August 25, 2016

Observation of the Week 8/24/16

This Spider-tailed Horned Viper, seen in Iran by matthieuberroneau, is our Observation of the Week!

I love snakes, and a few years ago my friend @robberfly sent me a video of the Spider-tailed Horned Viper. I was floored, and never forgot about this bizarre animal. So when Matthieu Berroneau’s observation of one (the first one with photographs on iNat) was being passed around by the iNat crew it made my day.

OK, personal tangent out of the way.

A professional herper and photographer in the south of France, Matthieu Berroneau has also been obsessed with this snake, ever since it was first described in 2006. Despite having recently returned from a trip to Malaysia, he and his companions had the opportunity to visit Iran and they couldn’t turn it down. They “planned to observe different crazy species of Amphibians and Reptiles of Iran like Paradactylodon persicus, Phrynocephalus mystaceus and of course Pseudocerastes urarachnoides (Spider-tailed Horned Viper).” And that they did - with the help of local guides and their own expertise, Matthieu and his group found over 60 reptiles during their two week, 5,500 km trek through the country. The search for Pseudocerastes urarachnoides in Iran’s Ilam province was an adventure in and of itself, involving armed guards, stormy weather, and of course an encounter with a venomous snake. Matthieu goes into more detail here, definitely check it out. “This day will live long in my memory and it is still with stars in the eyes that we leave Ilam,” he wrote. "Iran is an absolutely beautiful country inhabited by friendly and cheerful people, full of incredible scenery and unsuspected wildlife."

The first specimen of Pseudocerastes urarachnoides was collected in a 1968 survey and promptly misidentified as a Persian horned viper (Pseudocerastes persicus) with a tumor or growth, rather than a new species. When another specimen was collected in 2003, it spurred more research and the description of a new species in 2006. And researchers suspected that the snake used its strange tail as a lure (which many other snakes do), this behavior wasn’t observed in the wild in until 2008. With its perfectly camouflaged scales, the snake is well hidden from its prey until it’s too late. However, at least one snake has been observed having its spider appendage pecked clean off by a bird!

Matthieu recently joined iNaturalist, but he’s been documenting his finds online for much longer - his high quality photos are on Flickr; he and his friends have created Herpetofocus.fr, where they share their photos and experiences; and he has a Facebook page. He’ll continue posting to iNaturalist and says he’s found it useful for keeping track of where he’s found his many subject. “And if at the same time this can help the scientistic community and the conservation of endangered species,” he says, “it's perfect for me!”

- by Tony Iwane


- Here’s some footage of Pseudocerastes urarachnoides using its tail to catch a  bird.

- All of Matthieu’s iNat observations in Iran can be found here.

- Make sure to check out Herptofocus.fr’s trips page to read about their other amazing trips.

- The original published description of Pseudocerastes urarachnoides.

- Please note that while Matthieu writes excellent english, I did clean it some of his quotes for clarity.

Posted on August 25, 2016 03:16 PM by tiwane tiwane | 0 comments | Leave a comment

U.S. National Park Service - 100 Years, 100k Observations



The National Park Service (NPS) consisted of 35 parks and monuments when President Woodrow Wilson established it on August 25th, 1916. And in that same year, a fourteen year-old Ansel Adams, who had collected bugs and tromped through the wilderness of San Francisco as a young child, visited Yosemite National Park with his family. It was his first visit there, and he later wrote, “one wonder after another descended upon us...There was light everywhere...A new era began for me.”

One of the first inexpensive cameras in common use was the Kodak Brownie box camera, and Ansel was lucky enough to have one. He of course began to avidly photograph what he saw at Yosemite, on his way to becoming one of the most popular and influential photographers in the history of the medium. His photos (and his lobbying) were instrumental in the creation of King’s Canyon National Park and have inspired countless people to appreciate and preserve the natural world.

A century later, the National Park Service now oversees over 400 parks and monuments, which are visited by 300 million people every year. Visitors no longer carry Kodak Brownie cameras, but they are armed with smartphones; pocket-sized wonders combining cameras, gps antennae and internet connectivity.

