February 07, 2016

Its Cactus Week on iNaturalist! Feb 7 - 13, 2016

That’s right, it’s not only critters on the Critter Calendar - this week we welcome our first plant group, the family Cactaceae, or cacti!

While there are exceptions (we’ll get to those later), the vast majority of cacti are succulent plants who have evolved to live in arid or semi-arid conditions. They’ve traded true leaves for spines and use their fleshy, water-storing stems to carry out photosynthesis, which dramatically reduces moisture loss. It’s these famous spines and how they grow that separate true cacti from similar-looking plants such as Aloes and Agaves (but some unrelated spiny Euphorbias mentioned below can look an awful lot like true cacti!). Look closely at the spines of a true cactus and you will see they grow from a structure (often wooly or hairy) on the stem called an areole. Areoles are believed to be condensed shoots or branches, and spines and flowers emerge from them (Euphorbia spines don’t grow from areole and also have milky sap). While cactus stems and leaves are some of the most modified and specialized in the plant kingdom, their flowers are almost unchanged from some of the very first ancestral flower. They are radial in shape and have many petals and stamens. Cactus flowers all rely on birds, insects, and bats as pollinators.

A familiar cactus is the Prickly Pear (Genus Opuntia), which has flat paddle-like stems and brightly-colored flowers and fruit. Both the young paddles and the fruit are commonly eaten by humans (if you've every had nopales!) and many animals such as tortoises and birds. Like all true cacti, Prickly Pears are native to the the new world but have been introduced to many other continents by humans.

The huge, iconic Saguaro Cactus is found naturally only in Sonoran Desert of the southwestern United States and northwestern Mexico. While they have been known to reach heights of over 70 feet, this is an exceptionally slow growing plant - an inch-tall cactus might be ten years old! Saguaros become homes for many animals, including many birds who nest in holes made by Gila woodpeckers. The Saguaro is a famous example of a bat pollinated cactus.

The only Cactaceae member found growing naturally outside of the new world is the Mistletoe Cactus, which is found in Africa, Sri Lanka and some islands in the Indian Ocean, as well as South America. It is an epiphyte with long dangling stems and white berries, somewhat resembling mistletoe.

Plants of the genus Pereskia are the only cacti who have persistent non-succulent leaves. However, look for the tell-tale areoles from which their spines emerge. These plants live in tropical regions of the new world and may resemble shrubs, vines, or trees. It is thought that the cactus ancestor resembled Pereskia.

If you think you see any of these this week, share your observations with us. We’ll be keeping track here. Happy Cactaceae hunting!

Posted on February 07, 2016 10:26 PM by loarie loarie | 5 comments | Leave a comment

February 04, 2016

Observation of the Week, 2/3/16

This Southern Desert Horned Lizard seen by flygrl67 in Joshua Tree National Park, California, is our Observation of the Week!

Michelle C. Torres-Grant (@flygrl67) recalls that “one of my favorite things to do [as a child] was turn over rocks and check out all the critters. All the hidden life amazed and fascinated me.” Her busy life led her away from exploring nature, but when the 2008 recession hit and she had to quit her hobby as an aviator, Michelle says “suddenly I had a lot of time on my hands, and after having lived in San Luis Obispo (SLO) since 1988 I finally decided to start hiking regularly and exploring the local trails.” She has been photographing and documenting her hikes since then.

Michelle has also been a professional architectural photographer since 2012, but lately “photography became almost all work and no play.” Luckily for her (and iNat), she was acquainted with iNaturalist users R.J. Adams (@rjadams55), Christian Schwarz (@leptonia), Damon Tighe (@damontighe), and John Brew (@brewbrooks), who inspired her to make her first iNaturalist post - California’s new State Lichen, seen on a private tour with Christian (see below - from L to R Christian, Professor Tom Volk, Michelle, and Michelle’s husband Leonard). Since then Michelle has posted over ninety observations, many taken from the “hundreds, maybe thousands” of images in her photo vault from all those years of documenting hikes - including this Southern Desert Horned Lizard.

As a flight attendant whose regular route included flights to Palm Springs, Michelle loved seeing the desert in bloom during springtime and in 2010 finally organized a trip there for her 43rd birthday. It was on her birthday when she photographed the Horned Lizard while hiking the Lost Palm Oasis trail in Joshua Tree National Park. “I remember seeing it hanging out right beside the trail, and I found it especially interesting because of its coral coloring, which I had never seen before on a horned lizard, not that I had seen many horned lizards in my life.”

