January 20, 2017

Observation of the Week, 1/20/17

This Water Clover, seen by @merav in Joshua Tree National Park, is our Observation of the Week!

“Amphibian eggs?”

This was the Merav Vonshak’s simple guess when she posted the above photo on iNaturalist last week. There are currently 29 comments and 11 IDs associated with the observation now, as it set off a flurry of wonder and puzzlement among the iNat community and beyond. It certainly looked like a nudibranch, but...a desert nudibranch? Or perhaps a copepod, centipede or fungus? Folks began posting it on Twitter and Facebook to see if anyone could figure it out.

iNaturalist user @kcclarksdnhmorg came through in the clutch with the correct ID: it was the aquatic sporocarp, or spore-producing part of the Water Clover fern! As its common name suggests, this plant is actually a fern, but closely resembles a four leaf clover. It grows in moist soil or in ponds, and the sporocarps can survive in drought conditions until there is sufficient water for it to grow and split.

A postdoctoral fellow at Stanford who studies ants and other arthropods, Merav had been visiting the park with her family. It was her daughter who “showed me something interesting she found. We looked around the pool and found at least two more of these things...When we came back home I remembered that mystery creature, and decided to upload it to iNaturalist, hoping someone will have a clue. And then the fun began!...I enjoyed reading all the comments and watching it progress. And I was surprised to find out it was a plant after all, with such cool biology.”

“I love looking for creatures and sharing my observations, and iNaturalist is such a great platform for doing just that,” says Merav. “I also enjoy helping others, by helping to ID some creatures, and while doing so I learn so much! I think this is a great tool, but even more importantly, it’s a great community. People are very kind and thoughtful.”

- by Tony Iwane


- Check out Merav’s published works at ResearchGate, and her Coyote Valley San Jose project.

- Ten plants that look like animals, courtesy of Mental Floss. And yes, almost all of them are orchids.

- Even Joshua Tree National Park’s Twitter account got in on the fun!

Posted on January 20, 2017 03:55 AM by tiwane tiwane | 0 comments | Leave a comment

January 12, 2017

Observation of the Week, 1/12/17

This Sheetweb or Dwarf Weaver Spider, seen by @zanskar on the island of Corsica, is our Observation of the Week!

“As far as I can remember I always was in the field, searching for new animals to watch, mostly birds with my brother, [who was] crazy about nature too,” says David Renoult (aka zanskar). As an adult, David is a school teacher, but “[every] time I can (and it's quite often on this island dedicated to Nature) we go out as a family, with my wife and our 7 year old boy, to enjoy anything we can encounter, from orchids, to bugs, to moths.”

He found this tiny Sheetweb spider in November, and recalls spotting the small web because it was covered with dew. “It was several weeks before Christmas and this spider seemed to me arranging its Christmas balls in its sticky tree...it was wonderful!”

There are over 4,000 species in the Linyphiidae family of spiders (also called money spiders), and due to their extremely small size (many are 3 mm or less), identification and taxonomy is very difficult. Many weave a sheet-like dome web and hang upside-down in the middle. If a prey animal lands on the web, the spider will dash over and bite it through the silk. They are also famous for their mass “ballooning” behavior; young spiders will climb to the tops of plants and release a strand of silk into the air, and when the silk is caught by the wind, it will take them away to a new place, allowing the spiders to populate a wider area.

David has been using iNaturalist for about a year now, and says “I hope more and more people will share their observations on inaturalist, to have a whole and more accurate vision about the biodiversity we have a stone’s throw from home or at the other end of the world. Because I consider this is really what iNaturalist is: a way be filled with wonder before the boundless imagination of nature, and the less the human beings will be ignorant of this biodiversity, the more we will be able to preserve it for the next generations.”

- by Tony Iwane

English is not David’s first language, and I’ve done some light editing of his quotes for this piece.


- David Attenborough walks through a silken field of ballooning spiders.

- Great footage and explanation of how sheetweavers’ webs work.

Posted on January 12, 2017 06:31 PM by tiwane tiwane | 0 comments | Leave a comment

January 05, 2017

Observation of the Week, 1/5/17

This Marbled Swamp Eel seen in Cuba by @henicorhina is our Observation of the Week!

“I have only recently started using iNaturalist,” says Oscar Johnson, a graduate student at Louisiana State University Museum of Natural Science who’s studying the population genetics of Amazonian birds. “ [And] I am slowly going through a massive backlog of photos that I have on old hard drives and adding them in to iNaturalist.”

