June 22, 2016

Observation of the Week, 6/22/16

This Blue Green Chiton (on a Half Crab substrate) seen by @emily_r in New Zealand is our Observation of the Week!

“I love the excitement of turning over rocks and seeing what beasties are hiding underneath,” says Emily Roberts, a Marine Ecologist for the Taranaki Regional Council in New Zealand. “It stems from when my mum used to take us exploring rock pools of the north coast of Scotland when we were wee nippers.”

And while she’s found plenty of cool things in her explorations over the years, she’d never come across the “alien looking commensal beast” pictured above. “I’d never seen anything like it before. It looked more like something out of a science fiction film than a crab in an ID guide. On closer inspection it became obvious that it was a blue green chiton that had attached itself to the carapace of a New Zealand Half Crab.”

Most of us who’ve explored intertidal zones are familiar with chitons, an ancient mollusk class whose distinctive shells consists of eight overlapping plates surrounded by a softer fleshy girdle. Chitons are found in marine areas throughout the world, mostly in tidal zones, although a few species live in deep water. They stick onto hard substrates with their muscular foot and use their magnetite (the only animals to have this compound) teeth to scrape off algae, bryozoans, and other tiny organisms. Blue Green chitons are the most commonly found chitons in New Zealand, although it’s safe to say finding one attached to a crab is rare occurrence. “After taking a few photos, it tried to scuttle up my work colleague’s sleeve (see above),” says Emily. “As you can see from the photo, the crab’s eyes were totally covered. I wonder how long it had been attached to the crab like that for?”

Emily is involved in several New Zealand citizen science projects which use iNaturalist and its sister site, NatureWatchNZ, including CoastBlitz Waitara, which is a project that records biodiversity off of Waitara, Taranaki, and Project Hotspot, which focuses on four key marine species in the same area - Orca, Reef Herons, Little Blue Penguins, and New Zealand Fur Seals. “The extensive reefs off this special New Zealand town are of great cultural and historical significance to local iwi and hapu [Maori social groups],” she says. Local schoolchildren have even named several individual Reef herons, like Kelpie (below), which can be distinguished by their leg markings.

“iNaturalist has absolutely changed the way I see the natural world to the extent that it is now rare for me to leave the house at the weekend without a pair of binoculars, camera and smartphone in hand,” says Emily. “Collecting and recording what’s out there is essential to enable better protection of species and their habitats. From a selfish perspective it’s also awesome to feel better connected to the natural world and watch wild and wonderful creatures doing crazy things: long live the chiton crab!”

- by Tony Iwane


- Stefan Bienart shot this sweet footage of a male Orca surfing the waves off of Taranaki and shared it with Project Hotspot. 

- Check out this chiton on the move!

- Click here if you want to learn more about chitons’ amazing teeth and/or click here to see some cool photos of them. Yikes!

Posted on June 22, 2016 10:53 PM by tiwane tiwane | 0 comments | Leave a comment

June 21, 2016

A New Way to Add Observations

Adding observations to the website can be harder than it has to be, particularly when your photos contain so much useful information before you ever even upload them to the site. That's why we built http://www.inaturalist.org/observations/upload. The uploader makes it super easy to add observations to iNaturalist by allowing you to simply drag and drop photo files from your computer into the browser window, and then trying to extract as much information as possible from the photos themselves so you don't have to enter it manually. If you haven't tried it, give it a shot.

We released the new uploader a few weeks ago, but now we want to go one step further and make the uploader the primary way to add observations to the site. That means linking to the uploader instead of to http://www.inaturalist.org/observations/new, and perhaps even removing the latter way to add observations all together. We realize this will change the workflow for a lot of you, but we think the uploader is a better experience for almost all existing users, and a WAY better experience for new users.

However, we want to hear from you after you've tried out the new uploader. Are there things the old observation form does for you that the new uploader does not? Are there ways we can make the new uploader better before replacing the old observation form? Let us know in the comments below or in the Google Group.

