Journal archives for February 2021

February 01, 2021

Rest in Peace, Greg

Greg Lasley passed away on January 30th, 2021. Greg was a giant on iNaturalist, as one of our most prolific observers and most helpful identifiers, Greg made iNat a great place to be, starting way back in 2012 when iNat was a whole lot smaller. If you look at a map of all the observations he identified, you'll see he helped people all around the world.

We’ve written about Greg in the past, so if he helped you on iNat but you didn’t know him in person, check out Tony’s interview with Greg in 2018 or this Observation of the Week by Greg of a Golden-cheeked Warbler.

I thought the comments on this post would be a good place to share our memories of him. Please be polite and respectful, as Greg was dear to many of us.

I'll go first: in 2015 my friend @robberfly invited me to join a trip he was taking to tour the Rio Grande Valley area with Greg. It turned into a bit of an iNat-a-palooza, but I had a brief chance to get to know Greg in person. He was, of course, a naturalist with knowledge both deep and broad, but my lasting impression was of a consummate gentleman, as generous and kind to others as he was curious about nature. I don't think I heard him utter an unkind word about anyone on that trip, and it was obvious from talking to the many people we met how esteemed and loved Greg was all around the state.

Some random memories from that trip: he thought nothing of driving at 50 MPH in reverse down the shoulder of a state highway to check out some roadkill; he had a giant trash can in his car which I found perplexing and perplexingly useful; his green-boots-and-pink-shirt field combo was both practical and styling. He showed us all kinds of cool creatures, told us a few good (tall?) tales, and led us to some stellar BBQ.

I'll miss him, and my heart goes out to all his friends and family. He clearly inspired and encouraged many people to learn about and appreciate the natural world, both by example and by getting outside with folks and pointing things out, so I know he lives on in every life he touched.

Posted on February 01, 2021 02:33 by kueda kueda | 81 comments | Leave a comment

February 23, 2021

A Botanist Documents a Rare Nightshade in the California Desert - Observation of the Week, 2/23/21

Our Observation of the Week is this Nevada Oryctes (Oryctes nevadensis), seen in the United States by @swinitsky!

As a child growing up in Los Angeles, Sophie Witnisky says she didn’t encounter much real wilderness but learning to garden “helped me develop an eye for biodiversity and I wanted to learn as much as I could, specifically about plants.” After some time working in sustainable agriculture, she heard about professional botanists

and that shifted everything. My first solo and careful exploration of wilderness came when I took a seasonal job (living right next to where we found the Oryctes nevadensis!) with the Inyo National Forest. From there, my life has been shaped by searching for, identifying and asking questions to plants.

Currently a student at Montana State University, she studies Marina, “a mostly Mexican, glandular, arid-dwelling genus of legume.” Another area of interest is the flora of the Eastern Sierra, “specifically areas impacted by the LA aqueduct.”

[Growing up in Los Angeles,] I felt a personal connection and responsibility towards the land and water grab between eastern California and Los Angeles. It felt right to pursue research that follows up on the long term botanical impacts of the aqueduct. This week I published a conservation plan [PDF] for Calochortus excavatus, a rare plant that runs the entire length of the aqueduct and my M.S. research was on the flora of alkali meadows and marshes, the habitat most impacted by the aqueduct. I also follow this entire area on iNaturalist, which allows me to plan my fieldwork efficiently, since phenology fluctuates a lot, and to keep an eye out for plants I don't know.

In May of 2019, Sophie was in the area with three other botanists: Isaac Marck (@california_naturalist), Maria Jesus (@mariaj),j and Nico Medina (@botanico_las), “which makes looking for plants a lot more fun and a lot slower paced.”

The Oryctes nevadensis population we documented is along the Owens River, which is severely impacted by the aqueduct. This area is heavily botanized - it's California! - so finding something so rare, close to highway 395, reminds us how much there is to learn. The other known populations are farther south and are quite likely extirpated, they were last documented in the early 1980s. We had heard about this population found on sand dunes near the White Mountain Research Station, in Bishop, where we were staying, but the plants rarely come up since they need a specific precipitation regime.

Expectations were low since we heard this population was last seen in the fifties, but it was so snowy (even though it was summer, note the strange rain pattern) that our more glamorous botanizing locations were inaccessible...This population is also highly at risk due to the off roading that happens directly on the plants. They don't look like rare wildflowers, they look like sticky weeds, or perhaps even escaped tomatoes!

