December 09, 2016

(Bonus) Observation of the Week, 12/9/16

This Southern Pygmy Leatherjacket, seen by @richardling in Australia, is our Observation of the Week!

“One of my mother's favourite possessions is an elderly green Tupperware container, brittle with age,” recalls Richard Ling.  “When I was four, and the container was new, I cut holes in its lid so I could keep caterpillars in it. From infancy I'd been taught to treat nature with respect and kindness, and caterpillars were living things that needed air to breathe, so what could be more sensible? This rather reduced the container's value for storing lettuces, but mum didn't mind. To her it stores memories of my early childhood spent as an ‘amateur naturalist.’ Whenever she puts new tape over the holes, she remembers me wandering about the garden minutely inspecting every beetle, every spider, every ant trail, every worm, however tiny.”

Richard continues to be enthralled by nature, and is especially taken by the biodiversity of the underwater world. “It's like having Africa just offshore,” he says. “Step off pretty much any coastline of Australia and you can get the same thrill. Today you might be engulfed in a swarm of huge kingfish, or meet a three metre shark round the next corner, or stumble across a sleepy turtle, or hear whales passing nearby...if big fish don't show today, you'll still find astounding smaller creatures, with a much higher density than on land, and never seen by most people.”

“In my dreams I'd...have infinite air, infinite camera battery, and infinite camera storage capacity. I expect scientists are working on those last three.”

The Southern Pygmy Leatherjacket that Richard photographed is endemic to Australia, and grows to about 3.5 in (9 cm) in length. Not a strong swimmer, by day it drifts among sea grass and other plant life, slowly undulating its fins. And by night, which is when Richard photographed this one, it (adorably) bites onto a piece of algae to keep itself from being swept away by the current.

“I am very grateful to the ‘Fish Down Under’ project members who introduced me to iNaturalist and got me involved,” says Richard. “I am really excited by the iNaturalist idea and it matches my own interests incredibly well. I have long uploaded my photos to Flickr and tagged them taxonomically, and helped others identify their own, and iNat has really taken that aspect of Flickr and distilled it down to its purest form, then somehow populated it with taxonomic experts. It's exactly what I've been looking for.”

- by Tony Iwane


- Please check out Richard’s awesome photos on his Flickr page.

- Videos! Here’s one showing a pair chilling on the sea floor, and another depicting their courtship and spawning behavior.

- We take underwater photos for granted nowadays, but it hasn’t always been that way. The Western Australian Museum has a short video and article showing the history of underwater photography. Really cool!

Posted on December 09, 2016 09:11 PM by tiwane tiwane | 1 comments | Leave a comment

December 07, 2016

Observation of the Week, 12/7/16

This melanistic Cooper’s Hawk, seen in Texas by @johnkarges, is our Observation of the Week!

For birdwatchers, a bird with color abnormalities is a rare treat. Some species have different “morphs,” such as “dark-morph” and “light-morph” Red-tailed hawks, that occur frequently. More rare are leucistic birds, who don’t produce melanin for their feathers, making them very light-colored or white. A leucistic Anna’s Hummingbird in Santa Cruz, California caused quite a stir this year.

Possibly more rare are melanistic birds, who produce too much pigment when forming their feathers, giving them an overall dark plumage, making it difficult to see patterns and field marks. When out birding with his partner recently, iNaturalist user John Karges spotted a melanistic Cooper’s Hawk, seen above!

“My partner and I were driving out of mall parking area,” recalls John, “when she looked off to the side at a lawn island noticing a black bird mantling over and picking at the carcass of another black bird. She’s just getting interested in birds and asked if grackles were carnivorous or cannibalistic. I glanced over at the two black birds just outside our windows and exclaimed ‘That’s a melanistic Cooper’s Hawk!!!’

“We weren’t but 30-40 feet or so from the bird and there were no pedestrians around to disturb it off its kill. We watched for around 30 minutes while I took about a hundred still photos and she even took some video. A storm cell was approaching and just as the sheet rain hit, the bird flew up with the meager remains of the grackle and flew low across a road into an ornamental shrubline.” They weren’t able to find the hawk again once the storm passed, but it was a thrilling experience for these birders.