Posted on June 21, 2016 04:18 PM by kueda kueda | 28 comments | Leave a comment

June 16, 2016

Observation of the Week, 6/15/16

This group of migrating Pacific Lampreys seen by @brynlee11 at Oregon’s Bonneville Dam is our Observation of the Week!

Ryan Bueler found out about iNaturalist recently, after hearing @lhiggins of the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County being interviewed on the Talk Nerdy podcast. (OK, flurry of links complete.) He signed up for an iNat account so he could check it out for himself, but “realized quickly that it would be a fun experience to go exploring with my [5 year old] daughter and get her more in the nature mindset. She has always loved animals, but is a bit more timid with insects.” He and his family will take a trip somewhere or even just explore the yard. “We walk around and I have her point out the insects, animals and plants she sees then I'll take pictures of them,” he says. “Sometimes we don't find anything, other times we get to see all sorts of new things, which provides an opportunity to teach her about a new insect or animal.”

The Bonneville Dam is about 30 minutes from their home, it has places where visitors can feed the fish and watch wildlife, including an observation window into the fish ladders at the dam. It’s here where researchers can also count the fish as they migrate upstream. The ladders were mainly built for salmon and trout, but on the day Ryan’s family visited (see photo below of the girls on the day of the visit), it was covered in Pacific lampreys! He says, “my daughter thought it was amazing and a little scary but still she was excited. I asked her if she wanted to add it to her observations and she said ‘yes!’” She was also thrilled when it was named Observation of the Day.

Like salmon and trout, Pacific lampreys are anadromous, meaning they swim upriver to spawn in freshwater, after living a year or two at sea. Ancient vertebrates, lampreys lack a bony skeleton or even jaws, and adults use their disc-like mouths to latch on to larger animals, where they scrape open the skin and feed on blood and other bodily fluids. Adults do not eat during their migration upstream, and when they reach their spawning grounds, males dig a nest (or “redd”) in the gravel where females lay eggs, which are then fertilized externally by the male. The adults soon die, and once the larvae hatch they’ll spend 3-7 years in freshwater before metamorphosing and swimming to the ocean. Anadromous animals like lampreys and salmon are a vital part of the ecosystem, as their bodies provide nutrients found mostly in the sea.

Pacific lampreys have long been an important ceremonial food source for Native Americans of the Pacific Northwest, but their numbers have dwindled for decades. In 1969, at least 375,000 were counted passing through Bonneville Dam, but that number had dropped to only 6,200 in 2010. One likely reason for this decline is that fish ladders designed for salmon are too difficult for the lampreys to ascend - they were having around a 50% success rate at most dams. Recently new lamprey passages have been added to the dam, designed to let them use their mouths to latch onto nearly vertical surfaces and spring their way up. This restoration effort has been spurred by work from local tribes.

Using iNat has not only changed the way Ryan and his family view nature, he says it has also changed “our family bonding. It allows me to teach my daughter about nature as well as provides me some valuable interaction time with my kids...” For other parents who want to use iNat with their children he recommends “just getting your kids outside and observing...maybe you get lots of observations and maybe you get none but just make it fun.”

- by Tony Iwane


- This page has a nice write-up about lamprey ladders at the Bonneville Dam, as well as footage of Native American tribe members catching lampreys.

- Here are two more articles about lampreys and ladders in the Columbia River, one from the Portland Tribune and one from The Oregonian.

- Members of Columbia Basin tribes talk about the importance of the Pacific lampreys and what they’re doing to help these animals.

- Here are current fish counts at dams along the Columbia River.

Posted on June 16, 2016 12:47 AM by tiwane tiwane | 1 comments | Leave a comment

June 13, 2016

Identify

iNat doesn't work unless people are adding identifications to observations, but we've never really had a good tool to help identifiers add identifications efficiently, so we made one: http://www.inaturalist.org/observations/identify. Identify is a lot like our observations search page, but you can view and identify observations without leaving the page. We've also really tried to make it fast and efficient for people who add a lot of identifications, so there is extensive support for keyboard shortcuts: arrow keys navigate between observations, "i" brings up the identification form, "c" brings up the comment form, "r" marks the observation as reviewed, and "z" marks it as captive / cultivated.