Thus BioBlitz 2016, a citizen science project using iNaturalist to record as many species as possible in the national parks through this centennial year. And just in time for the NPS’s actual 100th birthday, iNat users have just passed the 100,000 observation mark in the NPS Servicewide BioBlitz project, which aggregates all observations throughout the system! That’s about 9% of all iNat observations recorded this year, worldwide - not bad. Over 10,000 species were recorded by over 5,000 users, ranging from the western Pacific to the coast of Maine, and all of the research grade data will be added to the National Park Service’s NPSpecies database, helping NPS staff gain a deeper knowledge of each park’s biodiversity. For example, 13 spider species, 17 lichen species, 2 terrestrial isopod species and 1 native earthwom species were all new species added to the George Washington Memorial Parkway’s list!

To help you get an idea of BioBlitz 2016’s scale (and because they’re cool), there are two interactive maps on this post - one up at the top of the post and one just below this paragraph, which include all observations in the project through 8/23/16. Make sure you play around with them! A big thanks to @loarie and @kueda for making the above and below interactive maps, respectively.

There’s still four months left in 2016, so get out there and make some observations in a nearby national park if you can. You’ll be helping in the greater understanding and preservation of over 84 million acres of land - an incredible heritage. Who knows, maybe you could be our next Ansel Adams!

by Tony Iwane


Psst! Since only verified observations will be added to NPSpecies, your identification assistance is critical for BioBlitz 2016 observations!  Use our Identify tool to identify any organisms in the project that you can - every little bit helps!

Posted on August 25, 2016 09:01 AM by tiwane tiwane | 0 comments | Leave a comment

August 22, 2016

Observation of the Week, 8/22/16

This Gelotopoia bicolor katydid, seen in Guinea by @nefariousdrru, is our Observation of the Week!

The above katydid is the first one of its species posted to iNaturalist, and it was found not by a professional naturalist or wildlife biologist, but by Heather, an infectious diseases epidemiologist!

This spring, Heather deployed to Guinea in response to a flare-up of the Ebola virus, working with the Council for State and Territorial Epidemiologists, who was helping the CDC staff the response. The flare-up happened in the forest and response time was critical, so the UN and WHO cleared some forest next a village and set up a camp for the responders.

When she visited the camp for the first time, Heather noticed a dead moth and some other insects. “As I was taking photos, I realized that what I thought was a twig hanging off the tent was actually a moth, so then I went looking for more,” she says. “I then realized that there were ‘bugs’ seemingly everywhere (at that time, my knowledge of insect taxonomy was pretty much just “butterfly, moth, ant, roach, praying mantis, and ‘bug’”). All that to say that, I didn’t know what I was looking at but I knew enough that it was special, even if just to me.” Heather continued to take photos in her spare time: “I’m a giant nerd and really enjoy adventuring. So, what that means is that on my adventures, I end up taking a lot of photos and working backwards.” After struggling with various identification resources, Heather heard the NPR story about iNaturalist, “so I figured I’d give these IDs another shot. That changed everything.”

Not much information is available about the Gelotopoia bicolor katydid, but katydids (Tettigoniidae, also known as “bush crickets”) are a large and incredibly diverse family of the order Orthoptera (the grasshoppers, crickets, katydids, and more). You can distinguish a katydid from its releatives by looking at its antennae - it has long, thin antennae, whereas grasshoppers have antennae which are shorter and more thick. Many katydids are actually predatory, with some species even predating snakes and lizards! Members of this family, like the one Heather found, have also evolved incredible camouflage.

Heather will continue to add observations from the places she travels to. “I’ve only been an INaturalist member for a couple of weeks now but now I know... there’s a place for my observations other than my ever expanding photos folder,” she says. “It has really helped me see how I fit into a larger community and appreciate the warmth of veteran naturalists who are willing to act as a resource for a newbie like myself.”

- by Tony Iwane


- Check out Heather’s other observations from Guinea here. Please help ID them if you’re knowledgeable about the region!

- Noted entomologist, author and photographer Piotr Naskrecki has written quite a few blog posts about katydids, showcasing their diversity. Here are some of them

- Katydid nymphs are usually really cool looking. Bugguide has a collection of nymph photos.

Posted on August 22, 2016 11:53 AM by tiwane tiwane | 0 comments | Leave a comment

August 10, 2016

Observation of the Week, 8/10/16

This Langaha pseudoalluaudi snake, seen in Madagascar by victorialnjackson, is our Observation of the Week!

