Journal archives for April 2021

April 06, 2021

A Slime Mold and a Parasitic Fungus in the California Woods - Observation of the Week, 4/6/21

Our Observation of the Week is this Trichia botrytis slime mold (and a Polycephalomyces tomentosus fungus), seen in the United States by @alison_pollack!

The name “slime mold” is a bit misleading, as slime molds belong to their own polyphyletic group, Phylum Mycetozoa. But Alison Pollack beautifully captured both the fruiting body of a slime mold and a fungal parasite in the photo you see above. It wasn’t her first attempt, however. “Trichia botrytis is a very pretty slime mold, and I had seen it only a few times before,” she explains.

The fungus, Polycephalomyces tomentosus, parasitizes slime molds of the genus Trichia. I had seen and photographed that fungus on various Trichia species several times, but I really wanted to find a specimen where there was not so much of it so that you couldn’t see the detail. In the woods a few weeks ago, I turned a log over and saw something that looked like it might be nice, and when I looked at it with the magnifying glass I was thrilled at what I saw - not only a formation of the fungus of exactly the kind I had been looking for, but also a clean Trichia botrytis, clearly showing the characteristic bands of that species.  A wonderful and photogenic combination!

Alison’s image isn’t just one photo - at macro distances an image’s depth of field is razor thin - but rather a series of about forty-five photos, each focusing on a slightly different part of the subject. She then used software to focus stack the images, combining the parts in focus to make  a single image with greater depth of field. That’s why both the slime mold and fungus are in razor sharp focus. 

Fittingly, it was photography that sparked Alison’s recent interest in slime molds, fungi, and other tiny organisms. As a child in the suburbs of New York City she wasn’t particularly into nature, but graduate school in Wisconsin and then hikes around the Bay Area opened her eyes to it. She carried her camera with her and began to photograph mushrooms. One day, however, she came across something new.

I took a photo, and when I got home I did a Google reverse image search to figure out what it was. I quickly figured out that it was a Myxomycete, Leocarpus fragilis. I stayed up all night looking at photos of various slime molds and reading about these fascinating organisms; I was completely smitten by their beauty and their amazing life cycle. Shortly after that I bought a DSLR camera and a macro lens so I could take better photos of myxos.  And while looking for myxos, I also found many fascinating tiny fungi. 

When I am in the woods, I am often on my hands and knees, looking very closely. What I am looking for usually cannot be seen while walking. I use a light and a magnifying lens to look for my tiny subjects. The smaller they are, the more they fascinate me! I love finding and photographing myxos and tiny fungi and sharing them with people who might otherwise never see them. My goal is to inspire people to go into the woods and look for them themselves.  

Alison (above, in Alaska) previously only posted her photos on Instagram, but an acquaintance suggested she also add them to iNat, where she tries to post most of her photos now. “It's great when experts chime in and identify what I have captured,” she says, 

and I also feel like I am contributing to science because not too many people are looking for and posting things so tiny. These days I also use iNat all the time to look for where people are finding myxos and fungi; the combination of iNat and NOAA precipitation maps helps me to plan my trips to the woods. 

Photo of Alison by Bruce Welkovich (@bwelko).


- This isn’t Observation of the Week’s first slime mo(u)ld rodeo!

- Slime molds can solve mazes?

- Check out some of the most-faved slime mold observations on iNat!

Posted on April 06, 2021 20:22 by tiwane tiwane | 13 comments | Leave a comment

Welcome, iNaturalist United Kingdom!

iNaturalist United Kingdom is the newest member of the iNaturalist Network! iNaturalistUK is a collaboration led by the National Biodiversity Network Trust (NBN Trust) with the Marine Biological Association (MBA) and the Biological Records Centre (BRC).

The MBA is excited to utilise the iNaturalist platform to increase engagement in the marine environment and to build a community of recorders to improve our knowledge of the rich and varied marine life that is found in UK waters.

Working with MBA and BRC, the NBN Trust will be developing ways of promoting and using iNaturalist in the UK to complement the other recording tools already available to the biological recording community. These include iRecord and iSpot as well as many other platforms that are popular in the UK.



Users in the United Kingdom are encouraged to affiliate their account iNaturalistUK to allow partner organisations enhanced access to UK sightings. This won't affect existing arrangements with how your sightings are currently shared to GBIF or available to the international community.
BRC will work with National Recording Schemes to facilitate the integration of iNaturalist within UK recording systems. MBA will be building on its extensive experience in coastal BioBlitz events to increase the wildlife records openly available.

iNaturalist is a growing community within the UK. The NBN Trust with its network of members is well placed to engage with these citizen scientists and encourage greater participation in wildlife recording, particularly for groups with little previous experience.

