June 10, 2021

Hypoprepia lichen moths: What a mess!

Based on occasional questions and queries about certain species of the lichen moth genus Hypoprepia (Erebidae: Arctiinae), I did some quick research on uploaded images on iNaturalist. I focused on the biggest long-standing problem which is trying to distinguish Painted Lichen Moth (H. fucosa) and Scarlet-winged Lichen Moths (H. miniata). A few things are for sure:

— The separation of these two species is very difficult.
— The older literature and newer field guides dreadfully oversimplify this ID challenge.
— The patterns of wing and thorax coloration vary in complex ways geographically.
— Thus far, barcoding analysis has not helped to separate the two species (Palting et al, 2018).

In the literature and field guides, we read that the way to ID each of these species is boiled down to this:
Scarlet-winged Lichen Moth has the ground color of the forewings all red, wide black terminal band on hindwings, and an all red thorax.
Painted Lichen Moth has substantial yellow/orange in the basal 2/3 of the forewings, narrower black terminal band on the hindwings, and a dark gray spot in the middle of the thorax.

There are other details mentioned occasionally in the literature (like Scarlet-winged have a black terminal abdominal segment), and the hindwings of course are not visible in the vast majority of field photos. That said, these statements provide a classic example of the danger of oversimplified field marks. Apparently NOT ONE of the suggested field marks is true all the time or everywhere. Not even close. There are major exceptions to each aspect across the range of each species, not just the occasional aberrant individual.

I’m still working on sorting through all the images and trying to pin down any additional visible/measurable characters that might help with this ID. That work is ongoing, but I wanted to address one of the above marks—the gray spot on the thorax—because it illustrates the complexity of the situation. So here’s what I did today:

I examined all H. fucosa and H. miniata images uploaded to iNat as of 8 June 2021 and which have been identified to species level. Because of the great uncertainty in this set of species and because misidentifications are probably abundant, I made the ultra-conservative starting assumption that I would take ALL identifications at face value—not necessarily accepting them, but just taking them as a starting point for this particular analysis. I did not go through and add/change any IDs prior to this compilation; hopefully, additional research might allow me or someone else to do that. It isn’t appropriate or possible at present.

Then, I compiled the number of observations of moths (usually one per observation) that showed a gray spot or line in the center of the thorax. Note: This “field mark” is highly variable; the gray spot varies in width from a wide square/rectangle to just a thin streak of gray down the center of the thorax. IF there was ANY gray, I counted it as a gray spot. Another note: Something not described in any literature or guides is that the gray spot is typically situated in the middle of a yellowish thoracic disk which is paler than the flanking reddish tegulae (sides of the thorax). In many populations, as the gray spot narrows and disappears, many individuals appear to have just a yellowish center to the thorax which contrasts only slightly with the reddish tegulae (see two examples from Missouri, below). I counted these as “no gray spot” although I think this is part of a continuous phenotypic range of variation. Yet there are many, many Hypoprepia’s (apparently of both species) with true, immaculate, uniformly-colored reddish/orangish thoraces. So I pigeon-holed all this variation into simply “gray spot or not”.

In a few instances where there are very large numbers of observations (fucosa in Ontario, Vermont, and Texas; miniata in Ontario), I only examined the first 200 usable adult images. I obviously ignored images of larvae, images showing only the underside of a moth, and moths on which there was so much wear on the thorax that the presence/absence of a gray spot couldn’t be judged. I also ignored, for the time being, about 261 observations which have been left at the genus level, even when I might have thought I could safely add an ID. I’ll try to do that later; for the present, I ignored them. There are many inherent biases in collections of iNat images, including multiple images of the same moth by different people, over-representation of certain locations by enthusiastic moth photographers, and of course my own errors in judging or counting gray spots. I gloss over all these for the present discussion. I can offer a pdf of my raw research notes for these state-by-state and province-by-province counts; message me below if you're interested.

For starters, here is an array of photos which show the variation in the thorax coloration in H. fucosa:
All images are used under a CC-BY-NC license.

1 H fucosa Quebec Larivée iNat 81105127 copy 2 H fucosa Ontario robertdifruscia inat 71500652 copy 3 H fucosa Quebec imbeaul iNat 70253252 copy 4 H fucosa Michigan jaspersail iNat 30150144 copy 5 H fucosa Missouri cunningly iNat 55931761 copy 6 H fucosa Missouri wildreturn iNat 1992669 copy 7 H fucosa TX Travis gcwarbler iNat 29633951 copy
Top row, from L to R: Quebec (@larivee), Ontario (@robertdifruscia), Quebec (@imbeaul), Michigan (@jaspersail), Missouri (@cunningly),
Bottom row, L to R: Missouri (@wildreturn), and Texas (@gcwarbler).