One of the Mojave Desert’s more well-camouflaged reptiles (which Michelle captured wonderfully), Desert Horned Lizards are insectivores who specialize in eating ants. And while some species of Horned Lizard are known for their ability to squirt blood from their eyes as a defensive measure, Desert Horned Lizards cannot. They instead rely on camouflage and frantic scurrying to escape predation.

“I'm enjoying going back through all the old pix, which are bringing up so many memories of some great outings, and it has reminded me to keep exploring the environment,” says Michelle. “My hopes in using iNaturalist are that I'll learn more about my immediate environment and eco-system, and how it fits into the larger ecosystem of our region, the world, and universe.”

- by Tony Iwane

You can check out Michelle’s photos on Flickr here.

Here’s some information about Christian Schwarz’s Redwood Coast Tours.

Posted on February 04, 2016 12:23 PM by tiwane tiwane | 0 comments | Leave a comment

January 31, 2016

Woodpecker Week Wrap

We're entering week 5 of our Critter Calendar but have gotten a bit behind on these wraps. So here's a quick long overdue breakdown of what happend during Woodpecker Week on iNaturalist! We counted 172 Observations by 98 observers representing 22 distinct species.


During Woodpecker Week we didn't get any of the non-woodpecker Piciformes (toucans, barbets, etc.), but we got plenty of Woodpeckers! Downy woodpecker was the most frequently seen, followed by Northern Flicker, Red-bellied woodpecker and Yellow-bellied sapsucker. @robberfly and @kimssight each managed to tick 5 distinct species in the California San Francisco and Los Angeles regions respectively. @sanguinaria33 found woodpeckers 6 of the 7 days of Woodpecker Week near Chicago reporting a total of 10 observations. Some of the most exciting woodpeckers came from @bob-dodge who was in Cuba during the week and managed to tick Cuban Green and West Indian Woodpeckers. Some interesting observations from Mexico yielded species like Golden fronted and Golden cheeked Woodpeckers. And in Europe, Great Spotted and Green Woodpeckers checked including a Great Spotted observation posed by @at8eqeq3 from Russia!

A Pileated Woodpecker observed by Wendy Feltham (@wendy5)

We'll try to get wraps for Hawk and Duck Weeks up ASAP, but for now, Heron Week is just starting so get outside and find us some of these waders!

Thanks to Francesco Veronesi, Laura Gooch, Victoria Gracia, Jerry Oldenettel, Jason Means, Andy Blackledge, Gavan Watson, Dwight Beers, Minette Layne, Eddie Callaway, Vitaliy Khustochka, Doug Greenberg, Dawn Vornholt, Dmitry Mozzherin, Mike Baird, Cheryl Harleston, Dominic Sherony, Scott Young, Doug Greenberg, Shelley & Dave, Jim Frazier for licensing their photography for use in the graphic.

Posted on January 31, 2016 10:08 PM by loarie loarie | 2 comments | Leave a comment

It's Heron Week on iNaturalist! Jan 31 - Feb 6

The Critter Calendar stays in the wetlands and watery areas of the world as we focus on the order Pelicaniformes - a diverse group of birds that includes pelicans, herons, ibises, spoonbills and more!

Comprising medium-sized and large water birds, the taxonomy of the Pelicaniformes has gone through many changes, and for this week we are going with the International Ornithological Committee’s definition, which includes the following families:

Herons and Bitterns

The Ardeidae are the Herons, Egrets and Bitterns, who use their long legs and necks to to stalk their prey, often along the water’s edge. Herons like the Grey Heron have grey, blue and other dark feathers, while egrets are herons who have white or buff feathers. Egrets in the United States were nearly hunted to extinction in the early 1900s, due to their plumed feathers being sought after for women’s hats. Bitterns are smaller than herons and have shorter necks and brown/tan plumage. The Ardeidae fly with their long necks retracted and their legs held straight back.


The large gular pouches under their long bills make the pelicans (Pelecanidae) instantly recognizable. They prowl coastal and inland waters around the world and often skim just over the water’s surface as they fly, using ground effect to keep them in the air. The four “white” pelican species, like the Great White Pelican, nest on the ground, whereas four darker colored species, like the Brown Pelican, nest in trees or rocks. They will catch multiple fish in their pouches then drain out the water before swallowing.