The nondescript appearance of Oryctes nevadensis is also a plus for Jim Morefield (@jdmore), a botanist with the Nevada Division of Natural Heritage, who was kind enough to tell me a bit more about the species. “As an inconspicuous desert annual,” he says, “Oryctes nevadensis is automatically on my list of favorite plants.” However, he’s never actually come across one.

Seeing Oryctes nevadensis in the flesh has been on my bucket list for the entire 30 years I have worked as a rare plant botanist in Nevada, but the timing just never worked out. So imagine my delight (and sense of irony) at seeing the first live photos of the species in Sophie’s well-documented observation from California! Its main geographic range is in the sandy valleys of the Lahontan Basin in west-central Nevada, and it only barely spills over into California in similar habitats at the southwestern corner of its range. It is found nowhere else in the world.

The species was first discovered and named in 1871, from specimens found near the lower Truckee River. This rare desert annual is of conservation concern in both Nevada and California, and it is so rarely seen because of its inconspicuous appearance and tendency to germinate only in exceptionally wet spring seasons, like 2019 was.

Due to its rarity, Jim tells me little else is known about the species, although it does belong to the nightshade family (Solanaceae), hence its similarity to tomatoes.

In addition to posting photos of rare plants, Sophie (above) uses iNat in her research on Marina. “Many of these beans have only been seen a couple times or are just known from type collections, so iNaturalist is incredibly helpful,” she explains.

Like Oryctes, they can look weedy or uninteresting (obviously I do not agree) and can be easily overlooked, but uploading them to iNat is easy and advances our understanding of their distribution. I am working on the systematics of the group as a PhD project and hoping to better understand their rarity, evolution, biogeography and conservation. I follow them and all their close relatives on iNaturalist and it helps me track phenology, plan my fieldwork and network with local botanists.

(Photo of Sophie by Isaac Marck)


- You can take a look at Sophie’s website here, and her Instagram feed here!

Posted on February 23, 2021 21:20 by tiwane tiwane | 15 comments | Leave a comment

February 02, 2021

A Marbled Polecat is Spotted in Mongolia! - (Bonus) Observation of the Week, 2/2/21

Our (Bonus) Observation of the Week is this Marbled Polecat (Эрээн хүрнэ), seen in Mongolia by @otgonbayar_tsend!

In the grand tradition of so many Observations of the Week, the observer - Otgonbayar Tsend - documented a species that is not in their main primary field of study, which I think speaks to the value of just being observant and curious about nature in general.

Otgonbayar is an ornithologist and currently works at a wildlife science and conservation center in Mongolia, but tells me he also “likes to take pictures of nature and wild animals.” When researching relict gulls in the western regions of Mongolia, he came across this marble polecat and was able to snap a few photos. “This animal was photographed in a very short time because it was moving so fast,” he recalls.

The only species in the genus Vormela, marbled polecats range from Eastern Europe to Central Asia and prefer dry, non-mountainous habitats. They’ll dig their own dens or utilize those made by other mammals and prey on various small mammals, both vertebrates and invertebrates. But due to loss of habitat and hunting in some areas, the IUCN lists this species as Vulnerable.

Otgonbayar (above, on the right) has only recently started using iNaturalist, and is part of a growing number of users in Mongolia (see below), led by @oyuna, @gundegmaa, and many others.

For his part, Otgonbayar says “I’ve learned more as I use iNaturalist. I'm happy to have the opportunity to share what I know with others, in addition to recognizing what I don't know.”


- Take a look at some pretty fantastic footage of marbled polecats.

- Lots of amazing plants in the Flora of Mongolia project, check out its most-faved observations.

- Having been born just a *bit* too early for the Pokemon craze, I had no idea Otgonbayar’s photo would make such a connection on social media when I shared it, but apparently this creature looks quite a bit like Zigzagoon.

Posted on February 02, 2021 19:32 by tiwane tiwane | 22 comments | Leave a comment

February 04, 2021

50% of all Vertebrates Observed!

We were looking back at this post from almost exactly three years ago when we announced that we'd tallied one third of all vertebrate species. We re-crunched the numbers and it looks like we're now at 50%! Here's the same breakdown by species group (apologies for switching the colors compared to the older figure, but we though it was a bit more intuitive this way)

We've broken 90% with birds with 9,761 of 10,560 species having been logged. And we are now above 50% for reptiles (6,824 of 11,350 species), mammals (3,322 of 5,818 species) and amphibians (4,317 of 8,229 species). The average is being brought down by the most diverse group fishes which includes the ray-finned fishes (10,158 of 33,128 species) and the other fish orders such as sharks and rays (602 of 1,427 species).