Here's an example of the distinctive Florida population of H. fucosa (@gaudettelaura). Note the presence of a gray spot; this differs from most other populations in the southern U.S.:
8 H fucosa FL gaudettelaura iNat 73448260 copy

Next is a set of Hypoprepia miniata from across its wide range:

10 H miniata Ontario bugsrock iNat 57226406 copy 11 H miniata Ontario markread iNat 55914713 copy 12 H miniata Ontario timthorington inat 58202220 copy 13 H miniata OK zdufran iNat 26130412 copy 14 H miniata FL mikehanson11 iNat 32898456 copy
From L to R: Ontario (unusual form with gray spot; @bugsrock), Ontario (@markread), Ontario (@timthorington), Oklahoma (@zdufran), and Florida (@mikehanson11).

The hand-drawn map below shows the percentage of all fucosa images by U.S. state which show a gray spot. (The percentage of Canadian fucosa examples with a gray spot ranges from 99-100% across all provinces from Alberta to Nova Scotia.)
Hypoprepia fucosa percent with gray spot

Here are some simple conclusions about the gray spot on the thorax of these two species:

— Painted Lichen Moth (H. fucosa) shows major variation in the presence of the spot. Across all of Canada and the northern tier of states from the Dakotas east to New England, the gray spot is nearly universal on identified images (pink area across the top of U.S.). At least 96.7% of these moths show a gray spot on the thorax; just 22 of 671 observations identified as fucosa in this region lacked a gray spot. This is probably a direct outcome of the traditional statements in the literature and guidance in field guides. Those “exceptions to the rule” are sprinkled from Ontario and Michigan east to New York and Maine.

— Across the southern U.S., from Kansas, Oklahoma, and Texas east to Maryland, Delaware, and down to Georgia, the gray spot is predominantly absent on identified fucosa (yellow shaded area on map). Only 68 of 1014 observations of identified fucosa showed a recognizable gray spot; this constitutes only 6.7% of identified individuals. Most of these “gray-spotted” fucosa in the southern U.S. are in Missouri and the mid-Atlantic Coast, but none of those states exceeded 17% of the sample with gray spots.

— There is a conspicuous zone right through the middle of the country from Nebraska and Iowa eastward to Pennsylvania and New Jersey where the percent of gray-spotted fucosa hovers around 40 to 50%. This is obviously a zone of blending or overlap in this character. It’s one of the regions of the country which deserves some more fine-grained examination in the future.

— A conspicuous outlier is Florida, in which 3/4 (74%) of all identified fucosa moths show an obvious gray spot, bucking the trend across the rest of the South. From a biogeographic standpoint, I don’t know what this means; it’s a distinctive and counter-intuitive result. Whatever the genetic factor or factors are that result in this Florida gray-spotting, they may also be the contributor, via gene migration or introgression up the coastal plain, to the slightly higher proportions of gray spotting in the mid-Atlantic States (well to the south of the northern gray-spotted region).

— Over the entire range of identified miniata, gray spots are notably rare. This is to be expected because of the literature and field guide pronouncements which heavily influence identifications. It simply goes against the grain to identify a Hypoprepia with a gray thorax spot as miniata (notice @bugsrock's example from Ontario, above). Fully 93% of all the identified miniata’s have a red thorax. The biggest occurrence of gray spots on miniata are in a large sample of the species in Ontario, Canada (26% of my subsample of 200 observations). Just 1 to 6 identified miniata with gray spots were scattered among 8 other states and provinces and most of these were in Canada.

The forewing ground color in this large sample of the two species shows even more exceptions to the rules (above) than the gray spots. There are innumerable identified miniata which have orange or yellow ground color or even fucosa-typical yellowish basal 2/3 of the forewings. I suspect a large chunk of these are misidentified. Similarly, among the sample of over 2000 fucosa observations that I examined, there is at least a small portion of them (in all regions) which appear to have the ground color of the wings completely red. Here again, a great many of these may be misidentified miniata, but were placed in the fucosa bucket simply because they have a gray thorax spot and we have been following the standard litany of the literature and field guides.

The correlation and geographic distribution of these various visible marks still need much work and analysis. For the moment, I would apply these “quack like a duck” rules:

— Across Canada and the northern U.S., if a moth has a gray thoracic spot and exhibits some orange or yellow tint on the forewings, label it as fucosa. If it is all scarlet including the thorax, label it miniata. If it shows some confusing or hard-to-judge combination of marks, put it at the genus level.

— Across the southern U.S., moths of this group which show the characteristic 2/3 base of the FW’s with yellowish ground color—irrespective of the presence/absence of a gray thorax spot (which will normally be absent), should be labeled fucosa. Only moths with all scarlet ground color on the forewings and thorax will deserve to be labeled miniata. Moths with intermediate orangy coloration for all the forewing ground color should probably be left at genus level.

