June 24, 2017

Observation of the Week, 6/23/17



This Bird’s Nest orchid, seen in Lithuania by @almantas, is our Observation of the Week! 

Almantas Kulbis is a professional nature educator at the Lithuanian Centre of Non-formal Youth Education, and he just plain loves doing it. “For me my work is leisure too,” he says. “The main object of my nature observations is usually plants. I like to explore flora when I'm traveling or just walking in surroundings. Although I'm not a professional natural photographer, I do share my discoveries to people in articles, TV shows or books. I have always stressed that the grandeur of nature is composed of a lot of small details.”

Details, for instance, like the many flowers on the Bird’s Nest orchid that he photographed. “Bird's nest orchid is quite a rare plant in Lithuania,” says Almantas. “In June I wandered near the forest where I was knew this plant grew. I had observed this orchid there about 15 years ago. It was amazing to see almost a hundred of flowering Bird's Nest orchids again! Despite the very active biting mosquitoes, I made a series of photos of these orchids that I happily shared with other people.”

The Bird’s Nest orchid is a pretty amazing plant. Lacking chlorophyll, it is unable to photosynthesize and make its own energy; it instead relies on the mycelium of the Rhizoctonia neottiae fungus, which breaks down the soil into nutrients that the plant can absorb through its tangle of its eponymous nest-like roots. After nine years (!), the orchid finally shoots up a leafless stalk of brownish flowers in the summer. It is not known for certain whether the fungus benefits from this relationship with the orchid. Bird’s Nest orchids range from Europe through North Africa and east to Turkey and Iran.

Almantas discovered iNaturalist after reading Scott Sampson’s How to Raise a Child in the Wild, which was released in Lithuanian last year. “The book teaches us that the current generation of young people get most of their knowledge about the world through displays of electronic gadgets,” he explains. “So I started to use iNaturalist application and promote it in seminars for teachers or radio shows. I’m happy that the iNaturalist community in Lithuania is growing very rapidly and for now is one of the largest in the surrounding countries.” 

- by Tony Iwane

(Note that while Almantas writes excellent English, I did fix a few errors here and there.)


- Almantas’s work has been featured on the TV show Hello Lithuania many times! http://www.lrt.lt/paieska/#/content/Almantas%20kulbis

- Some soothing footage of Bird’s Nest orchids in Italy. Ahhh.

- Probably the best movie monologue about orchids ever (from Adaptation): https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0WCx6GjD8d4

Posted on June 24, 2017 06:01 AM by tiwane tiwane | 0 comments | Leave a comment

June 17, 2017

Observation of the Week, 6/16/17

This Jungle Cat, seen in Sri Lanka by @markuslilje, is our Observation of the Week! 

A longtime guide for Rockjumper Birding Tours, Markus Lilje has been interested in nature since he was young and “had numerous opportunities to explore farms and a number of game reserves.” His travels have taken him all over the world, to Africa, Asia, North America and even Antarctica!

In 2013 Markus was in Sri Lanka’s Uda Walawe National Park and “just had a fantastic sighting of Asian Elephant and were looking for a place to turn around when we saw this very relaxed Jungle Cat that allowed good but brief views before quickly disappearing in the dense vegetation.”

A generally diurnal hunter, the Jungle cat stalks mainly small mammals, as well as birds, reptiles and amphibians, and like most cats stalks them before attacking. This species ranges from the Middle East through to southern China, preferring areas with dense vegetation and thick grass, meaning it’s often found in swamps and wetlands. It’s a member of the genus Felis, just like our domestic cats.

Markus has only recently joined iNaturalist and he’s posted many of his amazing photos from his years as a guide, contributing some fantastic new observations to iNat. “Hopefully some of these sightings can be used to extend our knowledge or help in some study,” he says. “It is definitely more likely to be useful on this site than on my hard drive! I think I will be more likely to look for other species than I have be focused on and look forward to a greater overall understanding!” 

- by Tony Iwane


- Markus has a great archive of photos on Flickr.

- A Jungle Cat takes down a snake.

Posted on June 17, 2017 06:12 AM by tiwane tiwane | 0 comments | Leave a comment

June 10, 2017

Observation of the Week, 6/10/17

This leucisitic California Kingsnake, seen in California by @apatten, is our Observation of the Week! 

One of a naturalist’s maxims is that you always find the coolest thing when you’re not prepared for it - something Amy Patten knows well. “I was night driving with some friends on a warm night in the Mojave [and] I had forgotten my macro lens on this trip so I knew we'd see something good!” she recalls. “We were road cruising through creosote scrub way out in the middle of nowhere and had already stopped for a gopher snake. Then we saw a big snake moving across the road shortly after dusk, and I pulled over and hopped out of the car to get a closer look. When I first saw this snake, I couldn't believe my eyes!”