Ibises and Spoonbills

Found mostly in standing or slow-moving brackish water, the ibises and spoonbills (Threskiornikidae) have long necks and legs like the Ardeidae, but hold their necks out straight while in flight. Spoonbills like the Royal Spoonbill have flat and wide spoon-shaped tips to their bills, which they use to find aquatic creatures as they sweep through the water. The bills of the ibises point downward and they use a probing motion to feed for invertebrates in the mud. Ibises are gregarious birds and are usually found in groups.


The Shoebill (Balaenicipitidae), which ranges throughout swamps of central Africa, lives up to its name - it sports a large, wide bill with sharp edges, which it can use to decapitate the lungfish which make up most of its diet. It is the only member of its family and is highly sought after by birders.


Like the Shoebill, the Hamerkop (Scopidae) is also a single species family from Africa. Their name means hammer-head in Afrikaans. Hamerkops have brown plumage and and shorter legs and necks than other wading birds in this order. Bizarrely they also have partially-webbed feet and will join together in “ceremonies,” where they call loudly, raise their crests, flap their wings and and run in circles around each other. Hamerkops build giant nests that resemble huge piles of sticks high up in trees very similar in appearance to the pack-rat nests seen in North America.

If you think you see any of these this week, share your observations with us. We’ll be keeping track here. Happy Pelicaniforme hunting!

Posted on January 31, 2016 08:36 PM by loarie loarie | 2 comments | Leave a comment

January 28, 2016

Welcome to the New iNaturalist Blog!

Stay tuned for updates about the site, new and notable findings from iNat users, and other stuff from the iNat universe!

Posted on January 28, 2016 10:48 AM by kueda kueda | 4 comments | Leave a comment

Observation of the Week, 1/27/2016

This Fried Egg Jellyfish seen by nilsradecker off of Sardinia, Italy is our Observation of the Week.

When asked how he became interested in wildlife, Nils Radecker replied “As Attenborough once pointed out, I believe this question is the wrong way around. All children are interested in nature, we just have to make sure not to lose this interest. I think getting out there and seeing it for yourself is all you need to do to keep this interest alive.” When he was a child, Nils’ parents took him to many places to see nature, and his passion for it has definitely not abated. Raised in Germany, he has observed wildlife around the world and is now studying coral reefs in Saudi Arabia for his PhD.

In 2013 his travels took him to Gennargentu National Park on the island of Sardinia and nearby Cala Goloritze bay. He and his marine biologist friends explored the “crystal clear water” which was filled with sea life. And at its outer reaches, “currents were bringing in all kinds of jellyfish into the bay. Among those the infamous Fried Egg Jellyfish (Cotylorhiza tuberculata).” Found only in the Mediterranean region, this jellyfish’s population reaches its peak in late summer and can be more easily seen close to shore during that time. “Of course,” says Nils, “we used this amazing opportunity for some pictures of this iconic species.”

Growing up near the ocean in Northern Germany, the marine world has always been a part of Nils’ life, and as he studied biology “it just became obvious that the marine environment is the biggest mystery we have left on our planet. So I was keen to go into the unknown and eventually ended up studying coral reefs.” His research focuses on coral bleaching (see photo above, showing Nils swimming over bleached coral in the Red Sea), which is a disruption between the “crucial symbiosis of corals and associated algae living in their tissue due to ocean warming.” He and his team are trying to understand the mechanism of coral bleaching and have recently discovered that bacteria are part of this process. They “hope that this may hold the key to preventing future coral bleaching. But unfortunately there’s still a lot of work ahead for us.”

Puzzled by how little was known about Saudi Arabia’s wildlife, Nils found iNaturalist when he was looking for a way he and his colleagues could record their everyday wildlife observations. He says, “I believe it’s the ideal platform to share this kind of knowledge with everyone. I sincerely hope I can convince more people in the region to use this tool to finally get an idea what is out there.”

- by Tony Iwane

photo of Nils by Claudia Pogoreutz

- Here’s an article recently published by Nils and his colleagues.

- Check out this video of a swimming Fried Egg Jellyfish.

- Another jellyfish, the Phacellophora camtschatica, is also called the Fried Egg Jellyfish, but it lives in colder waters and can grow to enormous proportions - its tentacles can reach 6 m (20 ft) long!

Posted on January 28, 2016 03:52 AM by tiwane tiwane | 0 comments | Leave a comment

January 24, 2016

It's Duck Week on iNaturalist! Jan 24 - 30

This week on the Critter Calendar we moved from soaring raptors to the aquatic birds of the order Anseriformes - ducks, geese, swans and screamers.