What are we left with at present? Below are some cherry-picked images showing some "typical" examples of each species from far-flung corners of their respective ranges. There is much more variation in each region than can be illustrated here in just a small handful of images.

H fucosa Ontario robertdifruscia inat 71500652 H fucosa VA davewendelken iNat 54334126 H fucosa TX Travis Sexton iNat 29633951 H fucosa FL gaudettelaura iNat 73448260
Painted Lichen Moths (H. fucosa), L to R: Ontairo (@robertdifruscia), Virginia (@davewendelken), Texas (@gcwarbler), Florida (@gaudettelaura).

H miniata Ontario markread iNat 55914713 H miniata VA vailbass iNat 52829560 H miniata TX sambiology iNat 48607365 H miniata FL mikehanson11 iNat 32898456
Scarlet-winged Lichen Moth (H. miniata), L to R: Ontario (@markread), Virginia (@vailbass), Texas (@sambiology), and Florida (@gaudettelaura).

One thing that jumps out at me from uploading the previous arrays of images is that the two species seem to be much more difficult to separate in Texas than anywhere else--IF all of these are correctly IDed. Not surprisingly, Texas has the highest percentage of images currently left at the genus level. I don't know what that means. For many years I have be skeptical if true Scarlet-winged even occurs at all in Texas; we really don't see many/any typical "scarlet" examples. I guess I should complain that Hypoprepia-watchers in the northern latitudes and in Florida have it easy, but that's not really the case. As I mention above, the regional variation is considerable everywhere.

Future research should aim at sorting out the relationships of the thorax and wing patterns geographically, especially in the blend zone. Someone needs to dig back into original literature (e.g. early 20th century) to see what genitalic differences there may be. And of course, more DNA analysis (not just COI barcodes) is definitely needed on a continental scale to sort these out.

Oh, did I mention Hypoprepia cadaverosa (the “Cadaver Lichen Moth”) of the central and southern Rocky Mountains? It’s a dark western cousin of the above two species…or is it more like a sibling or twin?

H cadaverosa NM ronaldperry iNat 26015867
H. cadaverosa from New Mexico (@ronaldparry).

Time will tell.

Posted on June 10, 2021 02:24 by gcwarbler gcwarbler | 10 comments | Leave a comment

January 31, 2021

A Sad Loss for iNaturalist

Black Ribbon

Greg W. Lasley
1949 - 2021

Greg passed away earlier this evening after struggling to recover from a serious illness.
His wife Cheryl was by his side at home in Dripping Springs, Texas.
I will have more information about this transition in a short while.
Right now I am still absorbing the news and trying to figure out
what the world will be like without my friend of 40 years.

Posted on January 31, 2021 04:00 by gcwarbler gcwarbler | 9 comments | Leave a comment

January 22, 2021

A Brief History of Texas Lepidoptera Observations on iNaturalist

As part of a research project on the distibutional biases of citizen science data such as iNaturalist, I have been examining the uploads of Lepidoptera observations (butterflies and moths) in my home state of Texas. I chose Lepidoptera because of my own particular taxonomic interests and because it offers a finite set of data to analyze. Here I present some details of the history of iNat uploads as background. All the data recited below are complete as of December 31, 2020, with most of the statistics accessed through the Explore page in the first few weeks of January 2021.

Figure 1a (below) shows a heat map of all the available Lepidoptera observations in Texas at the end of 2020. This can be compared to the distribution of all forms of life as shown in Figure 1b. These are intriguing maps but I'll reserve more discussion of them until I complete my research project. As of 31 December 2020, a total of 541,588 observations of Lepidoptera in Texas had been uploaded to iNaturalist by 26,022 observers (Fig. 1a). By iNaturalist's calculation, these document a total of 3,429 species or about 62% of the total Texas Lep fauna, which stands at about 5,502 species (Knudson & Bordelon 2018, fide @krancmm).

Fig 1a-b

History of uploads, observations, and observer base. iNaturalist was established with the first uploads by the U.C. Berkeley-based developers of the platform in March 2008 (@kueda et al.). The first Texas observation on the platform was, appropriately, an image of Texas Bluebonnets uploaded on 25 March 2008 by @lisa_and_robb:
The next three years saw only limited and apparently experimental uploads of a few Texas observations. The first Texas Lepidoptera upload of a recent living example was a Gulf Fritillary larva observed 23 August 2011 and uploaded 31 August 2011 by Kari Gaukler (@atxnaturalist):
In that first year of uploads (2011), just three observers uploaded a total of five observations documenting four species. Since those early uploads, several hundred observers have uploaded thousands of historical observations which predate the rollout of iNaturalist; the earliest "observations" of Lepidoptera in Texas now available on iNaturalist are actually digital images of museum specimens collected as far back as 1938:
Because of such uploads of historical records, a compilation of Texas Lepidoptera observations on the platform now shows some 7,587 observations through calendar year 2011. More widespread use of the platform started in 2012. Over the next five year period (2012-16), 2,664 contributors uploaded over 49,000 additional observations. The next watershed moment in the use of the platform came in 2017 when Texans began participating in the City Nature Challenge (organized by California Academy of Science and the Natural History Museum of LA County). From 2017 through 2020, 24,422 contributors uploaded nearly a half million additional observations. Table 1 (below) charts the growth of Lepidoptera uploads for the ten year time frame from the first uploads through 2020.