We're still logging a dozen or so new vertebrates a day, but we expect this rate to taper off as only rarer and rarer species remain. Any bets on how long it will take us to get to two thirds of all vertebrates?

Posted on February 04, 2021 06:13 by loarie loarie | 38 comments | Leave a comment

February 08, 2021

A Euphorbia Observation in Brazil Provides Tantalizing Natural History Clues - Observation of the Week, 2/8/21

Our Observation of the Week is this likely Euphorbia duckei plant, seen in Brazil by @nelson_wisnik.

While he always enjoyed being out in nature, Nelson Wisnik says “I only started paying more attention to fauna and flora when I became a professor of physics in forestry and agricultural engineering courses, showing how physical conditions shape beings, how the energy flow governs the interactions between them, from the point of view of physics.”

Now retired, he spends much of his time trying to observe, record, and share biodiversity. After living on a boat in the central Amazon region from 2002-2008, he spends several months every year exploring the area. He’s also volunteered as an environmental educator in Brazil as well. And of course, that’s where he came across these peculiar plants.

“In the region of the mouth of the Tapajós River, the level of the rivers presents an annual variation of approximately 6.5 m (21 feet) between flood and ebb,” explains Nelson.

The beaches appear on the banks of the rivers and vast areas of lowland are drained, allowing the growth of many species of plants, which, in turn, attract a wide variety of fauna, including migratory species. In this scenario, on two occasions I observed, among other species of the same genus, the Euphorbia duckei. Not being a botanist or biologist, I didn't immediately realize the value of these observations, but [only] later on, during the discussion about their identification.

That discussion included @trh_blue and @nathantaylor, who is iNat’s top Euphorbia identifier. While Nathan says “the only way to be absolutely sure is to see a cyathium on the plant,

E. duckei is the only species known from Brazil that gets that woody and shrubby and has straight branches like those in the observation. What's more, the type locality is along the Tapajós River (the observation was found where the Tapajós River meets the Amazon River.) While geography alone doesn't rule out other species growing in the area and morphology isn't enough to rule out the possibility of an undescribed species or some other new occurrence, together they give pretty good evidence for the identity of the species.

Nathan is quite sure that, aside from the type specimen, these are the only records of E. duckei online and tells me they provide a lot of interesting life history information that wasn’t previously available. “To give a sense of how little is given about the species,” says Nathan,

I'll quote the describer of the plant Léon Croizat in 1943: "The characters of this plant are outstanding, and that it represents a new species seems to be obvious. The material, however, is hardly satisfactory for a generalized description, because it shows a stage in which the new growth is barely beginning, but the old branchlets have already lost their leaves." The observations [Nelson actually observed this species in 2018 as well - Tony] provided show most of what the type specimen lacks. It also gives a more accurate scale of the plant that a specimen simply can't provide. But more interesting to me than the above, it shows the habitat of the species. The observations show that the plant can clearly survive with their roots under water, a condition that would kill any perennial sandmat. Given the comments of the observer that the plants are underwater much of the year, this could represent the first example of an emergent aquatic sandmat.

The thing that I find most fun about this is that Léon Croizat named the species Euphorbia duckei after Adolpho Ducke, likely having no inclination about the conditions under which the plants grew. The humor in this name may already be apparent to you, but I can't help but wonder if any future student will look at the plant and the habitat and use the associations with "duckies" as a way to help them remember the name.

Nelson (above) has contributed over 12,000 observations and nearly 10,000 IDs to iNaturalist so far, and tells me

In my opinion, iNaturalist is the most complete biodiversity data platform that best adapts to my objective, that is, to give visibility to my observations, so that the information contained therein is accessible for scientific studies and educational activities.

Through the direct collaboration of the participants, to whom I am very grateful, the use of iNaturalist taught me not only about the species I had observed, but also how to proceed and be more attentive in observing biodiversity.


- Another one of Nelson’s observations was chosen as Observation of the Day a few years ago. Take a look and then read his journal post about it.

The genus Euphorbia contains around 2,000 species, here are the most-faved observations of plants in this genus on iNat.

- Nathan has posted a ton of resources about euphorbias and other taxa, here’s a hub of links to some of his work.

- Nathan talked euphorbias and iNat on the In Defense of Plants podcast.

Posted on February 08, 2021 22:49 by tiwane tiwane | 14 comments | Leave a comment

February 11, 2021

Welcome, iNaturalist Chile! ¡Bienvenido, iNaturalist Chile!