The iNaturalist community in the United Kingdom has been growing steadily over the past few years. From around 10,000 observers in early 2019 there are now more than 55,500 observers who have recorded 15,000 species in the UK. The growth of the City Nature Challenge event in the UK has encouraged its popularity.

We look forward to watching the iNaturalist community in the UK continue to grow in its reach and impact with the support of the NBN Trust, Marine Biological Association, and Biological Records Centre.

About the iNaturalist Network

The iNaturalist Network now has fifteen 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, iNaturalist Chile, iNaturalist Greece, iNaturalist Luxembourg, and now iNaturalist United Kingdom. Any iNaturalist user can log in on any of the sites using their same username and password and will see the same notifications. All data from all network sites are still shared globally and fully accessible from each site using search filters.

The iNaturalist Network model allows for localizing the iNaturalist experience to better support communities and local leadership on a national scale, 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.

Posted on April 06, 2021 02:50 by carrieseltzer carrieseltzer | 13 comments | Leave a comment

April 08, 2021

Recently Described Mexican Plant Named after iNaturalist/Naturalista.mx

Meet Gonolobus naturalistae, a new species of plant described in a paper published last November. This is the first species named after iNaturalist, or more specifically Naturalista.mx which is the Mexican node of the iNaturalist Network administered in partnership with the Comisión Nacional para el Conocimiento y Uso de la Biodiversidad (CONABIO). Naturalista was launched in 2013 as the first node of the network which now has 15 national nodes. Under the leadership of Carlos Galindo-Leal (@carlos2), the Naturalista team at CONABIO continues to do incredible work integrating iNaturalist into local outreach and conservation efforts. The decision of the authors to use their discovery as an opportunity to honor Naturalista is a testament to the impact of this work.

The story of Gonolobus naturalistae begins with Fernando Pio-León (@pioleon), a botanist in the Mexican state of Sinaloa, who came across some plants in the genus Gonolobus back in 2016 and 2017. Neither he nor other members of the Naturalista community could identify them beyond genus as their characteristics didn’t match any known species. He suspected they were an as yet undescribed species, but further investigation didn’t occur for another two years, when Fernando contacted Lupita Chávez Hernández (@lupitachavezhdez).

The following are recollections by all three coauthors of the paper describing Gonolobus naturalistae. They have been lightly edited for clarity.

Fernando: I became acquainted with Naturalista when I was studying for my doctorate and, in a moment of semi-depression, exploring, observing and identifying plants on Naturalista became a welcome escape. Currently I use Naturalista as a quick way to create an additional documentation of my botanical records. 

[In 2019] I noticed that a user on Naturalista had begun to identify various species in the family Apocynaceae, so I sent her a message asking for her opinion [of my Gonolobus observations]. [She] said she would take a look at the plants and bring it up with her thesis advisor, Dr. Leonardo Alvarado-Cárdenas (@leonardoac). Several months later, Lupita told me that after reviewing the species with Leo, they also believed it was something new and needed material to analyze. Almost a year later, during the 21st Congress of Mexican Botany, I finally had the opportunity to meet them in person and donate samples of the Gonolobus for them to analyze in the herbarium at UNAM. After doing so, they told me that indeed it was a new species and that the next step was to describe it in a publication.

Lupita: My uncle Belem Hernández (@belemqueuedelapin) [introduced me to Naturalista]. [He] is a strong proponent of community science, he is a very active Naturalista user, and is enthusiastic about documenting the diversity of the area where he lives. Since then I have not stopped using the Naturalista and marveling at its benefits. 

After reviewing the group and the species reported for the area, Leonardo (@leonardoac) and I, who work on Apocynaceae taxonomy, confirmed [to Fernando] that it was a new species with a distribution restricted to Sinaloa and Chihuahua.

Leonardo: The next step was to think of the name, which was not an easy thing. Several names were suggested, related to the structure of the flower or its distribution. [But] after a series of discussions, we decided that it would be a good idea to honor Naturalista for several reasons. 

Fernando: When I heard that, I was fascinated by the idea since Naturalista had been the means through which we coauthors were able to connect and describe the new species. I also thought of all the collaborations that had taken place on the platform that I was busy compiling for a conference organized by CONABIO - some of which we cited in the article.

Naturalista has definitely changed both the way I interact with nature and how I do research. Every time I visit a new place now I find myself documenting plants and other species. It’s really motivated me to identify and learn about new species, since I can quickly make an observation and worry about identifying it and doing a literature review later on. All the other users also help out a lot. When I make identifications for others, seeing species that I do not know motivates me to review the literature and help identify them.