Counting some of the most familiar and iconic birds in the world as members, the Anseriformes are well adapted to living life at the water’s surface. They all have webbed feet for powerful swimming, most have special oils which protect their feathers from water, and their bills have special filters, called lamellae, which help them feed on the plants that make up most of their adult diets

Ducks, Geese, and Swans

Nearly all Anseriformes belong to the family Anatidae, which includes the ducks, geese and swans. Dabbling ducks, like the ubiquitous Mallard, tend to feed in shallower waters where they can upend themselves to feed on shallow aquatic vegetation, their hindquarters sticking above the water’s surface. Diving ducks such as Ring-necked duck tend to submerge their entire bodies when searching for food, and have larger feet than dabblers. Many ducks are sexually dimorphous - males often have bold colors and patterns, while females are usually drab in plumage. The Paradise Shelduck is a notable exception to this pattern.

Geese and swans of the subfamily Anserinae are bigger than ducks and have longer necks. Large Mute Swans are known to have wingspans reaching 3 m (9.8 ft) and may weigh 15 kg (33 lbs). Geese and ducks can often be found feeding on terrestrial vegetation.


The family Anhimidae, or “screamers,” consists of three species who live in South America. More terrestrial than the Anatidae, their feet are only partially webbed and their bills are more pointed than flattened. Bizarrely, they have air bubbles in their skin which supposedly make crackling noises when pressed!

Magpie Goose

Papua New Guinea and Northern Australia are home to the lone species of this family, the Magpie Goose. Their bill shows they belong in the Anseriformes but are considered an early offshoot within the order. Magpie geese have black and white plumage, yellow legs, and can congregate in large groups during breeding season.

If you think you see any of these this week, share your observations with us. We’ll be keeping track here. Happy Anseriforme hunting!

Posted on January 24, 2016 05:55 PM by loarie loarie | 0 comments | Leave a comment

January 22, 2016

Observation of the Week, 1/19/2016

This Lorestan Newt seen by apbbani in the Khuzestan Province of Iran is our Observation of the Week.

Parham Beyhagi has loved animals since he was a child. He owned an aquarium at the age of ten and soon began to build his own terrariums for reptiles and amphibians. This fascination led him to focus on herpetology after university and he now studies reptiles and amphibians and is an advocate for their preservation.

The rare Lorestan Newt (Neurergus kaiseri) has fascinated Parham since he was a child, and from early on he “wanted to know about them and see them in the natural places where they live.” Habitat loss and illegal collection for the pet trade are two threats to the Lorestan Newt, and Parham says “this observation is very important and shows us that we must keep conserving this special species in Iran if we want to see them later in the wild in their natural habitat.” Parham and other colleagues are actively working on a conservation project for this newt.

In addition to research, Parham teaches about herps all around Iran, especially to children and ecotour leaders. He “finds species and talks to local people about the species that live in their places...I tell them about the decreasing of their populations...and want them to pay attention to the ecological effects of their works and help these animals.”

He and his colleagues have an Amphibians of Iran website and also a project on iNaturalist to educate the world about the herpetofauna of the country. “I want to share some of my information to other people who are interested in amphibians and reptiles of Iran and use information that other people share,” says Parham. He hopes that with more exposure on iNaturalist and other sites, interest and support for conserving Iran’s reptiles and amphibians will grow.

by Tony Iwane

- One of the most amazing reptiles in Iran is the Spider-tailed Horned Viper (Pseudocerastes urarachnoides). Here’s a video of its tail in action.

Posted on January 22, 2016 01:32 PM by tiwane tiwane | 0 comments | Leave a comment

January 21, 2016

Cormorant Week Wrap

We kicked off the Critter Calendar in style with a record breaking Cormorant Week on iNaturalist! We counted 89 Observations from 11 countries by 54 observers representing 15 distinct species.


As expected, we had a lot of Double-crested Cormorants checking in from North America, but we counted seven different Cormorants in total. Gena Bentall (@gbentall) managed to tick all 3 cormorants from California at Moss Landing, near Monterey

The relatively widespread Neotropical Cormorant and Great Cormorant were each well represented across the Neotropics, North America, and Europe. We also counted two cormorants from Australia and New Zealand. The Little Black Cormorant from New Zealand is well represented on iNat, but was missed this week. We also dipped on a few African species that have previously checked into iNat, but not this week.