Growth of TX Lep Uploads

The set of figures below present heat maps of Texas Lepidoptera observations (including "historic" observations uploaded more recently) for periods representing (a) the entire 20th Century, (b) 2000 through 2009, (c) 2010 through 2019, and (d) just the observations for calendar year 2020. Available "historic" observations (i.e. through 2007) are still modest in number, particularly for the period of the 20th Century (Fig. 2a, b), predating the era of widespread digital photography. Numbers of available observations vastly increased after 2010 (Fig. 2c), mostly representing uploads of contemporary observations. For a variety of socioeconomic reasons in 2020, not the least of which was the Covid-19 pandemic, an increase of 44.5% in the total number of observers lead to a 50.6% increase in the total number of observations compared to the total number through the end of 2019 (Fig. 2d).

Fig 2a-d

My ongoing research will examine the geographic aspects of such data including comparisons to the distribution of the Texas population (an obvious comparison) and the distribution and efforts of iNaturalists who have contributed the observations.

I'm grateful to @sambiology, @mako252, @krancmm, @tiwane, and @loarie for help with some of this data and their early input on the direction of this project.

Posted on January 22, 2021 16:59 by gcwarbler gcwarbler | 8 comments | Leave a comment

October 27, 2020

Back Again From Wandering Westward

My wife and I just returned from another 5,000+ mile jaunt out west to see our daughter in Portland, OR. Ya know, scenery, mountains, rocks, trees … the same old stuff.

We took time to visit several national parks and other natural areas, so you’d think I’d have a lot of iNaturalist uploads to work on. Well, not so much. Aside from being late Fall in much of the region we traversed (e.g., the rabbitbrush was mostly finished blooming), the diagonal pathway we took from Austin, TX, to Portland, OR, and back traversed half a continent which is mostly in extreme to exceptional drought (see recent map, below). Symptoms of the drought (even in the Pac NW) included a sparsity of flowering plants and a major dirth of insects. Butterflies, for example, were extremely sparse everywhere. We’d see one or a few on a given day, sometimes none. It wasn’t until we dropped off the High Plains in Texas this past Sunday afternoon and exited the drought region that we began to see lots of butterflies on the wing. In the first 20 miles SE of Post, TX, I probably hit more butterflies on the grill of my car than we’d seen in the previous 5,000 miles of the trip.

In roughly chronological order, some of the locations we visited or passed through briefly included:

Arches National Park, UT
Bear River Migratory Bird Refuge, UT
Snake River Birds of Prey Natural Area, ID
Mount Rainier NP, WA
Klamath Lake, OR
Battle Creek Wildlife Area (Coleman Fish Hatchery), Shasta Co., CA
US 50 (“Loneliest Road in America”) across central NV
Great Basin NP, NV
Bryce Canyon NP, UT
Kodachrome Basin SP, UT
Capitol Reef NP, UT
Glen Canyon NRA, UT

Despite their rich natural histories and beauty, we did not dawdle crossing Texas or New Mexico; the latter state still doesn’t want us to stay. Sigh…

I’ll have images of several dozen plants and a handful of critters to upload over the next week or so as time permits, but I’ll look forward to visiting many of the same locations (and new ones) on a future visit after the drought, after Covid … generally after the world gets back to something resembling “normal”, even if it's a "new normal".

Posted on October 27, 2020 14:34 by gcwarbler gcwarbler | 5 comments | Leave a comment

September 04, 2020

Sorting out Feather-edged and Heppner's Petrophila

This journal post is a follow-up to my "A-hah!" moment published in early August*. I’m at a point in my next manuscript on the genus Petrophila that I need to sort out all the Texas observations of Feather-edged (fulicalis) and Heppner’s (heppneri) on iNaturalist which I was previously confusing. For the record, the two may be separated by the following set of field marks:

Fulicalis is overall a darker brown moth, usually with less orange in the various patches. On the FW, the pale speckled PM area has two or three conspicuous dark dots around its perimeter. Also on the FW, the orange tornal streak and the orange terminal band are separated at the base (at the anal angle). On the HW, the narrow pale median line is actually well-silvered; this can look whitish at some angles.