One of those photos is the one above, showing the remarkable Marbled Swamp Eel. Oscar encountered the fish while on a trip to Cuba in 2008, where he had been visiting a friend. “Towards the end of the trip I went to a small town on the outskirts of the La Güira National Park, which I had heard was a good area to look for the endemic Blue-headed Quail-Dove. I arrived late at night and the innkeeper told me about a small trail heading into the woods that was good for herps at night, so I set off for a few hours of wandering,” he says. “I came upon this very shallow rocky stream and was surprised to find an eel swimming around in three inch deep water! I managed to get one good photo, which I later showed to one of the curators at the Natural History Museum in Havana, who was able to identify it for me.”

Not true eels, Marbled Swamp Eels are members of Synbranchidae family of ray-finned fish. Synbranchidae are well-adapted to living in shallow water and even making long sojourns on land; the lining of their mouths, full of blood vessels, allows them to breathe air quite well. They tend to be nocturnal and are known to eat insects, spiders and both tadpoles and adult frogs. When they hatch, Swamp Eels have pectoral fins for several weeks, after which time they shed them. And even more bizarre, Swamp Eels are sequential hermaphrodites, meaning that most are born female and become males later in life.

Oscar is continuing to upload his treasure trove of photos to iNaturalist, and says he’s “found it to be an incredible resource for any group of organisms. The community is incredibly knowledgeable and helpful with even the toughest identifications...It feels good to have these photos in a place where they will be put to good use!”

- by Tony Iwane


- Here’s Oscar’s personal website, featuring his photos and research.

- Asian Swamp Eels, a common food item in Asia, have been introduced to the United States and are now considered an invasive species there.

Posted on January 05, 2017 11:36 PM by tiwane tiwane | 0 comments | Leave a comment

January 01, 2017

BioBlitzes and Junior Bug Blitz

Part two of our conversation with @reallifecology (see part one here). He's spent much of 2016 traveling around the U.S., going to bioblitzes, and shares some of his thoughts on them in the video below. He also describes his "Junior Bug Blitz" activity for kids at 4:18.

Do you have any thoughts on what makes a successful BioBlitz? Please share in the comments!

Posted on January 01, 2017 06:16 PM by tiwane tiwane | 0 comments | Leave a comment

December 31, 2016

iNat and Big Data - An Interview with 2016's Top Observer

As of today, Jonathan "JC" Carpenter (@reallifeecology) has posted 15,743 observations to iNaturalist in 2016, making him our top individual observer for the year! (@sambiology and @finatic are strong second and third place finishers, with 9,454 and 8,676 observations, respectively)

JC has spent much of the year traveling around the country and participating in bioblitzes with his family. He stopped by our office in San Francisco (on a typically overcast day) earlier this month, where we had a chance to chat. In this post I've included a video of him sharing his thoughts on iNaturalist at the importance of citizen science and big data, and tomorrow I'll post a video of his experiences with bioblitzes.

2016 has been a big year for iNat. Over 1.5 million verifiable observations have been uploaded by over 55,000 users, we were featured on NPR, and we served as the platform for the National Park Services Centennial Bioblitzes, among many other highlights. Thanks for making this such a a vibrant community, and happy 2017!

Posted on December 31, 2016 03:56 PM by tiwane tiwane | 2 comments | Leave a comment

December 29, 2016

Observation of the Week, 12/29/16

This Wallace’s Stripe-faced Fruit Bat, seen in Indonesia by @martinmandak, is our Observation of the Week!

“Bats were one of reasons why I undertook the quite arduous journey to the remote "corner" of Sulawesi (and definitely I do not regret that),” says Martin Mandak. “Sulawesi is one of the bats' hotspot (more than 60 species). On the other hand, Sulawesian bats have hard life due to habitat destruction and extensive bushmeat hunting resulting in steep decline of many populations. Tompotika Peninsula (Central Sulawesi) is becoming a save haven for fruit bats thanks to amazing work of Alliance for Tompotika.”

“During my last night in Tanah Merah village (one of conservation centres in the peninsula),” he recalls, “I explored a tiny remnant of rainforest near the village. The lonely [Wallace’s Stripe-faced Fruit Bat] with beautifully colored face was calmly hanging above a path and let me approach to itself very closely.”