Lupita: Leonardo and I work in Mexico City and it is not easy to go out to collect in northern areas like Sinaloa, so the use of Naturalista made that aspect much easier - the distance was reduced to a click on the computer!

Leonardo: The use of Naturalista has become a constant activity within our group, and it has allowed us to study many species in greater detail than just pressed herbarium material, which lacks many important characteristics such as color, general appearance, habitat and who can visit it. Based on all of this, we decided to go with using the name Naturalista as a specific epithet for the new species. We hope this decision highlights the work of the platform and the people who work on it...among many other things, it allows to tell success stories such as the discovery of new species and the creation of links between colleagues in different parts of the country and the world.

Lupita: I have always thought that involving citizens in the construction and dissemination of scientific knowledge is essential. Only in this way can we know and value the biodiversity that surrounds us and ensure its conservation. Naturalista allows [collaboration between scientists and the community at large] to be done in a simple and fun way, so its contribution to science is worthy of being recognized with the name of a new species.


Since Naturalista began in México, it has become the largest citizen science network in the country with over 90,000 people registered, 2.7 million observations of 37,000 species. We invite more researchers to collaborate. Let’s improve our knowledge of biodiversity in Mexico and in the world together!!


In addition to helping discover new species, Fernando, along with his botanist mentor Dr. Rito-Vega, have been studying endemic Sinaloan plants for his postdoctoral work. This has led to the first iNat/Naturalista observations of several species, including Perityle grandifolia, Perityle canescens, and Aloysia nahuire, some of which had not been documented for decades!

Posted on April 08, 2021 18:15 by tiwane tiwane | 17 comments | Leave a comment

April 01, 2021

Welcome, iNaturalist Luxembourg! Wëllkomm, iNaturalist Lëtzebuerg!

Today we officially welcome iNaturalist Luxembourg as the newest member of the iNaturalist Network! Luxembourg is a small country in Europe bordering Belgium, Germany, and France with three official languages: Luxembourgish, French, and German.

iNaturalist.LU is a collaboration with the Luxembourg National Museum of Natural History (MnhnL). Since 2019 the MnhnL has actively promoted the use of iNaturalist in Luxembourg and organized citizen science projects like the City Nature Challenge using iNaturalist. The department of Digital Information about the Natural Heritage at the MnhnL, now coordinates iNaturalist.LU but also manages the national biodiversity database and is Luxembourg's national GBIF node.

MnhnL’s decision to promote iNaturalist to the local community was made to offer an easy to use digital tool to record and identify wildlife to the national naturalist and citizens science community.



The iNaturalist community in Luxembourg has grown considerably over the past two years, reaching 70,000 observations and 2,500 users at the beginning of 2021. This corresponds to about 120 observations per 1,000 inhabitants and about 29 observations per square km (for context, these numbers for the United States are 93 obs./1,000 inhabitants and 3 obs./km2). Observations can be found throughout the entire country with the highest concentration in the southern part, especially around the capital. 2021 promises to exceed every expectation with already 4 times as many observations made in the first two months compared to the same period last year.

We look forward to seeing the multilingual community in Luxembourg grow!

About the iNaturalist Network

The iNaturalist Network now has fourteen 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, iNaturalist Chile, iNaturalist Greece, and now iNaturalist Luxembourg. Any iNaturalist user can log in on any of the sites using their same username and password and will see the same notifications.

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.


Wëllkomm, iNaturalist Lëtzebuerg!

Haut begréisse mir offiziell iNaturalist Lëtzebuerg als neiste Member vum iNaturalist Netzwierk! Lëtzebuerg ass e klengt Land an Europa a grenzt un d'Belsch, Däitschland a Frankräich mat dräi offizielle Sproochen: Lëtzebuergesch, Franséisch an Däitsch.

iNaturalist.LU ass eng Zesummenaarbecht mam Nationalmusée fir Naturgeschicht (MnhnL). Zënter 2019 huet de MnhnL aktiv d'Notzung vum iNaturalist zu Lëtzebuerg promovéiert an "citizen science" Projete wéi de City Nature Challenge mam iNaturalist organiséiert. De Service fir Digital Informatioun iwwer de Patrimoine Naturel am MnhnL koordinéiert elo iNaturalist.LU awer geréiert och déi national Biodiversitéits Datebank an ass den nationale GBIF Knuet.

D'Entscheedung vum MnhnL fir den iNaturalist bei der lokaler Gemeinschaft vu Naturwëssenschaftler an Naturbegeeschterten ze promovéiere gouf geholl fir kennen een digitalen Tool unzebidde mat deem een einfach wëll Aarten identifizéieren a erfaasse kann.