Heppneri: Overall somewhat paler brown with more apparent orange tint in various portions. The pale PM area of the FW is surrounded by a dusky circle but there are usually no conspicous dark dots around its margin. On the FW, the orange tornal streak and the orange terminal band are connected (wear can obscure this). On the HW, the pale median line is basically white, lacking any obvious silver scaling.

Both species have a dark capline over the top of some of the black HW eyespots. This capline tends to be shorter on fulicalis (just over 2 eyespots) but this is highly variable and subject to wear, or often not visible in photos.

Here is a typical fulicalis, documented by @sambiology in Throckmorton County:

and another in Hood County by @annikaml:

Here are a couple of the many beautiful heppneri documented by @ptexis in Val Verde County:


and another heppneri documented in Kerr County by @sambiology:

As I sort out the images, I have found that true Heppner’s Petrophila is confined to the southern half of the Edwards Plateau, documented thus far only in the following counties: Bandera, Blanco, Edwards, Kerr, Kimble, Real, Uvalde, and Val Verde. Records of this species pair outside of this region, such as north and east Texas, are known to or likely to refer to Feather-edged (e.g. a literature record by Blanchard & Knudson (1983) for Colorado County).

* See: https://www.inaturalist.org/journal/gcwarbler/39051-another-a-hah-moment-with-petrophila-moths

Posted on September 04, 2020 21:16 by gcwarbler gcwarbler | 1 comment | Leave a comment

August 20, 2020

Colorado Camping Vacation

My wife and I made a camping excursion to the Vallecito area of s.w. Colorado, August 7-15, to momentarily get out of the Texas heat. (A great many Texans were apparently doing the same thing!) I’ll have many observations to upload including a boat-load of plants from NM and CO. I thought I’d start with the “low-hanging fruit”: I put up a moth sheet in the Forest Service campground at Vallecito on three evenings and had good results. In all, I probably documented something just shy of 100 species of moths. The first uploads will exhibit some of the more recognizable macromoths such as the few dozen species of Geometrids that showed up. There will also be a rather bewildering array of dark mottled Noctuids and many small grayish micros. The habitat at our campsite (7900 ft elevation) was Ponderosa Pine-Douglas Fir forest with some understory of Aspen and Gambel’s Oak. We were close to a steep mountain slope with much Blue Spruce, Limber Pine and a variety of understory plants.

Identifying these moths from the Rockies is just good brain exercise. Keep checking back.

Posted on August 20, 2020 15:30 by gcwarbler gcwarbler | 40 observations | 3 comments | Leave a comment

August 03, 2020

Another "A-Hah!" Moment with Petrophila Moths

Since finishing my previous article clarifying Petrophila jaliscalis and P. santafealis (So. Lep. News 41(3):216-225, Sept. 2019), I have been working on a larger review of the identification of all of the North American members of this genus*. Happily, I have discovered some subtle ways of separating several of the most-often conflated species, especially in the “fulicalis-species group”. But I had been continually frustrated with the distributional patterns and wing patterns of the latter group across Texas and Oklahoma. There just seemed to be some unresolvable discord between assigned species names, wing patterns, biogeography, and DNA barcoding. So I let it all go for several months.

I recently began revisiting this entire mess, rereading original literature and pouring over imagery and barcode taxon trees. With the help of Occam’s Razor and a resounding believe in the constraints of biogeographic history and the fallibility of human endeavors, I came to a major realization this morning. A light-bulb went on. The skies parted and the sun shone. I figured it all out. (And if you believe that last statement, I have a bridge in London I’d like to sell you.) It’s a complex story that I will develop in full detail in my next manuscript, but here are the Cliff Notes, as I currently understand the situation:

  1. Contrary to my previous belief and assertions*, Petrophila fulicalis does in fact occur west of the Mississippi River, in Missouri, Oklahoma, and Texas—well down into central and south Texas in fact.
  2. Petrophila heppneri is primarily confined to the Texas Hill Country with one questionable outlier in Colorado County, TX, on the coastal plain.
  3. Petrophila heppneri and P. fulicalis may overlap narrowly in central Texas but to date I have only found one county (Hays) with valid records of both species. Heppneri basically occurs only on the southern half of the Edwards Plateau. Records of P. fulicalis essentially surround those of P. heppneri. I might expect that eventually this pair of species will be found to co-occur in places like Bexar, Blanco, Comal, Kerr, Val Verde, and Terrell counties.
  4. Petrophila hodgesi remains an Ozark ecoregional specialty but it occurs in close proximity to P. fulicalis in northeast Oklahoma and probably southern Missouri.
  5. Petrophila santafealis, heppneri, and probably hodgesi are all sister taxa to P. canadensis and with it represent a separate lineage (clade, if you will) to a fulicalis-confusalis lineage. The santafealis-hodgesi-heppneri group represents a southern offshoot of canadensis stock distributed patchily in limestone-derived watersheds in Florida, the Ozarks, and the Texas Hill Country. There are very scattered records of similar Petrophila moths in North Carolina and Alabama which to some degree bridge the gaps between the other “species” but the distribution of the group is not expected to be (and cannot be) continuous across the larger landscape. All of these southern populations are probably relictual from some previous wetter or cooler Holocene or late Pleistocene era.