Just how rare is a melanistic Cooper’s Hawk? According to Morrow, et al., a melanistic Cooper’s Hawk found in Virginia in 2013 is, to their knowledge, the only other one ever document in North America!

Cooper’s Hawks are medium-sized hawks who often live in forest but are found in suburban areas as well. They fly swiftly through the woods and specialize in preying on smaller birds, but this behavior can be dangerous - a study found that 23% of Cooper’s Hawk carcasses showed evidence of broken bones in the chest.  They are very similar in appearance to Sharp-shinned Hawks, often making them a tough bird to identify.

“When I was in third grade,” says John, “I announced to the world via my family that I was going to be a biologist and it has never wavered, now having spent my career so far between the natural history museum world, nature centers, and conservation.” He’s spent the last 27 years a land steward and conservation biologist with The Nature Conservancy, and says that he’s only been on iNat for a few years “but once introduced, I was addicted to contributing, verifying sightings, and adding to projects... I can’t say that iNaturalist has changed the way I appreciate the natural world and biodiversity but it sure has enriched it.”

- by Tony Iwane


- Some fairly intense footage of a Cooper’s Hawk mantling while killing a Eurasian Collared Dove.

- Check out the the Amazing Aberrants project on iNaturalist for some more organisms with aberrant mutations.

- Some tips on how to differentiate Cooper’s Hawks and Sharp-shinned Hawks.

Posted on December 07, 2016 08:16 PM by tiwane tiwane | 3 comments | Leave a comment

November 24, 2016

Observation of the Week, 11/24/16

Our Observation of the Week is this Zenithoptera dragonfly, seen in Peru by @cullen!

Cullen Hanks’ involvement with nature “started when I was a kid, and never stopped,” he says, and he’s now part of the Texas Nature Tracker program, which is “a citizen-science monitoring effort designed to engage the naturalist community and contribute data on species of concern in Texas.”

This stunning dragonfly, however, was found far south of Texas. Cullens says he was visiting Peru and was in a dugout canoe with his father, “in an oxbow off the Madre de Dios river. We were going for Sunbitterns, but not successfully. We heard them but never saw them. While out I saw the Dragonflies, so I switched taxa and focused on them. They were brilliant.”

Zenithoptera is a genus of skimmer dragonflies (Family Libellulidae) known for the bluish-purple upper surfaces of their wings. Like many other skimmers, they perch often keep their bodies in a horizontal position. iNat user @jimjohnson wrote a blog post about his encounter with members of this genus, and he also notes they’re the only New World genus of dragonflies that sometimes perch with their wings folded together and pointed upright, showing off the dark underside of the wings. He even witnessed a female raising only her hindwings!

Cullen says he’s always been “more of a general naturalist,” even though he’s had many mentors in the birding community, and credits iNaturalist for expanding “the diversity of taxa that I can engage with personally, and the contribution or our citizen science program. We used to focus on just a handful of species, not we collect data on over 1,000 species.”

- by Tony Iwane


- Over 31,000 observations have been added via the Texas Nature Trackers app! You can find them here

- National Geographic has a 15 minute short about dragonflies with some great footage.

- BBC Nature shows you how dragonflies use those magnificent eyes.

Posted on November 24, 2016 11:49 AM by tiwane tiwane | 0 comments | Leave a comment

November 17, 2016

Observation of the Week, 11/17/16

This Sternotomis bohemani beetle, seen in Tanzania by @joachim, is our Observation of the Week!

When most people think of Africa, they’re picturing the charismatic megafauna - lions, giraffes, lions hunting giraffes (can’t wait to see Planet Earth II!), wildebeests and the like. Joachim Louis and his wife Annette, however, prepared for a seven month safari by taking a four week course covering “the plants and smaller animals that are not in the main focus of tourists coming to Africa.”

With an eye for these less heralded yet equally stunning fauna, Joachim has provided iNat with some great observations, like this Long-winged Kite spider dining on an insect. He found the above Sternotomis bohemani beetle while “hiking with a group in a river valley near Matema. One of the group [accidentally] kicked it with his foot and it landed with the dorsum up...it was dead before, but with the abdomen up it was invisible between the leaves. So it was a lot of luck.”