An experienced herpetologist, Amy has been working all over California on various reptile and amphibian conservation projects, so she knew she had found something special. “There are many aberrant morphs of California Kingsnake throughout the state,” she explains, “such as a striped morph in San Diego County and a black-bellied morph in the Central Valley, but I had no idea this leucistic ‘lavender phase’ could be found in the wild! As far as I know, wild lavender morphs have been found in LA and San Diego Counties, but not in the northern Mojave where we were.” Amy and her friends were “awestruck” at the snake and, while this morph can be found in the pet trade, she believes she was far enough from any habitation that it was unlikely this individual was a captive-bred animal. “After taking some photos,” Amy says, “we released the snake and it continued on its way across the desert plains.”

As Amy mentioned, California Kingsnakes are popular among the pet trade, but wild populations range throughout much of California and into Nevada, Arizona, Utah Colorado and Mexico. The most common form has dark bands (from black to light brown) and and light bands (from white to cream) with beautiful slate grey eyes. Like other kingsnakes, they have a varied diet that includes other snakes, even rattlesnakes, to whose venom they have immunity.

Amy is currently working with the Ventana Wilderness Alliance, and told me they recently started using iNaturalist help inventory the area.

The project allows us to track the spread of invasives, record phenology and document populations of special-status species. And there’s so much potential for hikers and backpackers in the wilderness to record valuable data on rare species, or find range extensions and new populations. We hope to use this data to work with the US Forest Service to guide management decisions for the Los Padres National Forest.  We also used iNaturalist to run our first-ever BioBlitz in April, which yielded some really amazing results. Our volunteers recorded a number of rare and endemic plants and documented several moth species which had never been recorded in Monterey County!

As for herself, Amy says that iNaturalist “has definitely” made her a better biologist, encouraging her to record more organisms when she’s out in the field on her own time, and has helped her branch into less-familiar taxa such as insects and mushrooms. “Entering my observations and identifying for other naturalists constantly sends me down rabbit holes digging out my field guides, scrutinizing range maps and looking up papers to provide the community with the best possible information for research-grade data,” she explains. “It’s both humbling and enlightening to realize how much there is to learn about taxa I thought I was an expert on!”

- by Tony Iwane


 - Check out other aberrant organisms in the Amazing Aberrants projects on iNat!

- Cool footage of a California Kingsnake grabbing and swallowing a rattlesnake - in slow motion! Try to disregard the overwrought music and narration.

- An introduced albino morph California Kingsnake population in the Canary Islands is decimating much of the native wildlife there

Posted on June 10, 2017 06:39 PM by tiwane tiwane | 0 comments | Leave a comment

June 03, 2017

The Tres-Zeros Club: Meet the 500 species on iNat with at least 1,000 observations!

Over 112,000 species have checked in on iNaturalist from over 4.7 million observations. But they're not all equally represented. While many species are represented by just a few observations each, some like the Western Fence Lizard are each represented by over 10,000 observations!

Today we passed an interesting milestone. For the first time, the top 500 species on iNaturalist (ranked by number of observations) are each represented by at least 1,000 observations. They are lead by heavy-hitters like the Great Blue Heron, Monarch Butterfly, and Honey Bee. Upstarts like the White Nose Coati, Variable Checkerspot, and American Redstart are the newest members of the tres-zeros club.

As expected, most of these species are birds, plants, and insects. But even a few Fungi (Turkey Tail, Fly Agaric) and Mollusks (Garden Snail, Milk Snail) are in the club.

Posted on June 03, 2017 10:34 PM by loarie loarie | 5 comments | Leave a comment

June 02, 2017

Observation of the Week, 6/1/17

This crocodilian-eating  Bare-throated Tiger Heron, seen in Mexico by Rolando Chavez, is our Observation of the Week!

Explore nature enough and you’ll come across many indelible sights. Rolando Chavez remembers discovering a Green heron nest when he was a child: “I felt like a great explorer, like Magellan maybe,” he recalls. “The nest was on a branch directly over a lagoon. A patient crocodile waited on the water, intriguing me. What was it doing? Sure enough, a chick in the nest slipped and fell on the water. The crocodile devoured it. A very easy meal. Since then, I have been fascinated with the harmony and the sometimes-cruel balance of the natural world.”