Small footnote: The enigmatic barcode BIN BOLD:AAG9560 was part of the impediment to understanding all of this. Two of its 14 members (Mark Dreiling’s OK specimens) had been labeled “Petrophila hodgesi”. A search on BOLD for the latter taxon brings up images of 7 specimens: Mark’s 2 OK specimens and 5 from Washington Co., AR. Here’s the rub: Mark’s 2 specimens are actually fulicalis (both by wing pattern and by barcode analysis) and the 5 Arkansas specimens, which appear to be legitimate hodgesi, don’t have a BIN assigned to them. That leaves hodgesi without a verified, assigned barcode, as of today.

All of this will be set out in detail in my next manuscript. I will NOT be making any substantial moves or changes to identifications on iNaturalist.org or BugGuide.net until I have something resembling a completed manuscript, but there will be a substantial number of re-identifications at the appropriate moment.

I know you are all on the edge of your seats… ;-)

* See also: https://www.inaturalist.org/posts/27047-id-guide-6-notes-on-texas-petrophila-identification

Posted on August 03, 2020 14:28 by gcwarbler gcwarbler | 6 comments | Leave a comment

July 27, 2020

iPhoto Disaster

I wanted to take a moment to explain my current and upcoming sparse attendance to iNaturalist: Just before Noon today, July 26, our home suffered an extremely brief power outage (or surge?--I'm not sure) which caused my computer to restart. That always screws up iPhoto if I have it open at the time. During the 30+ min. that it was taking for iPhoto to check its library and database upon restart, we had another brief power glitch. That apparently corrupted the iPhoto library or database thoroughly. iPhoto still launches but cannot find my 150,000-image photo library. The iPhoto Library still appears in its proper place and size, but I have made no headway in getting either iPhoto or Photos to recognize it and open it.

Without going into all the remediation efforts I've made so far, suffice it to say, that I'm looking at the loss of anywhere from 25 to 75% of my images (depending on what kind of back-up I can access). I'm devoting full time to resolving this issue with every resource available to me. It will take some time. As a result, I will not be spending as much time on iNaturalist in the near future as I normally do (several hours per day). I will check in occasionally, but until/unless I fix the current problem, I will not be uploading anything new for awhile.


Posted on July 27, 2020 03:03 by gcwarbler gcwarbler | 11 comments | Leave a comment

June 17, 2020

My iNaturalist Upload Process

I may be the slowest (read: most delinquent) uploader on iNaturalist. For any given effort, especially for the wonderful bioblitz’s that I enjoy participating in, I’m usually the last to get all my stuff up on iNat. An honest mea culpa for such delays will have to admit to being somewhat lazy, somewhat sleep deprived, somewhat addicted to certain TV shows, and generally just interested in what is right in front of me right now, as opposed to “yesterday”. All that said, my editing process is a bit arduous because of my equipment and my personal preferences for image and upload quality. Ignoring all those earlier reasons for my typical pathway to uploads, I thought it might be of some limited interest to at least document the torture I put myself through when I actually do get around to handling my observations. So here are some details.


My trusted photographic equipment is my now-infamous little Canon PowerShot SX620 HS point-and-hope camera. It has the advantage of portability and affordability. I won’t bemoan all the disadvantages, but for present discussion, the main problem—are you listening Canon?—is its lack of GPS datalogging capability with images. That adds one major time-consuming step to my editing pathway, as listed below.

My Editing Steps:

When I’m in the field, especially on a multi-day trip, I download all images daily from the SD card to my travel laptop but keep the images on the card. A 32-gig SD card is sufficient to last me through a 10-day to 2-week trip, depending on how many plant and moth images I take. (I always carry one or two extra cards just in case.) I will often examine my images on the laptop while traveling but I don’t do much editing (other than to examine what I might have documented) because the laptop is not the final destination of the images. The real work begins when I get home to my desktop computer.

I work on an iMac desktop computer (currently running MacOS Mojave 10.14.6) and I’m still using iPhoto (9.6.1 which is now 5 years out of support).