D'iNaturalist Gemeinschaft zu Lëtzebuerg ass an de leschten zwee Joer bedeitend gewuess, Ufangs 2021 goufe 70.000 Observatiounen an 2.500 Benotzer erreecht. Dëst entsprécht ongeféier 120 Observatioune pro 1.000 Awunner an ongeféier 29 Observatioune pro Quadratkilometer (fir de Kontext, dës Zuele fir d'USA sinn 3 (Obs./km2) an 93 (Obs./1.000 Awunner)). D‘Observatioune sinn am ganze Land verdeelt, awer virun allem an der südlecher Hallschent, besonnesch ronderëm d'Haaptstad ze fannen. 2021 versprécht all Erwaardung ze depasséiere mat scho 4 Mol méi gemellten Observatiounen an den éischten zwee Méint wei an der selwechter Period dat lescht Joer.

Mir freeën eis déi méisproocheg Gemeinschaft zu Lëtzebuerg wuessen ze gesinn!

Iwwert d'iNaturalist Netzwierk

D'iNaturalist Netzwierk huet elo véierzéng national fokusséiert Websäiten déi voll matenee verbonnen an interoperabel mam globalen iNaturalist Portal sinn. D'Säite sinn: Naturalista Mexiko, iNaturalist Kanada, iNaturalist Neiséiland (fréier NatureWatchNZ), Naturalista Kolumbien, BioDiversity4All (Portugal), iNaturalist Panama, iNaturalist Ecuador, iNaturalist Australien, ArgentiNat (Argentinien), iNaturalist Israel, iNaturalist Finland, iNaturalist Chile, iNaturalist Griicheland, an elo och iNaturalist Lëtzebuerg. All iNaturalist Notzer kann sech mat sengem Benotzernumm a Passwuert op all de verschiddene Säiten aloggen a gesäit ëmmer déi selwecht Notifikatiounen. De Modell vum iNaturalist Netzwierk erméiglecht et d'iNaturalist Experienz op nationalem Niveau unzepassen an déi lokal Gemeinschaft a Coordinateure vun der Beweegung besser z'ënnerstëtzen, ouni d'Gemeinschaft an isoléiert, national Säiten ze splécken. D'iNaturalist Team ass dankbar fir d'Ënnerstëtzung, d'Formatioun, d'Iwwersetzungen an d'Benotzer Betreiung duerch d'Efforte vun den iNaturalist Netzwierk Memberinstitutiounen.

Posted on April 01, 2021 04:04 by carrieseltzer carrieseltzer | 17 comments | Leave a comment

April 15, 2021

Two Green Pit Vipers Share a Branch in Thailand - Observation of the Week, 4/15/21

Our Observation of the Week is this Trimeresurus popeiorum pit viper (งูเขียวหางไหม้ท้องเขียว in Thai) duo, seen in Thailand by @parinyaherp!

A native of Bangkok, Parinya Pawangkhanant grew up there when the city was not as large as it is today. “My house was close to the canal,” he remembers.

My house was close to the canal and my father always took me to explore the nature around it, like Varanus salvaror, many fishes, and some insects. I dreamed to one day see and explore the country when the time was right.

For the last decade, Parinya has been able to do just that as he’s explored the herpetofauna of Thailand. He’s currently a research assistant with the Herpetofauna Lab at Phayao University and the Rabbit in the Moon foundation near Thailand’s border with Myanmar. 

During his travels, Parinya explored the mountain forests of Doi Suthep–Pui National Park on a humid afternoon in 2016 when

Suddenly I found a green snake on a branch just 1.5 meters from the ground. From my experience in the field, I quickly identified it as Trimeresurus popeiorum, a species of green pit viper... I tried getting a closer look at the snake and found out she was not alone - a smaller male with red stripes popped up behind the female. I photographed them using a longer lens so I could keep my distance from the sweet couple. However, I soon ran out of time - heavy rain was moving in - and I headed back to camp.

One of around fifty species in the asian tree pit viper genus Trimeresurus, Trimeresurus popeiorum spends much of its time staying very still in trees, relying on camouflage to ambush its prey of small vertebrates. Adults in this species have those impressive red eyes, and males often have a red or white stripe starting by the eye. Like all vipers, they deliver venom through hinged front fangs.

Parinya (above, collecting tadpoles near the border with Laos) was invited by @nopcoeur and @utain to iNat, to help with herp identifications. He compares iNat to the Anywhere Door from Doraemon in that with iNat he can “go everywhere and can look everywhere.” He’s been using it to check species complexes Sphenomorphus, Trimeresurus, and Polypedates.