Fast forward to January 12th, 2017 and Rolando observed nearly the opposite scene. He was cruising a calm river through a mangrove forest in Mexico, on the search for the Agami heron, “which is the jewel of the crown, as far as herons are concerned.” Bare-throated Tiger-Herons are much more common in the area, “to the point that their presence becomes somewhat granted and, in occasion, overwhelming. Still, Tigrisoma [Tiger-Herons] is an interesting species, always showing unique behaviors. And they have amazing appetites. As a rule, I always pay attention to a hunting Tiger-Heron,” says Rolando. 

He spotted one about 30 meters away and saw it stabbing the water with its beak, striking at prey. He recounts at first thinking the prey was a male iguana, but 

when the canoe got closer, all of a sudden I realized that the iguana was actually a juvenile crocodile. I watched amazed as the heron struggled to swallow the already limp croc, which went headfirst. I am not sure, but maybe in that moment I reminisced about the Green Heron chick of my childhood. Unfazed, the Tigrisoma went about its business. Eventually, I remembered I was carrying a camera and that the primary function of a camera is to record extraordinary moments, so I fired away. The Tiger-Heron finished swallowing the whole reptilian and we resumed our silent cruising. 

Bare-throated Tiger-Herons range from Mexico into Colombia and, as their common name suggests, a patch of their throat is unadorned by feathers. Like other herons, it wades patiently through rivers, ponds, and other suitable habitat, slowly stalking prey then quickly striking with its pointed bill. It will eat fish, amphibians, mammals, and, of course, crocodiles.

“My current interest is outreach, trying to involve more people on the benefits of watching and enjoying nature,” says Rolando. “The ultimate aim is, of course, conservation. Nature has given me so much that I feel the need to repay the favor...I am also part of an ongoing outreach program in Mexico, called “Tutor Naturalista” which is designed to promote the use of the iNaturalist platform in our communities, and to promote the appreciation of our natural surroundings. The platform has prompted my interest on non-avian species, mainly plants and trees, which for some reason I neglected in the past. It is a whole new world, and it is also fascinating to me.”


- by Tony Iwane

- You can follow Rolando on Twitter and Flickr.

- Crocodilians, by the way, are amazing mothers.

- And yes, Rolando did find an Agami heron that day. 

Posted on June 02, 2017 03:45 AM by tiwane tiwane | 0 comments | Leave a comment

May 29, 2017

Observation of the Week, 5/28/17

Our Observation of the Week is this Algodones Sand Treader Cricket, seen in California by @alice_abela!

“As long as I can remember, I’ve had a consuming interest in nature. Some of my earliest memories are when I was four in Wyoming and catching grasshoppers and asking my mom for help identifying them,” recalls Alice Abela. “ I didn’t know what it was called at the time, but I decided I wanted to be a wildlife biologist when I was five and that’s what I did. I currently work as a wildlife biologist doing surveys for federally threatened and endangered species, special-status species monitoring, and drafting environmental documents.”

On a recent trip to the Algodones Dunes, one of Alice’s target species was the Algodones Sand Treader Cricket (Macrobaenetes algodonensis). “Orthopterans have always been a favorite and I knew Ammobaenetes sp. fluoresced under blacklight so I was curious if Macrobaenetes did too... I went prepared with a lot of oatmeal to lure them out, a 365nm blacklight, tripod, camera and flash set up. The 365nm blacklight and a weak flash allow me to get a more natural color to the background while still capturing the glow of the insect. Interestingly, it was only the adult sand treaders that fluoresced.” Oh, and the glowing purple dots around it are the oatmeal pieces.

The largest sand dunes system in North America, the Algodones Dunes (and its surrounding area) are home to many endemic species, and that, of course, includes the sand treader that Alice photographed so beautifully. Like many desert animals, it hides during the day (by burrowing in the sand) and comes out at night to feed. It eats detritus and various vegetative matter, so oatmeal is a real treat! And if there is any evolutionary purpose for the fluorescence in sand treaders and other arthropods, scientists simply haven’t found a good answer. Regardless, it’s super cool.

In addition to her amazing photos, Alice has contributed many identifications (she’s definitely helped me with orthopterans) and loves the mapping capabilities of iNaturalist. “It’s really neat being able to pull up species distributions and the like. I’m also a big fan of anything that gets more people to take an interest in the natural world.”

- by Tony Iwane


- More of Alice’s photos can be found on Flickr

- Here’s a popular Wired article about fluorescent arthropods with a link to more cool fluorescing animals.

-  Follow a Sand Treader cricket at Great Sand Dunes National Park.