Beetles are an evolutionary wonder. Their basic design (hard shell and a pair of hard front wings called elytra) have been adapted to a multitude of habitats, food sources, and behaviors. About 400,000 beetle species have been described, making up 25% of all known species on earth! Ranging throughout tropical and southern Africa, Sternotomis bohemani belongs to the Cerambycidae family, known commonly as the Long-horned beetles, as many sport quite lengthy antennae. One member of the family is the titan beetle, which is like the longest insect in the world, it’s body length reaching 6.6 in (16.7 cm)!

“My main focus changes from year to year,” says Joachim. “Last year it was primates this year i tried to get all the flowering plants that we saw. Insects, spiders, reptiles, birds and amphibians are always on the list. The problems of conservation, which means the problems of farmers in the remote areas with wildlife keep me busy all the time.”

He and Annette are hoping to get others interested in Africa “and to show them also the small things that are always around when you are on a camping safari.” He came across iNaturalist as he wanted help with identifying many of these smaller species, and “to share my pictures with more people that are also interested in these beauties. It is a good side effect that all observations can help scientists to get better data about distribution of species.”

- by Tony Iwane


- Check out Joachim and Annette’s website, Africa Wildtours

- Right now iNat has verifiable observations of 5,934 beetle species - about 1.5% of all known beetle species. Here are the most popular beetle observations on iNat. Let the diversity wash over you.

- David Attenborough holds a Titan beetle.

Posted on November 17, 2016 10:22 AM by tiwane tiwane | 1 comments | Leave a comment

November 13, 2016

Observation of the Week, 11/12/16

This Nyridela chalciope moth, seen by @lljohnson in the Dominican Republic, is our Observation of the Week!

Lisa Johnson has led quite a life. “I am a retired chemist, turned sailor, turned teacher, turned amateur naturalist,” she says. “After leaving Florida in 2001 on our sailboat, seeing a bit of the western Caribbean and teaching math and science in a couple of middle schools along the way;  we have settled here in the DR on about 7 acres on the side of a mountain growing food stuffs to eat and share with our neighbors.”

As an amateur naturalist, Lisa’s current interests are documenting the nearby butterflies, moths and birds in the Dominican Republic, and says she really enjoys “sharing my ‘finds’ with the local schoolchildren.”

The incredible Nyridela chalciope moth she photographed was one of dozens of moths that Lisa found one foggy morning while walking her dog. On a wall near one of the village’s three streetlights, she found many moths resting. “I went home, traded my dog for my camera and got back to the ‘moth wall’ before the sun burned off the cloud over and the moths dispersed,” she says. “That morning I took close to 200 photos of moths (one or 2 shots per moth), some in natural light. What a fun morning! What's needed for another moth photo session at the “moth wall”? Street power overnight, foggy conditions at sunrise, and a hot cup of coffee to get me out the door early before the birds and chickens enjoy the moth buffet.”

Nyridela chalciope is a member of the large Arctiinae subfamily of moths, which consists of about 11,000 species. Members of this family are often brightly colored as adults, and many of their caterpillars are covered in setae (“hairs”), giving them the nickname “wooly bears.” What’s really cool is that the adults have a tympal organ at the rear of their thorax, which can make ultrasonic sounds. The moths use these sounds both for mating and defense - they can deter and sometimes even “jam” the echolocation of bats! And some, like the Nyridela chalciope, are mimics of more dangerous animals, such as wasps - note the clear wings on this species. Some will even have yellow and black banding. If you think you see a wasp, look closely and see if it has moth-like antennae and lacks the narrow waist of a true wasp - you could be looking at a wasp mimic!

Lisa submits her findings to iNaturalist, as well as the Butterfly and Moth Association of North America, and has used iNat to also “meet” a few other nature photographers in the Dominican Republic. She says, “I'm encouraged that some of the abundance of nature here, will be better documented. I'm not a biologist and I depend on others with more knowledge to verify my proposed identifications on many of my photos, especially the moths. I'm hopeful that through iNat I will continue to meet the experts!”

- by Tony Iwane


- Check out this insane Wasp Moth in Texas.

Posted on November 13, 2016 12:28 AM by tiwane tiwane | 0 comments | Leave a comment

November 08, 2016

Observation of the Week, 11/7/2016

Our Observation of the Week is this rare Patch-nosed Salamander, seen in the southeastern United States by @saundersdrukker!