So check it out! Even if you're not a super hardcore identifier, you can still help out by working through observations with no identifications: http://www.inaturalist.org/observations/identify?iconic_taxa[]=unknown. If you have any feedback, drop us a message in the Google Group.

Posted on June 13, 2016 09:07 PM by kueda kueda | 34 comments | Leave a comment

June 08, 2016

Observation of the Week, 6/8/16

This Phengodes glowworm beetle seen in Alabama by friel is our Observation of the Week!

As a professional ichthyologist, John Friel has collected fishes from two countries in South America and nearly a dozen African nations. He curated the ichthyology and herpetology collections at Cornell University for over fifteen years and is now the Director of the Alabama Museum of Natural History at the University of Alabama. Now that he’s not in the field, John has become an avid iNat user (nearly 3,000 observations and over 2,000 identifications), and says the site “has really changed the way I interact with the natural world.” He focused on collecting organisms for much of his professional career, and “taking images of living organisms in their natural environment was always a lower priority…while I still recognize the need and value to do traditional collecting of organisms for basic research, I am now freed up from that task, and with iNaturalist I can focus on making observations of any cool organisms I encounter on a daily basis.”

In fact, John encountered the above Phengodes (genus) glowworm beetle and its millipede prey while moving a potted plant in his backyard! At first thinking the beetle was a similar looking millipede he’d seen previously, “on closer examination I noticed it was something different.” While he’d seen an adult male Phengodes before (below), the larval and adult females look quite different. In fact, adult glowworm beetle females are larviform, meaning they retain many larval traits even after they metamorphose.

Glowworm beetles get their common name from bioluminescent areas of their bodies, and the light is created by a chemical reaction inside animal. Some Phengodes adult male glowworm beetles are luminescent, but it’s more commonly found in the larvae and adult females. And while larval and adult female Phengodes are fierce predators who specialize in devouring millipedes, adult males do not eat at all. The males use their impressively branched antennae and their wings to find females who are emitting breeding pheromones.

John’s Phengodes observation is one of nearly 9,000 observations that have been added to the Biodiversity of Alabama project on iNat, which was started by John and his colleagues at the University of Alabama museums “to engage the public in observing and learning about the amazing biodiversity of organisms that surround them.” While the project is only a few months old, it has an impressive about of data, and John says “we already have a several active members that contribute new observations on a daily basis.” If you’re in the Yellowhammer State, make some observations and help this project continue to grow!

John, of course, will continue to explore the wildlife of Alabama, and says that while he’s “still a vertebrate biologist at heart,” he’s “quickly developing a new love for terrestrial invertebrates and plants.” iNaturalist’s “lack of any taxonomic boundaries [has] really allowed me to expand my curiosity and knowledge of biodiversity beyond those taxa I studied professionally.”

- by Tony Iwane


- John’s colleague at the museum, entomologist and photographer John Abbott, took some great pics of two adult male Phengodes, including one in flight!

- Glowworm video artwork!

- Glowworm beetles are not to be confused with the equally cool cave glowworms in New Zealand, which are the larvae of the Arachnocampa luminosa fungus gnat. 

Posted on June 08, 2016 10:28 AM by tiwane tiwane | 1 comments | Leave a comment

June 02, 2016

Observation of the Week 6/1/16

This Giant Vinegaroon (and young) seen in Mexico by d_b is our Observation of the Week!

A curious child, Diego Barrales had an interest in “the outdoor and nature,” taking walks with his father in the forest while growing up on the outer limits of Mexico City. At age ten he was very into arachnids and his uncle gave him a vinegaroon (also known as a whip scorpion). “[It] astonished me,” he says, “it became my favorite animal because I had never seen one before and I found it quite strange.”