Posted on May 29, 2017 04:13 AM by tiwane tiwane | 2 comments | Leave a comment

May 15, 2017

Observation of the Week, 5/14/17

This Green Bee-eater, seen in India by @saurabh_chinkara, is our Observation of the Week!

It’s funny how the search for one organism can be unsuccessful but nevertheless lead to a great observation out in the field. That’s the case with Saurabh Agrawal’s beautiful Green Bee-eater shot above. A tour guide for his own company Chinkara Journeys, Saurabh had heard about a butterfly that had been spotted in a park close to his home, one which has not been recorded in central India.

Although he spent several hours looking for it, Saurabh was unsuccessful in his search. However, he had spotted a Green Bee-eater flitting about, catching flies. Unlike many of us (myself included) who would have been happy to snap a photo and move on, Saurabh used patience and attention to detail to get the perfect shot. “After observing it for some time I found that bird was using 2-3 branches of Ipomea plant as a perch to look out for another fly,” he recalls. “I crawled as quietly as possible and focused my camera on one branch which was receiving good light and had no obstacle in the background and hoped the bird would come. After waiting for 15-20 minutes I got this bird sitting exactly where I wanted it.”

As its name suggests, the Green Bee-eater is an insectivore, and often specializes in consuming beetles, wasps, and bees, flying out and catching them from a low perch. Once it catches an insect, the bird will thrash it against a branch or other hard surface, breaking the exoskeleton and/or removing any stingers, before swallowing it. Its many subspecies range from Sub-Saharan Africa north and east through Vietnam.

Befitting someone with such patience, Saurabh is

currently compiling information and photographs of the birds found in central India. My aim is to include as many photographic records for reference for others. This will include birds in flight, stationery, the difference in sex, plumage, morphs etc. My main area of study is [the] Bastar region which is the southern part of Chhattisgarh. The area has never been studied properly. It is one of the last pockets of almost virgin forests still left in the peninsular region. Many birds and amphibian species found here cannot be seen elsewhere in central India.

He also takes school and college students into the field to teach them about bird identification and conservation. “As a result,” he says, “we have now over 100 people who go out in the field on a volunteer basis and report sightings and look out for threats to local wildlife and if required necessary action can be taken with the help of local government body.”

Professor Michael Hogan, one of Saurabh’s clients, introduced him to iNaturalist. “I am still in learning stage but have found it very useful in creating a database of species that I have seen and photograph. It is a great platform for a person like me share their sightings with the rest of the world,” he says.

- by Tony Iwane


- You know you wanted to see a Green Bee-eater smashing an insect. It’s a thorough process!

- iNaturalist users have taken many great shots of Bee-eaters. Check them out.

- Little African birds called Honeyguides often parasitize the nests of Bee-eaters. Their eggs often look like Bee-eater eggs, but that’s not to fool the host...

Posted on May 15, 2017 04:21 AM by tiwane tiwane | 1 comments | Leave a comment

May 06, 2017

#IAmiNaturalist: What does iNaturalist mean to you? Share a video and tell everyone!



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There are over 100,000 iNaturalist users, and every one of them has a story to tell - we want to hear yours! Here’s how to do it:

1. Make a short video (or post a cool photo) telling and/or showing us how and why you use iNaturalist - be creative!
2. Make sure to to introduce yourself, tell us where you are, and say “I am a Naturalist” somewhere in the video.
3. Post it on Twitter, Facebook, or Instagram and tag it #IAmiNaturalist; or email it to us at iamanaturalist@inaturalist.org by May 30th.

We’ll put them together in a compilation video and show off the incredible iNaturalist community!

Posted on May 06, 2017 02:15 PM by tiwane tiwane | 3 comments | Leave a comment

May 05, 2017

Observation of the Week, 5/4/17

This Hestiasula mantis, seen by @muir in Indonesia, is our Observation of the Day!

“My work takes me to a lot of interesting nature these days,” says Matt Muir. “I'm proud to be a biologist for the US Fish and Wildlife Service in our international program. We help partners in other countries conserve and recover their wildlife populations, and have a huge network of field projects trying to accomplish the near-impossible in some very difficult settings. Although I usually work in central Africa, this project was a threats assessment for two national parks in Sumatra that are important refuges for Sumatran tigers and rhinos.” On his journey, Matt was also able to meet up with iNatters @dewichristina “(who is awesome), and was traveling with the amazing @stsang.”