“While I'm by no means an expert on Leaf-nosed Snakes from Madagascar...I can say that her observation is quite exciting,” writes herpetologist Paul Freed (@herpguy). “Of the three species of Leaf-nosed Snakes endemic to Madagascar, her observation is one of the rarest of the three.” Paul notes that in Gerald Kuchling’s paper from 2003, Kuchling says the species was described from only the type specimen, found in 1966! “It is possible that additional specimens have been seen/collected since 2003, but given their limited distribution in remote regions of northwestern Madagascar, and the cryptic appearance of this highly unusual snake, it's not likely that many other specimens have been found,” says Paul. This snake is also the first record of this species on iNaturalist as well.

Victoria Jackson, who posted this observation, is a student of Biological Sciences at the University of Exeter in the UK, and was a research assistant on an expedition that Operation Wallacea was conducting in northwestern Madagascar. “We surveyed everything from the trees and other plants to the invertebrates, herps, birds and mammals,” she says. “One of the herpetologists on the team was out on a survey when they found this Langaha pseudoalluaudi and brought it to the camp to show everyone (they put it back where it had been found afterwards). It was amazing to see, so delicate and beautiful and a very gentle snake.”

Very little is known about L. pseudoalluaudi, but the most common snake of the genus, L. madagascariensis, has been the study of some observation and research. It’s difficult to differentiate sexes in most snake species but in the Langaha genus, females have a more “leafy” snout, whereas the males have a snout that is more smooth and pointed. L. pseudoalluaudi females also have protruding scales above the eye, which L. madagascariensis females lack. Langaha snakes are considered ambush predators (makes sense) and hang from branches and vines in the forest, waiting for reptile and amphibian prey. They have been observed stalking and chasing lizards, however. Like many colubrid snakes, they are rear-fanged, basically meaning they have to chew on prey to envenomate it - which is exactly what this researcher let one of them do. He felt severe pain for hours, enough so that he “found it very difficult to sleep because of the intermittent severe throbbing and tenderness which continued throughout the night.”

Victoria (above, with a male white morph Paradise flycatcherTersiphone mutata) is hoping her studies will lead her to a career in biology, a field which has appealed to her since she was a child, “[and] which grew and grew through watching David Attenborough's nature programmes on TV.” She’s “interested in many aspects of biology, not just zoology and wildlife etc., but also genetics and cells and how everything works together.”

As for iNaturalist, Victoria loves using it to record what she sees every day, in addition to her trips abroad. “It's great when I don't know what something is because the chances are, other users will be able to identify it,” she says. “I think it's a great modern way to record your sightings on a database that scientists around the world can use!”

- by Tony Iwane


- A very nice little article (PDF) about observing L. madagascariensis behavior in the wild, something that has not been done much.

- Speaking of Sir David Attenborough, here’s a nice playlist from his great Life in Cold Blood series.

Posted on August 10, 2016 06:42 PM by tiwane tiwane | 1 comments | Leave a comment

August 04, 2016

Observation of the Week, 8/4/16

This Antarctic Minke Whale, seen by @clinton in Auckland, New Zealand, is our Observation of the Week!

“I fully expected that we would have to euthanize the animal as it was in a very unusual location for that species (i.e. stuck on a tidal flat well up a very busy harbour) and its height on the flat meant it had to have been there for some time,” recalls Clinton Duffy, a Technical Advisor-Marine, in the Marine Ecosystems Team, New Zealand Department of Conservation. “However, we were surprised to find the animal was calm and very alert, and in good condition with no external signs of injury.”

Trained volunteers from Project Jonah had already been on the scene, managing spectators and stabilizing the whale. As the ride rose, Clinton and two others (Yuin Kai Foong and Dr. Rochelle Cosntantine) stayed with the whale as the crowds dispersed. The whale was walked into deeper water, submerging then surfacing for breath. “This went on for about 40 minutes during which time a boat load of volunteers arrived in wet suits and were able to help keep the whale upright. Then suddenly, without any warning the whale began swimming at speed towards the main channel.” They followed it in boats in an attempt to steer it out to sea, but it eventually disappeared. “Hard to believe you could lose an animal that size. I think we all expected it to turn up on another mudflat on the next tide but it was never seen again.  All in all it was a good result,” he says.