Fast forward and Diego is now studying Giant vinegaroons (Mastigoproctus giganteus) for his Master’s degree at the Biology Institute of the Universidad Nacional Autonoma de Mexico, “seeking to find a rediscovering of these enigmatic animals.” He’s been looking for representatives of the species from different areas, which has led him all over Mexico, including the pine-oak forests outside of Puerto La Soledad in the state of Sonora, a sometimes dangerous area. While in the field he turned over a rock and found this stunning female Giant vinegaroon carrying her young. “I knew it was important to collect it, but also knew it would be more important to let it be, so I decided to capture it only with my camera and carry on with my search,” he says.

Giant vinegaroons are among the largest of the vinegaroons, and despite their fearsome appearance are pretty harmless. The name vinegaroon comes from their ability to spray a foul-smelling liquid that contains acetic acid, which is also found in vinegar. Like all arachnids they have eight legs, and in vinegaroons the first pair are elongated The animal holds them out in front to as sensory organs. Their pincer-like appendages are modified pedipalps, and they have a flagellum (or “whip”) extending from their rear end, which is also also used as a sensory organ. Their main prey are small invertebrates.

Female vinegaroons are excellent mothers, who keep their eggs with them in a burrow for several months. Once they hatch, the young climb on the mother’s back and she carries them around for about a month, until their first molt.

Diego is a curator on iNaturalist and has made over 5,000 identifications. He calls iNat “a tool that could help to know and appreciate the world that surrounds us….it is a way to keep that curiosity of my childhood alive.”

- by Tony Iwane


- BBC’s Earth Unplugged has some nice slow motion video of a Giant Vinegaroon spraying its defensive liquid.

Posted on June 02, 2016 12:36 AM by tiwane tiwane | 0 comments | Leave a comment

May 25, 2016

Observation of the Week, 5/25/16

This Checkerboard Worm Lizard seen by benkaddour in Morocco is our Observation of the Week!

Khalid Ben Kaddour has a PhD in Animal Ecology from Cadi Ayyad University in Marrakesh, and has been doing conservation biology work on the Moorish tortoise (Testudo graeca). He’s admired nature from a young age and counts himself lucky to have grown up in a small town in the Atlas Mountains of North Africa, “near a river with beautiful preserved landscapes where we spend much of our free time like the Tom Sawyer cartoon life.”

After a long day in the classroom on May 19th, Khalid and his family took a ride outside of El Hajeb, and his 3 year old daughter asked to pick some poppies and other flowers. As they were out and about and the sun was setting, Khalid turned over a rock and an “unusual” animal he’d never seen before, which as “the shape of a snake, but [lacks] the eyes.” He snapped some photos before it could bury itself and did some research when he got home - it was a Checkerboard Worm Lizard!

Checkerboard Worm Lizards are endemic to northern Africa, and while they don’t completely lack eyes, they do only possess rudimentary ones, as they spend most of their lives underground. The worm lizards (suborder Amphisbaenia) are a poorly studied group of lizards, most of whom lack legs and instead have loose skin which they use in an accordion-like fashion for locomotion. Amphisbaenians use their powerful jaws to capture and devour prey.

While he’s new to iNaturalist, Khalid is optimistic about the platform, and looks forward to share more of his “observations with other scientists and naturalists and possibly develop scientific collaborations in the future.”

- by Tony Iwane


- Khalid has published quite a few papers, you can check them out here.

- Nice video showing a Trinidadian worm lizard - check out its accordion-like motion!

Posted on May 25, 2016 07:34 PM by tiwane tiwane | 0 comments | Leave a comment

May 20, 2016

Observation of the Week, 5/20/16

This Phronima sedentaria seen by @nikbaines in New Zealand’s Otago Peninsula is our Observation of the Week.

iNaturalist user Nicola Baines found many little jelly-like organisms washed up on the beach, and several had what she said looked like “mini transparent lobsters” in them. She posted photos of them in iNaturalist “keen to know” what they were, and also uploaded a video to YouTube.

Lisa Bennett (@lisa_bennett), who had studied Antarctic pelagic amphipods, recognized the tiny crustaceans as members of the Phronima genus of amphipods. Most of us are familiar with amphipods as sandhoppers and lawn shrimp, living under rocks and eating detritus, but the amphipod suborder Hyperiidea are planktonic in habit. Many have “relationships with gelatinous zooplankton, such as salps and cnidarians,” says Lisa, which “can vary from obligate parasites to ectocommensals.”