Photo of Parinya by Mali Naiduangchan. Quotes have been edited for clarity.


- Two previous observations of the week documented snakes in the genus Trimeresurus - check ‘em out here and here!

Posted on April 15, 2021 22:12 by tiwane tiwane | 11 comments | Leave a comment

iNaturalist Licensed Observation Images in the Amazon Open Data Sponsorship Program

Making biodiversity data freely accessible for science and conservation is an important part of iNaturalist’s mission. We’re excited to announce the inclusion of the iNaturalist Licensed Observation Images dataset in the Amazon Open Data Sponsorship Program (ODP). This collaboration covers costs associated with storing and sharing (i.e. bandwidth) licensed photos posted to iNaturalist to sustain and promote the use of iNaturalist photos for research applications.

Importantly, nothing has changed regarding what data and photos are being made available, or what company is hosting them (we already host all our media with Amazon). This program just makes it easier to access these photos and their associated data and passes the bill on to Amazon. Only photos with Creative Commons Licenses are covered by this collaboration. The benefits of the collaboration are:

  • Amazon ODP is now offsetting the rapidly growing costs of storing these photos
  • Amazon ODP covers the costs associated with downloading these photos.
  • We’re releasing new tools to facilitate and encourage the use of these data

Reducing storage costs
Thank you to everyone who has licensed their iNaturalist photos. We now estimate that 70% of photos on iNaturalist have Creative Commons licenses. We estimate the cost savings of hosting these photos via the Amazon ODP will be hundreds of thousands of dollars over the next few years.

Reducing download costs
We’ve been a bit hesitant to encourage use of iNaturalist photos for research because we’ve incurred the costs of moving millions of photos across the internet from iNatualist to “Research Project X”. These costs can be significant. Since the Amazon ODP is covering these download costs for Creative Commons licensed photos, we can encourage and promote researchers to use iNaturalist photos without worrying about sustaining the costs associated with these uses.

Facilitating and encouraging data use
As part of this collaboration, we’ve added new tools to make it much easier to find and download large volumes of photos from iNaturalist. In addition to finding and accessing these photos via the iNaturalist API and export tools (which aren’t designed for fetching information about millions of photos) and the GBIF archive (which only includes photos associated with ‘research grade’ records) as part of this collaboration we are launching a new Monthly Metadata Export describing the photos in the Amazon ODP. that can be used to query and navigate them. You can find more documentation about how to use this new metadata export here.

Thanks everyone for continuing to share your biodiversity data observations and photos on iNaturalist. We hope that by making these data more accessible and useful via this collaboration we can have a bigger positive impact in science and conservation. Since the iNaturalist Forum has better tools for moderating and facilitating complex discussion, we've disabled comments on this post but have created a companion thread in the forum. We invite your thoughts or questions there.

Posted on April 15, 2021 23:18 by loarie loarie

April 20, 2021

Temporary limitations on places and taxon changes April 26-May 10

In preparation for increased iNaturalist activity during the upcoming City Nature Challenge, iNaturalist will implement some temporary changes. From April 26 to May 10, we will temporarily restrict some types of content on iNaturalist that are more intensive. Most users will not notice these changes because they do not directly impact observations, identifications, comments, or projects. However, for anyone planning to use the features below, we want to give advance notice so you can plan and prepare accordingly.

Large places cannot be created or edited
Starting on April 26, any new or edited places must contain fewer than 10,000 observations and be smaller than roughly the size of West Virginia (~24,000 square miles or 62,361 square km). If you try to add or edit a place above these thresholds, it will give you a warning message.

All places added or edited during this time may experience extended times to reflect the edits or collect all of the observations. If you can delay adding or editing places, please do so.

“Search external providers” disabled
If you enter a taxon name that can’t be found in iNaturalist, normally you can “Search external providers”. This feature will be temporarily disabled to prevent the addition of new taxa that cannot be curated during this time period (see below).

Taxon changes & ancestry edits paused (applicable for curators only)
No taxon changes or edits to taxon ancestry (including grafting taxa) can be implemented starting April 26. If you try to do this, you’ll get a message that such changes are temporarily unavailable. You can still draft taxon changes and save them to be committed after the restriction.

These temporary limitations will be in place through May 10, which includes the observation period of the City Nature Challenge as well as the upload/identification period.

Other activities that are not restricted but should be deferred if possible:
-csv uploads: If you are uploading a csv of observations, expect considerable delays. Do not attempt the same upload more than once.
-csv data downloads: If you are trying to download a csv of observations, expect considerable delays. Do not attempt the same download more than once.