Today we announce the launch of iNaturalistCL, iNaturalist Chile, as the newest member of the iNaturalist Network, in a collaboration with the Ministry of Environment of Chile.

Hoy celebramos oficialmente el lanzamiento público de iNaturalist CL, iNaturalist Chile, como nuevo miembro de la red mundial iNaturalist, en una colaboración con el Ministerio del Medio Ambiente de Chile.



iNaturalistCL has the distinction of being the first member of the iNaturalist Network to adopt a plant for their new logo: the Monkey-Puzzle Tree or Araucaria (Araucaria araucana), an iconic species and very well known in Chile as the national tree, present in the Andes Mountains and in the Nahuelbuta Mountains, in the south of the country. It is a symbol of conservation, as it is an endangered species, mostly found in areas which need to be protected. They can measure up to 50 meters and are long-lived, with calculated ages of up to more than a thousand years. The symbol was chosen by popular vote via web form.

iNaturalistCL tiene la distinción de ser el primer miembro de la red iNaturalist en adoptar una planta como su nuevo logo: La Araucaria (Araucaria araucana), una especie icónica y conocida en Chile como su árbol nacional, presente en la Cordillera de los Andes y en la cordillera de Nahuelbuta, al sur del país. Es un símbolo de la conservación al tratarse de una especie amenazada que se encuentra en áreas que dependen de la protección. Puede medir hasta 50 metros y son longevas, con edades calculadas de hasta más de mil años. El símbolo fue elegido por votación popular vía formulario web.

The Chilean iNaturalist community has been growing rapidly over the last couple of years. You can read more about earlier activity trends in Chile in the iNaturalist World Tour post from July 2019. Jorge Herreros de Lartundo, @lartundo, is the primary point of contact for iNaturalistCL in his role with the Ministry of Environment of Chile.

La comunidad chilena de iNaturalist ha crecido rápidamente en los últimos años. Puedes leer más sobre las tendencias de actividad anteriores en Chile en la publicación de la Gira Mundial de iNaturalist de julio de 2019. Jorge Herreros de Lartundo, @lartundo, es el principal punto de contacto de iNaturalistCL en su rol con el Ministerio del Medio Ambiente de Chile.

The iNaturalist Network now has twelve nationally-focused sites that are fully connected and interoperable with the global iNaturalist site. The sites are: Naturalista Mexico, iNaturalist Canada, iNaturalist New Zealand (formerly NatureWatchNZ), Naturalista Colombia, BioDiversity4All (Portugal), iNaturalist Panama, iNaturalist Ecuador, iNaturalist Australia, ArgentiNat (Argentina), iNaturalist Israel, iNaturalist Finland, and now iNaturalist Chile. Any iNaturalist user can log in on any of the sites using their same credentials and will see the same notifications.

La red iNaturalist ahora tiene doce sitios con foco nacional que están completamente conectados y que son interoperables con el sitio global de iNaturalist. Estos sitios son: Naturalista Mexico, iNaturalist Canada, iNaturalist New Zealand (anteriormente NatureWatchNZ), Naturalista Colombia, BioDiversity4All (Portugal), iNaturalist Panama, iNaturalist Ecuador, iNaturalist Australia, ArgentiNat (Argentina), iNaturalist Israel, iNaturalist Finland, y ahora iNaturalist Chile o #iNaturalistCL. Cualquier usuario de iNaturalist puede iniciar sesión en cualquiera de estos sitios usando las mismas credenciales y verá las mismas notificaciones.

The iNaturalist Network model allows for localizing the iNaturalist experience to better support communities on a national scale and local leadership in the movement, without splitting the community into isolated, national sites. The iNaturalist team is grateful to the outreach, training, translations, and user support carried out through the efforts of the iNaturalist Network member institutions.

El modelo de la red iNaturalist permite localizar la experiencia de iNaturalist para apoyar mejor a las comunidades a nivel nacional y un liderazgo mejor en el movimiento, sin dividir a la comunidad en sitios nacionales aislados. El equipo de iNaturalist agradece el alcance, las capacitaciones, las traducciones y el apoyo a los usuarios que se llevan a cabo con esfuerzo de las instituciones miembro de la red iNaturalist.

We look forward to welcoming many new Chilean members of the iNaturalist community and watching how participation grows during the southern hemisphere summer!

¡Esperamos dar la bienvenida a muchos nuevos miembros de Chile en la comunidad de iNaturalist y ver cómo la participación aumenta durante el verano del hemisferio sur!

Posted on February 11, 2021 20:35 by carrieseltzer carrieseltzer | 18 comments | Leave a comment