  1. Download the images. I usually let iPhoto separate all the downloaded images into daily “Events”. I manipulate and change those events later on as I organize and group my photos based on destination, subject, etc.
  2. Geotag ALL images. Before any editing starts, I have to make sure all images have proper geographic location data. I add this manually in iPhoto. I can do this in batches based on separate locations, but if I was moving from place to place in a given field day, this can be very tedious. Recall that I don’t have GPS capabilities on the camera, so I either have to take detailed field notes (which I do) to associate batches of images with a known location, or I have to supplement the image set by photographing a screen image of a GPS app when I’m in the field or photograph some other landmark (e.g. a street sign, an Allsups storefront, etc.) so that I can properly place my images.
  3. Rotate, straighten, and crop images. My many iNat friends know how obsessive I am about this step. From a busy bioblitz day in the field, I may have 300 to 600 images to rotate, straighten, and crop (and discard the many blurry ones). Because of the menu structure in iPhoto, these three steps are usually easy to accomplish for a given image in succession. That said, I’m frequently switching between/among image dimensions (4 x 3, 3 x 4, square) from one image to the next; this adds to the editing time significantly. One image proportion does NOT fit all. I may also try two or three different crops for a given image to see which captures the best detail. In some cases, particularly with plants, I may duplicate an image to allow cropping to mutliple details of the plant which might be important for documentation. This all takes time.
  4. Adjust image quality. For many images, the field settings of the camera are often sufficient and the images don’t need post-processing. However, depending on the subject of the pic, or for images taken at dawn, dusk, or at night, it is often useful to brighten an image, brighten the shadows, and/or heighten the contrast to bring out details. As an added burden, when I shoot moth images, to avoid washing out images from a flash at close range I often shoot moths at -1/3 f-stop exposure. I find that on a white sheet or a light gray wall, this can result in images that are a shade too dark—the alternative, over-exposure, results in lost imagery—so I have to brighten many moth images after the fact. Changing the camera settings in real time when obtaining the photos is just too tedious and risky—“shoot now and post-process later!” IMPORTANT NOTE: I rarely adjust colors, hues, or saturation unless the images were obtained in some type of overly intrusive lighting conditions (certain MV and UV lamps, etc.).

    Now the fun begins:

  5. Add keywords and tags. The primary keywords I use on all photos are taxonomic. I use these extensively within iPhoto for organizing and sorting images later. For plants, I have a few general categories including “Plants_flowers”, “Fungi”, “Lichen”, and a few others. For all animals other than insects, I typically use a class or order such as “Mammal”, “Reptile”, “Amphibian”, “Arachnid”, “Opiliones”, etc. For herps, I’ll also add “Snake”, “Frog”, “Turtle”, etc. For all insects except Lepidoptera, I add the order such as “Coleoptera”, “Hemiptera”, “Diptera”, etc. For Leps, I distinguish “Butterfly” and “Moth”. All moths get the “Moth” keyword as well as a family keyword and in a few cases a subfamily tag; these will look like “Gelechiidae”, “Noctuidae”, “Erebidae”, “Arctiinae”, “Pyraustinae”, etc. I have a standby “Fam Unk” for moths which I can’t place; this allows me to collect all those unknowns into one location if desired. For any batch of pics from a field effort, I also apply other keywords for images of “Habitat”, “People”, etc. On long vacations (other than in Texas), I will also add a keyword for the two-letter state abbreviation (AZ, OK, VA, etc.). All this keywording can be done in batches in iPhoto by selecting the appropriate subset of images and adding a keyword once.
  6. Add file titles. My images come off the camera with the sequential filename “IMG_xxxx” numbered from 0001 to 9999 (and repeating). I have found it most convenient to change the “IMG” to the species or taxon identification. With a recent change on iNaturalist, this offers a huge advantage because this filename is now parsed from the image title and added as an identification for each observation. I use scientific names for all of these except for birds which get the standard 4-letter code (such as NOCA_1234 or MODO_5678). Of course, I title my images with the lowest taxon of which I’m certain, so I end up with images named “Melipotis indomita_1234”, “Gelechiidae_1234”, “Calyptocarpus vialis_5678”, “Malvaceae_5678”, etc. Naturally, at this stage, I am identifying all my images, so adding the proper names to each image can either be quick (for familiar plants and animals) OR the culmination of in depth research which takes me all over the place in references, on the internet, etc. This is really the bulk of my iNatting effort at home. Chasing down identifications can lead me down any number of rabbit holes and to various distractions (deep dives in scientific literature, etc.). It also gives me some good exercise as I rifle through the tons of field guides, floras, and manuals on the desk next to the computer. I’ve often joked that when I depart, my obituary will indicate that I was found lifeless under a fallen stack of floras and field guides in my home office.

    Truly, when I finally place a good name on an image for a species new to me, it is one of the most gratifying moments in this whole process. Perhaps that’s the childhood stamp collector in me. Who knows.