Thank you all for your patience and understanding as we prepare for this busy time of year.

Posted on April 20, 2021 20:23 by carrieseltzer carrieseltzer | 23 comments | Leave a comment

April 27, 2021

A Trio of Hong Kong iNatters See a Lobster Caterpillar Moth Larva! - (Belated) Observation of the Week, 4/10/21

Our Observation(s) of the Week are all of this Lobster Caterpillar Moth (Stauropus alternus, 龍眼蟻舟蛾 in Chinese (traditional)), seen in Hong Kong by @pasteurng, @love3, and @pkyeung!

[This post took a week longer than usual because, after @pasteurng told me the above moth was actually found by @love3, I contacted her about it as well. She then told me @pkyeung was also there for the find, so I messaged him to get his part of the tale. - Tony]

Pasteur (@pasteurng -  below): I have been interested in nature for a long time. I mainly observed small insects such as butterflies and dragonflies before. Now also observe birds and other larger animals.

Lillian (@love3 - below): I have been interested in nature since I was a child because I lived in an outlying island in Hong Kong, where there is an abundance of plants and wild animals. However, at that time, taking photos was not as easy as nowadays because cameras were expensive and people didn't have smartphones.

I was more of an indoor person and seldom went hiking, but then a smartphone with camera function, which is a norm of today, changed my life. I started realizing the diverse biodiversity and the proximity of wildlife in my current neighborhood, which is a highly urbanized area in Hong Kong. For example, I spotted a Prosopocoilus oweni melli just right outside the window of a Marks & Spencer, which is pretty amazing.

PK (@pkyeung - below): After I retired a few years ago, I’ve had plenty of time to wander the hill slope and stream by my house. One day I found a Papilio butterfrly drinking water under the sunlight - it was beautiful. I started take photo of it from a much closer distance than I ever had before - less than an inch. After that I started taking photos of all kinds of insects and I like to get as close as possible.

Since the natural nature environment is so rich in Hong Kong, I also take photos of birds, fungi and plants.

Lilian: It is difficult for me, a layman, to identify any living organisms even with field guides (not mention there aren't many for Hong Kong), so I started to join wildlife groups on Facebook. In those groups, there are experts with different specialisms who can help me with the ids. I also joined different projects on iNaturalist because there are experts in these projects, too.

I know of the existence of iNaturalist because of Roger Kendrick (@hkmoths), who has devoted his life to moths in Hong Kong, because of his Hong Kong Moths project. Recently a Hong Kong Jellyfish project was created, and I started looking into the sea for jellyfish because of this project. I told my sister and she has started taking photos of jellyfish and realized that there are so many jellyfish near the pier.

The feeling of this is like playing Pokemon Go in reality. I want to complete my "record book", but I know that it will never be completed because new species are discovered every day around the world. This is amazing because I’ve found my interest for life. The City Nature Challenge is also an event that I love to participate in. It is challenging but fun because it somehow pushes me to explore different habitats that I may not have explored without this project.

PK: Pasteur and Lilian are my nature Facebook friends but I’ve never met them before before. Lilian wanted to search for Pyrops candelarius which, although commonly found in most areas, she had not photographed with her new camera. So it was our first time to gather and visit the popular Tai Po Kau  “Chung Tsai Yuen”, where people look for birds, insects and fungi.

Pasteur: The first person who found the Stauropus alternus was Lilian. She also likes small insects very much. Stauropus alternus looks like a common dead leaf, which makes it difficult to spot. The forefoot is very long like an ant's foot, and the the tail is very large. It looks like the Alien Queen!

Lilan: The caterpillar was found as we were about to leave the park. When I walked passed a plant, I saw something weird on the tip of a twig. It looked like a wet wilted brown leaf dropped from the trees above and randomly hanging on the twig due to the rain. I looked closer and saw this caterpillar feeding on the leaves. I screamed as I wanted to see this for a long time due to its bizarre appearance. I didn't expect that this relatively uncommon caterpillar can be found just on the side of a paved road in a park. I asked the two men to come back (above) and we were so happy to see this caterpillar.

PK: [Stauropus alternus] is one of [Lillian's] dream targets. It’s also the first one I’ve seen and photographed. We ended this outing with satisfaction and joy.

Some quotes have been lightly edited for clarity.


- What does this moth look like as an adult? To the iNat photo browser!

- I couldn’t find any videos of Stauropus alternus caterpillars, but here’s its relative, Stauropus fagi, in action.