A herpetology student at Sewanne: The University of the South in Tennessee, Saunders Drukker is in the midst of prepping four papers for publication, which is why there’s a bit of a delay for this Observation of the Week. We’ll give him a pass this time. :-P 

Saunders is currently conducting research on salamanders of the Cumberland Plateau, focusing on the Cumberland Dusky Salamander. “For the past two years I have been going out into the field to find these salamanders, and then map their distribution and habitat using GIS,” he says. “I’ve also done body condition studies, movement, population dynamics and even genetic work on these salamanders.” At the time of this writing, all ten iNat observations of this species are by Saunders.

The southeastern part of North America is a hotbed of salamander diversity, and the Plethodontidae, or lungless salamanders, are believed to have originated in this area. Yet even in a region that has drawn a good amount of salamander research over the years, new species like the Patch-nosed salamander are being discovered. Described in 2009, this species is the only member of the genus Urspelerpes (say that ten times fast), the first new North American amphibian genus since 1961! Not much is known about this tiny (26mm long) salamander, and according to the IUCN it’s only been found in ten streams in Georgia and South Carolina. Unlike most small salamanders, it has five toes on its rear feet (not four), and is the only eastern plethodontid to exhibit sexually dimorphic coloration. 

Saunders came upon the above specimen while on a vacation with his Herp Lab. He recalls, “it was a fantastic moment to see this minuscule animal moving across some moist leaf litter. The animal was photographed quickly and released shortly after.” It’s now the only research grade of its species on iNat.

And of iNaturalist, Saunders says “I’ve always used [iNaturalist] to give people a better understanding of the places I love. From here in Sewanee, to the Hill Country in Central Texas where I grew up I love sharing everything I can about these places. The idea of giving people an in-depth view of the ecology of these places has always been very attractive to me, couple this with getting to see what other people have found there makes iNaturalist a fantastic tool.”

- by Tony Iwane


- Saunders is an accomplished photographer and videographer, so definitely check out his Flickr page and YouTube channel

- Like many salamanders, Patch-nosed salamanders capture their food with a projectile tongue, and that tongue is fast. Here it is in slow motion.

- The original paper describing the Patch-nosed Salamander, by Camp, et al. (PDF)

Posted on November 08, 2016 02:29 AM by tiwane tiwane | 0 comments | Leave a comment

October 27, 2016

Observation of the Week, 10/27/16

Our Observation of the Week is a pair dueling Great White Sharks seen by @serpophaga off of the Farallon Islands!

Located about thirty miles west of San Francisco, the Farallon Islands are small spurs of rock jutting up from the Pacific Ocean and famous for their bird, seal, whale, and shark denizens. Throughout the years, the islands’ wildlife was decimated by seal hunters, egg collectors (500,000 eggs per month were collected in the mid-nineteenth century), and others, but the site is now a protected wildlife refuge. Researchers from Point Blue Conservation Science and the U.S. Department of Fish and Wildlife have studied the plants and animals there for decades, and recently iNat user Adam Searcy (@serpophaga) spent some time on the islands to help with surveys.

“Much of the fall work on the Farallones involves censusing and banding migrant birds,” says Adam. “We attempt to find and identify every bird that arrives on the island every day (and every butterfly, dragonfly, etc.) In addition to this work, there are pinniped censuses and tag re-sighting, cetacean surveys, and shark monitoring. Weather permitting, a sentry is on 'shark watch' for most daylight hours every day for most of the fall season (= shark season).”

This shark attack was spotted by the biologist who was on shark watch and radioed to the others that a “close and large attack” was occurring off the East Landing. Adam says “many attacks we observe are too distant to allow for good photographic opportunities--that was not the case with this attack.” He and others rushed to the site and by the time they got there the shark was “well into feeding on the carcass.” The large amount of blood and the oil slick indicated that the prey was a Northern Elephant Seal, males of which can reach sizes of 14 ft (4 m) in length and 5,000 lbs (2,300 kg) in weight (the females are quite a bit smaller). Adam goes on to say, “as we watched, a second shark appeared and began powering into the carcass alongside the first animal. This quickly turned into what appeared to be a scuffle between the two sharks, with tails flailing above the water. After about ten minutes, the carcass was finished, the blood pool dissipated and the sharks went on their way.”