    I should add that step 6 and the research that necessarily accompanies it is done in batches. From a given field effort (location, date), I’ll work through all the plants before moving on to other animals, moths, etc. For the Matador WMA bioblitz, for instance, I’m going through all the images of a given day, taking on just the Coleoptera, then the Diptera, then other insects, etc., etc. Then on to the next day or next destination.

  7. Export images. When I have things all or mostly organized, edited, and identified (to a reasonable degree), I export images out of iPhoto to a separate “Uploads” folder on my computer. This separate exporting step allows me to select a good upload size (large but not full sized) and to keep the work flow organized. As with the identification and file naming steps, I will usually do this exporting in batches (plants, beetles, moths, etc.) because it leads directly into the uploading stage. Since this adds a significant amount of disk storage to create these duplicate images (outside of the iPhoto library), I occasionally offload all final images to an external drive and delete them from my desktop computer. I just checked my external drive: The accumulated storage for all my final edited iNat images to date (approaching 26K observations) is about 58 gigabytes.
  8. Upload images. After exporting a batch of final images to my Uploads folder, I use the batch uploader on iNat to upload my observations. I drag and drop and then begin addiing or double-checking IDs, locations, etc., and adding the all-important observation comments. IMPORTANT: Because the batch uploader occasionally hangs up or I make small mistakes in my upload information, I tend to upload only about 10 to 15 observations at a time. That way, I haven’t lost much work if the upload fails or if I have introduced any errors. Even with the efficiency of the batch uploader (a whole other topic), I still make a point of adding geographic names to my observations since iNat’s locational information comes from Google Maps or some other generic source, not my “official” placenames.
  9. Hit the Upload button, sit back, cross fingers, and enjoy the results. I try to glance through all newly uploaded observations just to catch any name or geography errors that I may have introduced. There’s always something. In my senior years now, I find that my brain and fingers don’t communicate as well as they used to when typing. Verb tenses, homonyms and homophones are my bane; my brain knows better, my fingers don’t.

As part of that final enjoyment of an upload—or even during the process of identifying and labeling images (step 6)—I will often take the time to wander through other observations of the same species to see where else the species has been documented. In particular, if it’s a species I am confident at identifying, I’ll take the time to try to upgrade any suitable images of the same species to Research Grade as appropriate.

And that’s my life in a nutshell.

Posted on June 17, 2020 16:46 by gcwarbler gcwarbler | 10 comments | Leave a comment

April 24, 2020

CNC 2020 During CV19

I’m charging ahead with an enthusiastic City Nature Challenge, but of course, this year is very different. While I could probably safely meander around our 6-county “Greater Austin Area”, I have chosen this year to honor the stay-at-home order still in place and focus all my efforts on Salton Drive. More specifically, I’m confining my CNC efforts to my own 0.4-acre urban lot and the adjacent segment of Laurel Oak Creek, about 100 yards up- and downstream. My wife and I are blessed to have a real suburban nature enclave here on Salton Drive:
Our lot backs up to a beautiful small Hill Country creek (Laurel Oak Branch of Bull Creek) and, although somewhat urbanized, it still constitutes a tremendous urban wildlife amenity. It is perennial, partially naturally spring-fed, and runs clear all year except after heavy rainstorms. See the banner image for the Salton Drive Biodiversity project, linked above. I have spent much of the past 17 years here eliminating invasive species such as Elephant Ears, Ligustrums, Hedge Parsley, and Chinese Tallow, and replanting with a high diversity of native species. Similar efforts have been focused in the front and back yards; we maintain only a minimal San Augustine grass front yard patch for our dog and devote all the rest to native plants and butterfly gardening.
The results of my iNat efforts on Salton Drive thus far are very gratifying, yet we are still finding new biota all the time. This CNC will probably push the cumulative effort to over 7000 observations which have documented upwards of 1300 species of plants and animals. (I know, I know! Nearly half of that total are moths, but, hey, it's all "biodiversity"!) The next four days will be an effort to create a snapshot in time (late April in a fairly wet year so far) of this Salton Drive Biodiversity. My uploads will include everything native and naturalized that I can encounter, uncover, capture, or otherwise document with my little point-and-hope camera, along with some sound recordings with the Voice Memo app on my phone, and perhaps a few trail camera pics as well. This will include, among other efforts, some time spent wading in the creek to document aquatic species, and at least a few moments in my dusty garage to chase down at least one of the silverfish that continue to eat my old papers and books stored therein.
We are all happy and healthy here on Salton Drive. Enjoy all of the CNC efforts and be safe!
Chuck Sexton

Posted on April 24, 2020 21:39 by gcwarbler gcwarbler | 9 observations | 3 comments | Leave a comment