Cetaceans (whales and dolphins) strand for many reasons, such as illness, age, navigational errors, and noise pollution from sonar. Sometimes mass strandings occur, and it’s thought to be caused by the intense social bonds in some species - a few may strand, then send out alarm signals to others, who also get caught ashore. According to Project Jonah, New Zealand has one of the highest stranding rates in the world, averaging about 300 per year. Antarctic Minke Whales are the third smallest baleen whale species in the world, with females averaging about 29.2 ft in length and males 28.2 ft in length. Their relatively small size made them unattractive to the whaling industry and it wasn’t until the 20th century that some were commercially hunted, mainly for their meat, and thus Antarctic Minke Whales are now among the most numerous of baleen whales, with population numbering in the hundreds of thousands.

“A lot of my work involves the investigation and establishment of marine protected areas,” says Clinton. “I have a broad in interest in marine biodiversity but I am particularly interested in the biology of sharks and rays.” His current research interests include the movements, habitat use and population size of Great white sharks, and he’s also interested in spurdogs and smoothhounds in the South Pacific. As a child he spent many holidays in a small beach house on the Wairaparapa Coast, and was interested in the flora and fauna he found there. “Not many people were able to tell me the names of the plants and animals I found or caught so I had to teach myself using whatever books I could find or was given."

Clinton considers himself a fairly new iNaturalist/NatureWatchNZ (iNat’s sister site in New Zealand) user, but he’s already found several interesting observations that might be records for New Zealand, which he’s passed on to other scientists. “Beyond that,” he says, “I am considering starting a project focussed on sharks and rays occurring in the South Pacific to see if we can generate better information on potentially threatened species in the region, and I would like to begin others devoted to the fauna and flora of the Waitemata and Manukau Harbours, here in New Zealand.”

- by Tony Iwane


- National Geographic shows a close encounter with an Antarctic Minke Whale in...Antarctica.

- A classic YouTube video shows two divers having a very close encounter with two baleen whales. Yikes!

- If you find a stranded whale or dolphin, it’s best to call experts, as helping such large animals can be dangerous for both you and the animal. Here’s a list of contacts for the U.S.

Posted on August 04, 2016 12:14 AM by tiwane tiwane | 0 comments | Leave a comment

July 26, 2016

Observation of the Week, 7/27/16

This parasitic Isopod seen by @oryzias outside of Hong Kong is our Observation of the Week!

Like many of us, Hung-Tsun Cheng became infatuated with animals and nature after learning about dinosaurs. As a child, his father took him on weekend hikes “if I finished my homework,” bringing along a net to look for fish in the streams. He was especially fascinated by fish that had developed sucker-like fins on their bellies that allowed them to stay put in fast-flowing streams.

While recently moving some Sumatran silverside fish (Hypoatherina valenciennei) from a drying-out tidepool, Hung-Tsun noticed one that was unhealthy. And on closer inspection, he found a parasitic isopod attached to it!

While it’s tough to ID, this isopod most likely belongs to the Cymothoidae family of isopods, which are parasitic, mainly on fish, and found in both marine and freshwater environments. There are about 380 described species in the family, and they feed on blood. Interestingly, these isopods are protandrous hermaphrodites, meaning they are all males when they are juveniles, but become female when they attach to their species-specific host. Perhaps the most well-known member of this family is Cymothoa exigua, which feeds on the tongues of snapper fish. Eventually, the fish’s tongue withers and dies, but the fish will actually use the isopod as a prosthetic tongue! The isopod presumably stays in there as it is a safe place for its young to develop.

The Hong Kong area has quite a thriving iNaturalist community, with over 15,000 observations of 2,999 (so close to 3,000!) species made by 257 observers. @sunnetchan has over 4,000 of those observations and has written a passionate journal entry about documenting every living thing he can. @hkmoths has started a Hong Kong Moths project to document moth species and abundance. Keep up the awesome work, Hong Kong iNatters!

- by Tony Iwane


- A nice write-up in Wired about Cymothoa exigua, and some videos showing them. Not for the squeamish!

- It’s National Moth Week! Roger Kendrick (@hkmoths) has a nice article about moths and citizen science on their website. Get out and find some moths!

Posted on July 26, 2016 10:10 PM by tiwane tiwane | 0 comments | Leave a comment

July 20, 2016

Observation of the Week, 7/20/16

This Rainbow Whiptail seen by @dllavaneras in Venezuela is our Observation of the Week!

