the power of collective consciousness.” But he also hopes to use it for his research:

For example, I am especially interested in distribution patterns and processes that model biodiversity, and I am sure that iNaturalist is helping me to understand these patterns better. And with this information I can establish a hypothesis to unravel the evolutionary processes. Now I am studying historical distribution patterns because of climate change, and iNaturalist has deeply inspired me several times.

- by Tony Iwane. Some quotes have been lightly edited for clarity and flow.


- In addition to photography and biology, Mario is also a magician, and you can see some clips of him performing here.

- Triops longicaudatus eggs are often sold in kits for people to raise at home. This video has some nice close up footage of one swimming.

Posted on December 23, 2019 22:12 by tiwane tiwane | 17 comments | Leave a comment

December 31, 2019

Spotting a Jumping Spider...*and* its Owlfly Predator! - Observation of the Week, 12/31/19

Our Observation of the Week is this owlfly larva and its jumping spider prey, seen in Cambodia by @geechartier

“I have been interested in nature for as long as I can remember but it tended to take a back seat until I started visiting Cambodia in early 2007,” says Gerard Chartier, who eventually moved the country in 2009. Since his move to Cambodia, he’s been studying the region’s flora and fauna, starting with lepidoptera, then moving on to odonata, and “with the help of experts, who I now call friends, and online forums I started to make some progress.” Now, he tells me, “I decided some time ago that I would rather not focus on any particular types of fauna or flora but, instead, focus on cataloguing as much as I can of the species living in the fairly small area where I guide nature tours.”

It was while leading a nature tour that Gerard captured the photos seen in this post, first noticing only the spider. 

As usual, I took photos from different angles. As I came round to the lateral view, I noticed that the spider was hanging from something so I focused in on that and found the jaws of the owlfly larva. Then I took more photos of the larva, which was so well camouflaged in the nook of the branches of the plant. There is no way I would have seen the owlfly larva had the spider not been there. The customers I was guiding were amazed!

Ambush predators, the larvae of owlflies (members of the order Neuroptera, along with antlions, lacewings, and others.) lay in wait for prey to come near enough for the owlfly to snag it with its pretty fearsome mandibles. Once captured, Neuropteran larvae  “inject toxic secretions as regurgitants into prey in order to paralyze and to kill it.” (Dettner, 2015; thanks for finding this article for me, @eddiebug!). After metamorphosing, the adult owlfly looks similar to odonata and the adults of other neuroptera, with four wings and much reduced mouthparts. 

Jumping spiders, like the Telamonia dimidiata capture here, are found throughout much of the world, and use their large front-facing eyes to seek out prey, which they pounce on by using a pretty phenomenal jumping technique. This spider’s eyes, however, did not seem to take note of the owlfly.

Gerard (above, discussing a Nepenthes kampotiana pitcher plant) has made quite a few friends via various online grouypswas encouraged to post his photos to iNaturalist by @hkmoths, and he’s now uploaded over 1,400 moth observations to iNat, as well as observations of other flora and fauna.

I have my own website that shows the full set of things I have identified so far but I see there is a risk that the data I have been recording could be lost...and I see iNaturalist as the ideal, public repository for that data. I still have a huge backlog of observations to add to iNaturalist based on 50,000+ nature photos, but still adding new ones all the time.

- by Tony Iwane. Photo of Gerard copyright Jason MacDonald, used with permission.


- Gerard found a new species of bug outside his house several years ago, recently described and named Sogana chartieri! (See the observation here.)

- The late macro photographer Andreas Kay shot some beautiful footage of an owlfly larva encountering an ant.

Posted on December 31, 2019 21:39 by tiwane tiwane | 6 comments | Leave a comment