Using its formidable front claws, members of the Phronima genus carve out the insides of salps (free-floating tunicates), jellyfish and siphonophores and use them as buoyancy devices. The salp walls still contain living cells, which may help it maintain its form. Female Phronima will lay their eggs in it “then propel it around like a pram or buggy until the young are ready to be released,” says Lisa.

Nicola’s observation was the first Phronima of any kind posted on iNaturalist - a curious citizen scientist and a knowledgeable community working hand in hand!

- by Tony Iwane


- Phronima are often cited as the inspiration for the creature in Alien, or for the Alien Queen in Aliens, but I couldn’t find any evidence to support this claim. What do you think?

- Really great footage of Phronima in action.

- iNat user @steve_kerr scouted out the beach where Nicola came across her Phronima and he took some fantastic photos of the ones he found!

Posted on May 20, 2016 02:30 AM by tiwane tiwane | 0 comments | Leave a comment

May 19, 2016

Over 100 Bioblitzes on iNat for the National Park Service's 100th Birthday - mostly this weekend!

2016 is the 100th Birthday of the US National Park Service (NPS)! To celebrate, NPS and the National Geographic Society have teamed up with iNaturalist to host over 100 Bioblitzes in different parks across the Nation. And MOST of them are happening this weekend!

Here's a quick summary of whats happened so far and what will go down this Friday and Saturday:

The NPS Servicewide Bioblitz

Bioblitzes are events where scientists and members of the public work together to document as many species as possible in a specified area and time period.

The 'top layer' Bioblitz for the Centennial Celebration counts all observations made within the National Park Service anytime during 2016. At the time of this writing, this NPS Servicewide Bioblitz has logged over 30,000 observations representing over 5,000 species from nearly 2,000 observers. These observations have come from 228 individual parks. Thats over half of all the parks in the National Park Service! The sizes of the orange circles on this map show the number of observations that have been logged so far in 2016 in each individual National Park:



Over 100 Individual Park Bioblitzes

Under the umbrella of this yearlong Servicewide Bioblitz, 126 individual parks in the National Park Service are hosting 'physical' Bioblitz events. This map shows the parks that are hosting Bioblitzes in orange. Tap through to learn more about each Bioblitz.


Some of these Biobltizes, like the March Death Valley National Park Bioblitz have already happened. But nearly two thirds of the Bioblitzes are scheduled for this upcoming Friday and Saturday. Here's a calendar that shows the timing of each Bioblitz as a horizontal orange bar. The vertical gray bar highlights May 20th-21st when most of the Bioblitzes will occur.


Most of the Bioblitzes last 24 to 48 hours and take place within the boundaries of a single National Park. The Saguaro Schoolyard Bioblitz is exceptional because it (a) is not taking place in a National Park but rather across the Tucson region and (b) is lasting all year.

Showcase Bioblitzes in Washington DC

Fifteen of the Bioblitzes will take place this Friday/Saturday in National Parks in Washington DC. These include familiar parks such as Rock Creek Park but also places I didn't know were National Parks like the National Mall.

The National Mall Bioblitz will also be the site of a Biodiversity Festival on Friday/Saturday that will feature two 15 foot Jumbotrons. These Jumbotrons will be mostly streaming a feed of results from iNaturalist that we made just for this event. If you can't make it to DC, you can tune into the iNaturalist feed for the Jumbotron here. This feed summarizes the Servicewide Bioblitz and then loops through all 126 individual Park Bioblitzes showing various stats and highlights from each.

What can you do to help?


Explore your park and post observations!


If you live near a National Park (here's how to find your park), visit and post iNaturalist observations! Here's a tutorial on how to post iNaturalist observations. If you can time your visit with the Bioblitz that your park is hosting all the better. But if not, remember any observation made with in the National Park Service anytime in 2016 will be counted!