The Great White Shark population of the Farallones is considered to be genetically distinct from other members of their species, and sharks tagged there have been tracked to Hawaii and Guadalupe Island, which is off of Baja California. Males tend to return every year, females every other year, and many have been identified by researchers who use scars and other markings to distinguish them.

Adam has now returned to the mainland, but contributed nearly ninety observations to iNat during his stint on the Farallones. He says he uses it as “a digital companion to my regular field notes. The community of amateur enthusiasts and experts are also most useful when I branch out into groups that I'm unfamiliar with, e.g., lichens. I posted a bunch of lichen observations from the Farallones and I've been happy to receive assistance in identification from the iNat community.”

Adam is also encouraged by iNat’s large community: “One aspect of iNaturalist that has encouraged me to upload more and more observations (and I've only just begun in the last 8 months or so) is its ability to generate detailed biodiversity data on a scale that was previously unimaginable,” he says. “Having a global army of enthusiastic contributors will lead to more refined understandings of where organisms currently are, where they are expanding, and where they are contracting. Even uploading observations of common organisms across their range may lead to documentation of changes in status and distribution. Citizen science at work!”

- by Tony Iwane


- Adam’s kept a blog of some of his adventures, definitely worth a read!

- In 1997, whalewatchers witnessed an Orca and a Great White Shark battle off of the Farallones. National Geographic made a video about it.

- San Francisco PBS station KQED made two short videos about the Farallones, one more about the ecosystem, the other focusing on the life of researchers there. 

Posted on October 27, 2016 08:47 PM by tiwane tiwane | 0 comments | Leave a comment

October 23, 2016

Observation of the Week, 10/23/16

Marine invertebrates seen by @dougperrine off of Hawaii are our Observations of the Week!

Noted underwater photographer Doug Perrine recently posted quite a few pictures taken during a “blackwater dive” off the Kona coast of Hawaii this month, and they are absolutely stunning, so I thought I’d feature all of them this week.

“These dives date back to a National Geographic magazine assignment given to staff photographer Bill Curtsinger to document the vertical migration of plankton off of Kona, Hawaii, where volcanic mountains plunge deeply into the sea, resulting in water depths of thousands of meters just a few kilometers offshore,” Doug tells me. “Curtsinger hired a local diver / budding underwater photographer named Christopher Newbert as his assistant, and the two of them spent countless hours offshore, initially using a plexiglass cage photographing the myriad bizarre creatures that migrate to the surface at night.”

Soon, most of the dive companies in Hawaii began to offer these dives, and for experienced divers they’ve become quite popular, since divers almost always see animals they’ve never come across before. “People often compare doing one of these dives to taking a trip to outer space. (Or innerspace. One guide says, "it’s like the ‘60s, but without the hangover"),” says Doug. “I love seeing and photographing bizarre animals that I’ve never seen before (or, in some cases, that nobody has ever seen before).” For instance, the Tremoctopus gracilis pictured above is carrying the broken-off tentacles of a Portuguese Man o’ War, which it uses for defense. And, well, I’ll let The Oatmeal tell you about the amazingness of Mantis shrimps, like the larval one below, which Doug photographed.

“Since very few people are able to see marine wildlife in person, my job is to expose them to the beauty of these animals, help them to understand some of the science surrounding them (i.e. act as a translator for the scientists doing the actual research) and hopefully get them to care about, and want to protect, marine wildlife,” says Doug. “I use iNaturalist as a way to share my photographs with scientists researching those subjects, and to enlist their help in getting my subjects identified. Most of my professional experience is with charismatic megafauna, so I know my marine mammals, sharks, and sea turtles pretty well, but plankton is way outside my realm of expertise...it means so much more to me if I can find out what they are, and what they’re doing.”

- by Tony Iwane


- Doug’s photos are represented by www.SeaPics.com, and you can also check out his photoshelter gallery.

- Sweet, sweet blackwater dive footage off of Kona.

- Doug wrote an article about blackwater diving for CNN, and here it is.

- More about amazing Mantis shrimps.

Posted on October 23, 2016 08:02 PM by tiwane tiwane | 1 comments | Leave a comment

October 19, 2016

Citizen Scientist by Mary Ellen Hannibal

San Francisco science and culture writer Mary Ellen Hannibal has recently come out with a new book titled Citizen Science: Searching for Heroes and Hope in an Age of Extinction and part her research entailed covering California Academy of Sciences’ Citizen Science program. 