A swimming Double-crested Cormorant observed by @tnewman


The American Anhinga was well represented from the New World, and thanks to efforts by Ry Beaver (@ryber), we had a second Anhinga species with his Australian Darter from near Perth.

Gannets and Boobies

James Shelton (@james5) found a couple of Northern Gannets on the Virginia coast. It looked like we weren't going to get any Boobies, and then Colin Morita (@colinmorita) came through with visit a Hawaiian Red Footed Booby colony. And towards the end of the week, @icosahedron reported 3 Booby Species from the Galapagos!


We had 2 species of Frigatebird check in. The Greater Frigatebird also from the Galapagos, and the Magnificant Frigatebird from Florida, Mexico, and this great spotting of one perched by Scott Trageser (@naturestills) from Barbuda. Both Roger Shaw (@aredoubles) and @tnewman managed to tick Magnificant Frigatebird along with two other species (Anghinga and Double-crested) in Florida this week.

This was the biggest week ever on iNaturalist by number of Cormorant (Suliformes) observations! We appreciate everyone who participated help kicking of the Critter Calendar, and remember, Hawk Week is currently underway - so get outside and find us some raptors!

Details on how we're counting

Thanks to everyone for bearing with us as we fiddle with this Critter Calendar idea. We'll likely change some of the details for how we're counting as we (a) learn from this experience and (b) make some changes to the software. But for now, we're counting (adding to the project) everything observed during the Calendar Week (ie Midnight Sunday through Midnight the following Sunday in London) that is a candidate to become Research Grade (e.g. has a photo, location etc.) and we have permissions to add to the project. The way iNaturalist counts species varies a bit on the site, but we're counting distinct taxa (ie all taxa minus their ancestors).

Thanks to Blake Matheson, Dario Sanches, barloventomagico, birdman_of_jalova David and Dorothy Jenkins (Sharing for 2015), Mikko Koponen, Len Blumin, Drew Avery, Kevin Rolle, Blake Matheson, Jerry Kirkhart, Franco Folini, Marj Kibby, Jan Smith, Xavier Ceccaldi for licensing their photography for use in the graphic.

Posted on January 21, 2016 09:37 PM by loarie loarie | 0 comments | Leave a comment

January 17, 2016

Its Hawk Week on iNaturalist! Jan 17 - 23

It’s another bird week on our Critter Calendar, and this week we’re focusing on the Hawks, Eagles, and their relatives, collectively known as the Accipitriformes.

This order contains most of the diurnal birds of prey, nearly all of whom have large broad wings, sharp hooked beaks, and strong raptorial (aka grasping) claws. While falcons are similar to eagles and hawks, genetic testing has shown them to be more closely related to parrots and passerine birds and are not included in the accipitriformes order.


The Accipitridae are a diverse group which includes large hunting birds such as eagles and hawks (also known as buzzards), and carrion eaters like the Old World vultures. They possess formidable eyesight, some seeing 8 times better than humans, and birds like the buteos can often be seen soaring high on thermals, looking for prey for far below them. Others like the smaller accipiters are smaller and quicker and will catch birds on the wing while flying through wooded areas. And Kites of the genus Elaninae hover over open fields, looking for rodents. Birds of this family can be found on all continents except for Antarctica.

New World Vultures

Unlike the Accipitridae, New World vultures such as the ubiquitous Turkey vultures and Black vultures have strong senses of smell, which they use for finding rotting carcasses. Their heads are featherless, their claws do not grasp strongly, and they are the birds best-adapted to soaring, sometimes traveling miles and miles each day on thermals.


Ospreys are birds of prey who specialize in hunting fish. They are the only extant species in the family Pandionidae, and can be found worldwide wherever there is a body of water large enough to offer them a steady supply of food. Ospreys have brown upper parts and white underparts which may have some dark streaks.

Secretary Bird

And finally the family Sagittariidae, which also counts only one species as a member - the Secretary Bird. Found in the Sub-Saharan region of Africa, this mostly terrestrial raptor looks like a mash-up between an eagle and a crane, having a strong hooked bill and long legs, which it uses for running down prey on open grasslands. In addition to its body structure, the Secretary Bird has a distinctive crest of black feathers on the back of its head.

If you think you see any of these this week, share your observations with us. We'll be keeping track here. Happy Accipitriforme hunting!

Posted on January 17, 2016 09:33 PM by tiwane tiwane | 3 comments | Leave a comment
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