Help flag captive/cultivated observations


A lot of new users in lots of landscaped parks (e.g. the National Mall) will undoubtedly result in a lot of unflagged observations of captive and cultivated plants and animals. Help us keep these from getting into the Research Quality data stream by flagging observations that are clearly of captive and cultivated things.

Help Identify observations


There are thousands of observations from the Bioblitzes that need their identifications improved or confirmed. If you know what any of these organisms are, add your identifications! Here's a tutorial on how to identify iNaturalist observations.

Help us promote on Social Media


NPS set up a cool tagboard tracking #BioBlitz2016. Be sure to give us a shout @ iNaturalist on Twitter and Facebook so we can keep track of your Bioblitz stories.

Why is this important?

1. National Parks are some of the front lines of defense against species extinction. They serve as crucial habitat for tens of thousands of plant and animal species. Observations posted to iNaturalist during the Bioblitz provide valuable data to the Park Service to help them better manage these natural resources.

2. In the words of John Muir, the 'father of the National Parks': "When I discovered a new plant, I sat down beside it for a minute or a day, to make its acquaintance and hear what it had to tell." National Parks introduce millions of visitors to the outdoors each year. Bioblitzing helps visitors discover and connect with nature. A well acquainted public will surely be better advocates for nature and better stewards of our National Parks in the coming century!

Still not convinced? Listen to National Park Service Data Ranger Simon Kingston and National Park Service Biologist Daniel George share their thoughts on iNaturalist and the National Parks





Posted on May 19, 2016 04:53 AM by loarie loarie | 1 comments | Leave a comment

Its Snake Week on iNaturalist! May 15 - May 21, 2016



This week the Critter Calendar focuses on a group of animals that usually provoke strong emotions in people - Snakes!

Comprising about 3,000 species, Snakes (suborder Serpentes) are squamate reptiles that lack limbs, eyelids, and external ears. All snakes have skin covered in scales, elongated bodies, and they are all carnivorous. It is believed they evolved from burrowing lizards around 100 million years ago, although the fossil record is spotty. Primitive extant snakes, like pythons and boas, have vestigial hind limbs known as anal spurs on either side of their cloaca, and thread snakes have vestigial pelvic girdles inside their bodies.


Snakes live in all types of habitats and on every continent on Earth (aside from Antarctica), and are most active in warm weather, as they are ectothermic, or cold-blooded. They can often be found basking on roads or trails, and find refuge in rocky outcrops or under cover. While most snakes are not harmful to humans, about 600 are venomous, 200 of which are considered to have venom which is medically significant. Make sure to watch where you put your hands and feet, especially around rocky areas.

Many snakes can be identified by color and pattern, but for some families like garter snakes, photographs of the head scales are necessary, so if you can safely get photos of the head, it’ll be very helpful on iNat.

Some notable snake families are:

Colubrids (Colubridae) - a bit of a catch-all group, nearly two thirds of all snake species belong to this family, including kingsnakes, cat-eyed snakes, and mole snakes. Most colubrids are not dangerous to humans, and either swallow their prey alive or constrict them. The bite of a boomslang, however, can be fatal. Interestingly, one of the world’s only poisonous (as opposed to venomous) snakes is the tiger keelback, which eats toads and sequesters the poison in two glands in its throat.


Elapids (Elapidae) - the cobras and sea snakes (although some list the sea snakes as separate). These highly venomous snakes have fixed front fangs and produce neurotoxic venom and generally lack the “triangle” shaped head of vipers. Cobras, coral snakes, and kraits are all members of the elapid family, and some, like the black mamba and coastal taipan, are considered the most dangerous snakes in the world.

Vipers (Viperidae) - these stocky venomous snakes have hinged fangs which spring forward when the snake bites. Their venom is mainly hemotoxic as opposed to neurotoxic. Usually ambush predators, many vipers have thermoreceptive “pits” between their nostrils and lips which allows them to “see” heat. Rattlesnakes, adders, and fer-de-lances are all members of of the viper family.


We’ll be keeping track of all your snake observations here. Happy serpent hunting and be careful out there!

Posted on May 19, 2016 04:22 AM by loarie loarie | 1 comments | Leave a comment
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