An entomologist living and working in Venezuela, Daniel Llavaneras and fellow members of ConBiVe (a non-profit dedicated to the conservation of Venezuelan biodiversity) recently went on an exploratory research trip to Venezuela’s San Esteban National Park. On the last day of their visit, they went to Isla Larga, which is just off the coast. “We saw a wildlife cornucopia,” he says, “from squids and fishes to sea urchins and feather duster worms. Once we got out of the water, we thought that the wildlife surprises were over, and then we saw a blue streak dashing across the sand towards us.” That blue streak was the Rainbow Whiptail pictured above. It approached the group and “started eating the ants that were coming to and from a nearby nest. It gave me enough time to pull out my camera and shoot a few frames before some enthusiastic tourists approached it too quickly and it ran away.”

Rainbow Whiptails are quick, vibrantly-colored lizards native to the Caribbean, Central America and South America, and have now become established in Florida. Some populations of this lizard and other members of its are all-female or mostly female and reproduce by parthenogenesis (laying unfertilized eggs), and they have been known to engage in pseudocopulation, in which two females engage in mating-like behavior.

Daniel’s interest in natural history began during childhood (“I still have the newspaper clipping when Cryolophosaurus ellioti was published; it amazed me that dinosaurs could be found in what is now Antarctica,” he says), and his current main interests include urban biodiversity and citizen science/outreach. “The incredible diversity of animals that thrive (or at least still survive) in an increasingly urbanized area is something that greatly interests me,” he says. Daniel’s been following the rise and fall of different species in and around Caracas, noting that while he hasn’t seen a spreadwing damselfly (once common) in five years, other animals like macaws, sloths and even frogs can be found in abundance in certain areas. “The number of species that I’ve found in my house since I moved three years ago is over 100, most being insects and spiders, but also geckos and birds, including one stray vulture (I live on a 6th floor).”

Daniel only recently joined iNaturalist, after hearing about it from a colleague, but says that using iNaturalist has already “cemented and refined the way I document my wildlife observations. My notes always include behavior and other miscellaneous tidbits, but they sometimes stay in my field notebook for weeks or months, with many organisms without IDs. By uploading to iNaturalist I can get help from other colleagues around the world, and I can also help with citizen science, an area that I really enjoy.” He’s optimistic that through citizen science and other forms of outreach, “people [will] realize that there is a lot to gain with conservation and ecotourism.”

by Tony Iwane


- You can follow Daniel on Twitter and Instagram, and he says he’s happy to help with insect IDs and answer questions.

- Here’s a paper Daniel helped with, looking into whether or not sylvatic bugs are becoming associated with human dwellings.

Posted on July 20, 2016 08:54 PM by tiwane tiwane | 0 comments | Leave a comment

July 08, 2016

Observation of the Week, 7/8/16

This Fan-throated Lizard seen by @ashutoshshinde in India is our Observation of the Week.

Sometimes you’ll get lucky and take a great animal photo without much effort, but that’s usually not the case. And it definitely was not the case for Ashutosh Shinde and his companions, but photos like the one above make it all worth it.

Ashutosh has always been interested in animals and nature, but a visit to the Gir Forest in Gujarat (last home of the Asiatic Lion) in 2013 really got him interested in nature photography. “I clicked many images (most of them are of trash quality ;) ),” he admits, “but it took off from there.”

He’s long been fascinated by the stunning Fan-throated Lizards of India, so he and a group of fellow photographers drove nearly four hours to the lizard’s habitat and began to search for this tiny reptile. They soon lucked into a male displaying on a rock and then used teamwork to keep track of it and take photos. “Since the texture of the dorsal part of the body was extremely camouflaged, we had decided that one out of three will always keep an eye on the lizard's movement while the rest of the three are shooting and this activity continued in turns so that each one of us get to photograph the beauty.” The group also made sure to not disturb the animal and interrupt it during mating season, using only telephoto lenses for their shots. “The entire stint of 3-4 hours was one of the best times spent in wild so far,” says Ashutosh. “Finally we said goodbye to this beautiful species, with heavy heart but with a promise to come back next season.”

Like the Fan-throated Lizard, quite a few lizard species have a dewlap, or loose fold of skin on the throat, that they can extend by using internal cartilaginous structures. These displays are used to attract mates and communicate with other males regarding territory, and territorial disputes can lead to violent fights between males.