Not only does Mary Ellen participate in the Intertidal Biodiversity Survey at Pillar Point project (run by @kestrel and @rebeccafay), she also interviewed iNaturalist Co-directors @kueda and @loarie for her book.

I recently had an opportunity to talk with Mary Ellen about the past, present and future of citizen science and the importance of iNaturalist and other projects in crowdsourcing data and engaging the public. You can watch a video (a big thank you to @dpom, @kestrel, and Richard Morgenstein for their photos and footage) of our chat below, and be sure to check out her book!

A talk with author Mary Ellen Hannibal about citizen science and iNaturalist from iNaturalist on Vimeo.

Posted on October 19, 2016 12:07 AM by tiwane tiwane | 2 comments | Leave a comment

October 13, 2016

Observation of the Week , 10/13/16


This Thyreus cuckoo bee seen in South Korea by @whaichi is our Observation of the Week!

An American who’s been teaching English in South Korea since 2007, Paul Bailey has been using iNat to document the organisms he sees on along a river during his walk to and from work. And after nearly  a year of using iNat he’s recently met up with Kim Hyun-tae (@pintail) a few times to look for frogs, salamanders (including the endemic species Karsenia koreana), snakes, and other animals, and says that on their first trip, Mr. Kim “heard about my interest in insects he gave me one of his old macro lenses which I used to take that photo of the Thyreus. so without his help that photo may not have been possible!”

Armed with this lens, he says “I walked further south than usual along the river one afternoon and noticed a large cluster of fleabanes that I wanted to check out for pollinators. As I drew closer I noticed a moving patch of blue, but it was too far away to see clearly and it eventually disappeared into the nearby vegetation...I noticed the patch of blue coming back and it turned out to be a bright blue bee that landed quite close to me on one of the fleabanes.

[With the new lens] I was...worried that I wouldn't end up with any decent pictures so I snapped more than 80 photos while I had the opportunity. And honestly, I did also enjoy watching it buzz around the flowers so it wasn't really a bad way to pass the time.”

Bees in the genus Thyreus are some of the several thousand species of bees known as “cuckoo bees,” which are brood parasites - named after the famous Cuckoo birds. Like other brood parasites, female cuckoo bees don’t actually care for or provision for their young - they instead make other animals do it. In most solitary bee species, a female leaves a provision of nectar and pollen with their egg (or eggs). Once the egg hatches, the larva will eat the provisioned food then pupate into its adult form. A female cuckoo bee, however, lays its egg in the nest of other bee species, and when the cuckoo bee egg hatches the larva eats the provisioned food and will often kill and eat the host larva as well! Due to this fascinating life cycle, a female cuckoo bee doesn’t have scopa, or anatomical structures for collecting pollen, on her body.

Paul’s current interest in nature traces back to an introductory entomology course he took in college, where he “ended up with a pet tobacco hornworm (Manduca sexta), a pair of Madagascar hissing cockroaches (Gromphadorhina portentosa), and a collection of silkworms (Bombyx mori) that I raised on behalf of the entomology department.” So it’s not a surprise he’s found some fantastic insects while in South Korea.

Using iNaturalist “[has] been a great way for me to learn more about the more detailed differences between members of the same Order or Family,” says Paul. “I no longer lump all butterflies together, for example, and now start thinking of them as 'Blues', 'Skippers', 'Brushfoots', etc.” And in addition to documenting the wildlife around his residence, Paul says “I've found myself looking for something to record every time I take a trip to another part of Korea, sort of as a 'wildlife souvenir' of the journey...I haven't made any travel plans based on someone else's observations yet, but it might happen before too long!”

- by Tony Iwane


- Here’s some footage of a Thyreus bee getting some nectar. Check out the colors!

- @pintail started a Korean Nature project on iNat, you can find it here. There are more than 13,000 observations in it.

- Blue is not a common color in nature, one reason being that many animals can’t make blue pigments. Instead, many blue animals get their color by creating materials whose structure reflects blue light. NPR has a nice article about this phenomenon.

Posted on October 13, 2016 09:24 PM by tiwane tiwane | 0 comments | Leave a comment
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