Martin’s observation is the first one for this species on iNaturalist, and it is listed as Near-threatened by the IUCN. Named after Charles Darwin’s correspondent Alfred Russel Wallace, who had collected the first specimen, this bat is found only on the island of Sulawesi and some nearby smaller islands. Unlike insectivorous bats, fruit bats have much better vision, which they use in conjunction with their noses to find suitable fruits and nectar to eat. In fact, only a select few species are able to use echolocation! Oh, and the ones who dine on nectar have amazing tongues that actually retract around their ribcages. Actually make that really amazing tongues.

Professionally, Martin Mandak evaluates buildings “before thermal insulation to avoid conflicts with nesting of synanthropic birds (and bats to lesser degree)” and is member of the committee of the Silesian Ornithological Society, a branch of Czech Society for Ornithology (BirdLife partner in the Czech Republic). As a naturalist, he is especially interested in birds, reptiles, amphibians, bats, and insects.

“I use iNaturalist particularly for 1) sharing pictures of more overlooked groups of animals and 2) as a site where my observations can be IDed,” says Martin “In my opinion, the most useful iNaturalist features are projects with active leaders, who motivate observers to raise interest of ‘their’ groups of animals. To name at least one, I would mention AfriBats and very helpful @jakob.”

- by Tony Iwane


- Some cool facts about Flying Foxes, the world’s largest fruit bats.

- Here are some pretty adorable rescued baby fruit bats at the Australian Bat Center.

- Sir David Attenborough on Alfred Russel Wallace.

Posted on December 29, 2016 07:00 PM by tiwane tiwane | 6 comments | Leave a comment

December 28, 2016

How to Easily Geotag DSLR Photos

Maybe you got a fancy new DSLR or mirrorless camera for the holidays that you'd like to use for your wildlife photos, or maybe you've been using one for awhile. Either way, if your camera doesn't have built-in GPS, it can be difficult to get accurate location information for iNat.

Here's a video showing a workflow for using a smartphone or handheld GPS unit to easily geotag your photos and not worry about getting accurate location info either later or in the field. The GPS app in the video is Motion-X GPS for iOS. If anyone has suggestions for a great Android GPS tracking app, please share in the comments!

- Tony

How to Geotag your Photos for iNaturalist from iNaturalist on Vimeo.

Posted on December 28, 2016 04:13 PM by tiwane tiwane | 2 comments | Leave a comment

December 22, 2016

Observation of the Week, 12/22/16

This Ornate Wobbegong shark, seen off of Australia by @johnturnbull, is our Observation of the Week!

A lifelong lover of nature, John Turnbull started the website Marine Explorer “to show people what lives under the sea; in order to conserve we have to care, and to care we have to understand.” He discovered iNat after members of the Australasian fishes project asked him to share his (several thousand) photos from Marine Explorer and they are amazing!

The photo above is of an Ornate Wobbegong, which is a member of the Orectolobiformes order of sharks. Often called “carpet sharks,” due to the colorful patterns of many species, this order counts whale sharks, nurse sharks, and zebra sharks among its 43 species. Wobbegongs, of the family Orectolobidae, got their common name from the Australian Aboriginal word, which means “shaggy beard,” and describes the lobes which grow around the sharks’ mouths and act as sensory organs. Camouflage ambush predators, these sharks lie in wait on the seafloor until an unsuspecting fish strays close enough for them to grab.

“There are three species of wobbegong in central New South Wales, and they are hard to tell apart,” explains John. “As part of Marine Explorer, I try to show people the differences between species and so the wobby picture is part of that. The ornate wobby is the smallest and cutest of the three – sometimes you find them 30 cm or less. It shows that not all sharks are big and scary as popular culture would have us believe.”

Although a recent iNat member, John has been impressed with the community. “I have found iNaturalist to be great to confirm my IDs, and find ones  where I have mistaken one species for another,” he says. “The interaction with others with similar interests is most valuable. I am passionate about citizen science as a way of engaging people in nature and iNaturalist is a great example of this.”

- by Tony Iwane


- Check out Marine Explorer’s awesome Flickr and Vimeo pages!

- Here’s some nice footage of an Ornate Wobbegong resting on a rock.

- Great look at a Tasselled Wobbegong inhaling a fish! Marred by some overwrought narration and music, alas.

Posted on December 22, 2016 12:55 PM by tiwane tiwane | 1 comments | Leave a comment

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 | 2 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
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