- As his profile pic shows, Pasteur is a Hong Kong Country Parks Outstanding Volunteer. The program’s purpose, he says, is to “raise public awareness of protecting Hong Kong country parks through participating in management, education and conservation work of the country parks. It also offers valuable opportunities for nature lovers to serve society.”

Posted on April 27, 2021 19:13 by tiwane tiwane | 23 comments | Leave a comment

April 30, 2021

Identifier Profiles: @featherenthusiast and @karakaxa

This is the second post in an ongoing monthly series highlighting the amazing identifiers of iNaturalist. 

Last month, in our blog post featuring @naufalurfi, I asked for suggestions of identifiers to feature and another user messaged me about the awesome work of two young naturalists who identify feathers on iNat: Amanda Janusz (@featherenthusiast) and Valia Pavlou (@karakaxa), which I thought was a great idea. So without further ado, and in alphabetical order, here are profiles of these two co-managers of the Found Feathers project, as well as some extra info about feathers.

@featherenthusiast

Amanda Janusz has lived in several states in the US, currently splitting her time between Pennsylvania and Georgia. She remembers collecting and organizing feathers while at the beach, but

the thought to try identifying feathers to the species level didn’t occur to me until around 2016, when I ran a web search and came across the USFWS Feather Atlas. Its feather identification tool helped me identify my first Blue Jay, Northern Cardinal, and Mourning Dove feathers, among others. 

When I asked her why she’s passionate about feathers, Amanda told me “At the risk of sounding shallow, it’s the sheer beauty of feathers for me. 

Even at a tactile level, they have such a unique texture. It’s mind-boggling to think about the evolutionary odyssey that led to the formation of such complex structures! (Here’s one paper on feather evolution, accessible here.)

Every feather has its own story to tell, written in a language I am still learning to understand. I have a passion for feather identification because it helps me interpret the “what” and “why” wherever feathers are involved. 

Amada soon got a pair of binoculars and joined a birding camp run by the Georgia Ornithological Society, which helped her really put the feathers she’d found in greater context. In 2017, a guest speaker in her eighth grade science class brought up the Urban Oak Survey project, and Amanda was asked to use iNat for her class. She says, “[I] fell in love with it soon after once I discovered that people were posting feathers!

…[The] thing that got me really hooked on nature as a whole was [actually] iNaturalist! I created the Found Feathers project less than a week after I joined. I was inspired by the New Zealand-based Finding feather's folks project and made Found Feathers in order to include feather observations from around the world.

The amazing community on iNat with its infectious curiosity about the natural world opened my eyes to the bigger picture of life on Earth. I love how iNat encourages me to take a step beyond my narrow specialty because of course, feathers and birds exist not in a vacuum, but in the context of broader ecosystems.

When identifying on iNat, Amanda generally looks at recent observations in the Found Feathers project (she thanks identifiers like @claire146963 and others for adding observations to it) and uses an extensive number of resources, a list of which can be found on her website. For feather observations, she recommends documenting the finding location and pictures of both the front and back side with some sort of scale reference. 

And why does she identify feathers for strangers all over the world?

It’s addictive! I genuinely find it fun to help others solve mysteries that might have stumped them at first glance… My hope is that I can demonstrate to as many people as possible that feathers (and tracks and signs in general) are worth paying attention to because they can contain a wealth of information about the animals that live alongside us. 

And contrary to what you might think, Amanda is heading to college (at the Georgia Institute of Technology) to study Computer Science, not Ornithology. She explains,

iNaturalist has helped me see that technology can connect people to the natural world. I believe that a personal interest in nature is the first step towards conservation.

My next tentative goal for myself and feathers is to compile all my collective iNaturalist identification comments into a more easily navigable format so that I'm not reinventing the wheel with every identification, so to speak. And I don't know exactly how to do this yet, but I want to create a feather identification tool that somehow combines or improves upon existing models (e.g. the Feather Atlas's Identify Feather Tool, iNaturalist's computer vision).

(Photo of Amanda by Allen Janusz, taken at Big Bend National Park, Texas.)


@karakaxa

Valia Pavlou grew up in Athens, Greece, but was able to explore nature at her country house in the mountains. She was a dinosaur enthusiast, 

but that soon changed because of a sudden life twist caused by a single magpie feather I found on a hike. From that day on I started collecting feathers, which made me want to go outside more often and learn about birds, so soon enough I started doing some research and realized birds are just as interesting as extinct dinosaurs. I then decided that the career path of ornithology would be more fitting for me.