“Currently, as i am relatively amateur in this field, I try to learn each and every thing in nature which comes up to me...may it be mammals, birds, or insects,” says Ashutosh. He uses iNaturalist not only to identify the organisms he finds, but to discover other species he has never heard of before. And his philosophy about wildlife photography?

“If you show patience and respect for nature, it will never send you empty handed. Hence follow utmost care and practice best ethical wildlife photography techniques while on the field, you will surely be rewarded with an outstanding shot.”

- by Tony Iwane


- Awesome video showing Fan-throated Lizards in action courtesy of the Maharashtra Forest Department.

- V. Deepak of the Indian Institute of Science in Bangalore has recently discovered five species of Fan-throated Lizards. 

- Sir David Attenborough elicits some territorial displays from an Anole lizard by using a mirror.

- Other iNat users have also posted excellent photos of Fan-throated Lizards, check ‘em out here.

- BBC made a nice documentary about the Asiatic Lions of Gir Forest.

Posted on July 08, 2016 12:10 AM by tiwane tiwane | 1 comments | Leave a comment

June 30, 2016

Observation of the Week 6/29/16

This Sea Urchin Crab, seen in Hawaii by davidr, is our Observation of the Week.

“Truth be told,” says David Rolla, “I was uncertain that anyone else would appreciate [this crab] -  after all, in the words of my dive buddy, ‘it’s a butt crab!’”

Yes, the tiny crab you see above, whose scientific name is Echinoecus pentagonus, is ensconced in the anal pore of a sea urchin, and its carapace measures only 1.3 cm (0.5 in) across at most. Ranging from the Red Sea into Polynesia, this crab species is a sea urchin parasite and in Hawaii is found in the rectums of Banded Sea Urchins (Echinothrix calamaris). David has attempted to photograph these tiny crabs before, but “for obvious reasons, capturing a well-lit and properly focused image of this particular crab is rather challenging.” However, on a recent dive off of Pupukea, Oahu, he came across this urchin. “Normally, I would pass by without so much as a glance, but something caught my eye. Upon closer inspection, I could see the crab in its usual location — the anal pore of the urchin.  And on this occasion, the pore appeared to be fully dilated, providing a better view of the crab.” David took a dozen shots of it, and “later that day, when I first saw the image on my computer screen, there was a little rush of excitement — success!!  It is a unique portrait of a rather unusual animal.”

The ocean off of Hawaii is a far cry from David’s childhood in a rural area of the Appalachian Mountains of eastern North America, but his second grade teacher Mrs. Keith maintained a small saltwater aquarium in her classroom that lit a fire in him. “With great interest and enthusiasm, I learned all about the animals and the delicate environment required to support life - the water temperature, salt content, and pH levels,” says David. “In between grammar and arithmetic lessons, we were observing sea stars and breeding seahorses...how cool is that?” Mrs. Keith’s aquarium and his childhood memories of watching The Undersea World of Jacques Cousteau still in his mind, David finally got his SCUBA certification two decades later and has been hooked ever since.

In 2011, NOAA scientist Kyle Van Houtan saw David’s photo of a Hawksbill Sea Turtle (above) and invited him to add it to the Hawaii Sea Turtle Monitoring project on iNaturalist. “To say that [iNaturalist] has changed the way I relate to nature and the natural world would be an understatement,” says David. “It has rekindled my childhood curiosity and passion for learning about all living things. It inspires me to explore, to discover, and to appreciate the mystery and beauty of nature — every day.” He continues to be amazed by the growth of iNaturalist’s community and has enjoyed meeting fellow naturalists both virtually and in person. “Mahalo and aloha to the entire iNaturalist community — especially to those working so tirelessly behind the scenes to make it happen!!”

- by Tony Iwane


- Check out David’s photography on Flickr!

- The bizarre world of parasitic crustaceans - yikes!

- Here’s a video of a slightly different crab-urchin relationship.

- If you want to kick it old school, looks like there are still some episodes of The Undersea World of Jacques Cousteau on YouTube.

Posted on June 30, 2016 04:14 PM by tiwane tiwane | 1 comments | Leave a comment

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 07:53 PM by tiwane tiwane | 0 comments | Leave a comment
Member of the iNaturalist Network   |   Powered by iNaturalist open source software