She came across iNaturalist in the Google Play Store, just searching for nature apps where she could store nature photos, and says 

I now mainly use iNaturalist to identify birds and feathers that others post to the site, which gives me a great opportunity to practice my ID skills on them and learn about species I previously knew nothing about. iNaturalist got me really interested in American birds, and has since been my main learning space for them. It's also of course an amazing place for me to get identification help in organisms I observe that aren't related to birds, since my only field of expertise is bird and feather ID.

Why feathers? To Valia, they’re incredibly complex and diverse. 

There are countless types of shape and pattern combinations, so every feather one will come across in nature or even on a web post is usually going to be unique in its own way. This creates a challenge for us feather identifiers since we always have to be prepared for something different, but that's exactly what makes the whole process fun and inspires me to continue what I do. Each feather can also tell a lot about the bird that dropped it, so i like to try and find out as much as i possibly can from little details that are often overlooked, like wear, growth bars, stress bars, melanin deficiencies, etc.

When identifying a feather observation, Valia first starts by examining the feather’s basic characteristics. “I first determine where on the bird a feather is placed based on its shape, then what family it's from based on its structure, and then what species it is from based on its color and size (when possible),” she explains. For someone getting into feather identification, she recommends really learning the types of feathers and their placement on the bird’s body, as well as the various structures of a feather, before starting to learn species-specific patterns and colors, as those can often be similar or identical between species. 

Identifying observations is one of my favorite pastime activities,” says Valia. 

Not only because I get to practice ID but also because I love helping others find out what species they've observed when they need help. Just how I learn from others identifying my own observations, the same thing happens when I identify their observations. Everyone on the site helps by passing knowledge from the field they specialize in to other members and vice versa.

As far as feather IDs are concerned, there are not that many people providing identifications in this field therefore I'm trying my best to fill the gap and pass the knowledge I have on it to others.

Valia is currently a college student studying Forestry and Environmental Management, which does cover biology and ecology, but she also spends much of her free time focusing on her own bird and feather related research. She would like to eventually become a conservation ornithologist.


Valia was kind enough to explain wear, melanin deficiencies, growth bars, and stress bars in feathers:

Wear stands for how damaged a feather is from natural elements (mostly the sun). Based on how bleached a feather looks you can sometimes guess the age of a bird and how much sun exposure it got compared to other species or individuals of its own species. Other types of weather damage can help you guess how long ago a feather was dropped.

Melanin deficiencies mostly happen when a bird has a bad diet lacking certain ingredients needed for melanin production. The feathers end up with white or pale patches where they shouldn't be. This can be linked to a genetic factor in some cases, but not necessarily. Feathers with white patches caused by a bad diet or old age are very easy to find on urban corvids, mostly on immature individuals and they're commonly mistaken as leucistic.

Growth bars are naturally occurring parallel dark and light bands present on every feather. Each light and dark band combo represents a 24 hour growth period for a feather. By counting all growth bars one can accurately estimate how long it took for a feather to grow. This is a great way to see if a bird was healthy and well fed while growing its feathers, since a larger than expected amount of growth bars can indicate that it was facing difficulties finding food, etc.

Stress bars look like perfectly straight scratches or cuts on feathers, but they can also show up in the form of aberrant color lines. They are parallel with growth bars, and they're indicators of disease, malnutrition or stress. They occur very often in wild birds, so they're not a big cause of concern unless they're severe or present in large amounts.


Here’s Amanda's list of some memorable feather observations on iNat, in no particular order:

- Northern Flicker breast feather, a perfect Valentine's Day gift!

- Great Horned Owl underwing covert with visibly pink porphyrin pigmentation. Usually you have to view owl feathers under UV to see this pink color! The concentration of porphyrins in this feather is remarkable.

- Asian Emerald Dove (significantly decomposed). I have used this specific observation many times to illustrate how columbids have extra-thick body feather shafts as compared to passerines.

- Wood Stork primary wing feather, an observation of my own. Wood Storks are seriously underrated for the shimmery beetle-green color that can be seen on the undersides of their wing feathers at certain angles.

- Sunbittern primary wing feather, a beautiful bird with strikingly unique plumage.

I've been finding feathers for long enough that I've checked off most of the feathers on my bucket list. However, I think it would be neat to find a Mandarin Duck sail feather, these super distinctive modified feathers that stick out like orange flags from the wing.


Finally, just a note about collecting feathers from the field in the United States. In general it’s illegal to take just about any feather of a species native to North America due to the Migratory Bird Treaty Act. You can find an official explanation of the law here

As Amanda says, “Photos are almost always the best way to go when ‘collecting’ feathers, legally speaking, unless you have the time to double-check every single piece of relevant legislation.”

Posted on April 30, 2021 22:01 by tiwane tiwane | 33 comments | Leave a comment