While the megafauna may have brought him to Indonesia, Matt is also fascinated by smaller organisms, especially after having moved from Alaska, where he was born and raised, to the east coast of North America. “I had to recalibrate my enjoyment of nature from wilderness to appreciating the small things,” he explains. “So it's funny that one of the most charismatic critters I found [on this trip] was on my first morning in Indonesia in the hotel garden. Lesson is keep your eyes open everywhere!”

At first, Matt couldn’t figure out what he was looking at, thinking at first it was a pair of beetles. “I was looking through my macro lens, trying to figure out what the heck I was looking at, when it ‘boxed’ me [above], displaying one dark forearm, then the other. My friend Mini [pictured below, with Matt] fell in love, and had me show the mantid to people across southern Sumatra. Glad to see now that it's getting some global attention!”

With their large eyes, articulated neck, and “arm-like” forelimbs, mantids often come off as more personable to us humans than other insects, but all three of those features are fantastic adaptations for a predator. Mantids are visual hunters, so their large eyes help them spot prey, whereas their flexible necks - rare in the insect world - help them look around while not moving their bodies and betraying their camouflage. And of course those famous raptorial forelegs allow mantids to catch prey then hold it while they dine.

As an avid iNat user (over 14,000 observations and over 3,000 identifications), Matt says that not only has iNat caused him to get more field guides and camera equipment, it’s changed how he sees nature: 

When I travel, I think I look for more opportunities to find wildlife that's new to me. And post-trip, iNat extends my enjoyment of being outside. In addition to tapping into the identification expertise of the iNat community, I love to search through the observations page to see where else I saw a species, how my observation compares to the overall distribution, and use the species page to check seasonality etc. I sort of think of iNat as steroids for natural curiosity.

I think a lot about how iNat can be a more useful tool for wildlife conservation in the future, so I also try to record both common and uncommon wildlife. Our great species conservation challenge is keeping common things common, and alleviating human pressure on rare stuff, and I hope iNat will contribute to that goal one day.

- by Tony Iwane


- If you were thinking Hestiasula mantids are just as cute in motion as they are in photos, well, you were right.

- Here’s some information about Sumatran tigers and rhinos from the IUCN.

Posted on May 05, 2017 04:14 AM by tiwane tiwane | 0 comments | Leave a comment

April 28, 2017

Observation of the Week, 4/27/17

Our Observation of the Week is this duo of Green Marsh Hawk Dragonflies, seen in Indonesia by @oldman19510!

Steve Jones was an aviculturist for most of his life, having lived in Australia and is now retired and residing in Bali. “[I was] always trying to identify any bird species (in Australia) that I came across in the wild, I wanted to identify birds here in Bali so I bought a field book and binoculars,” he explains. “I then started photographing birds with the aim of getting all Bali birds and have 265 species on [my] eBird life list.”

However, with his birding lens in the repair shop for awhile, Steve says “I started taking close-up and macro with a Canon SX 50 and a couple of iNat members suggested that I record my findings and so this is what I do.”

After iNat user @briang helped Steve identify a Green Marsh Hawk eating a Ditch Jewel, he began to get more interested in Odonata (Dragonflies and Damselflies), which led him to the sequence shown in this post. “When I saw these two flying together (but not in mating position) I followed,” he recalls. “Predator was able to fly quite strongly with his victim and when he had placed his prey on a suitable perch, he started feeding in earnest. The victim never put up any resistance, perhaps a bite to the neck when captured would have been a near fatal blow.”

Green Marsh Hawk dragonflies (Orthetrum sabina) range through much of the Eastern hemisphere, from Australia through North African and southeastern Europe and are, like all dragonflies, strong predators. I asked briang about this particular observation, and he notes that “Cannibalism among dragonflies is not uncommon in some species. That being said, I don't believe cannibalism accounts for the majority of a species' diet (at least in species I've observed)--it seems to be more of an opportunistic prey choice.” He says many will take tenereal (freshly-emerged) dragonflies, but that these two look to be both adult males. “It's possible the prey was in tandem with a female and thus an easier target or maybe he was just unwary and the other male saw an opportunity...I would have loved to see how this interaction went down.”

“My hobby is photography – nature is the subject,” explains Steve. “I now have a greater appreciation of nature and am amazed at what I see on a daily basis. The luck is finding something interesting to photograph but the challenge is to try to identify each species before I post and look to iNat for conformation or correction.”

He continues to explore his new home (like birding Mt. Agung, in the above photo), and says that “Indonesia has such a huge potential for finding something rare or unusual. I am now planning to travel to other islands and look forward to what can be found.”

- by Tony Iwane


- There are more than 300 observations in the “Odonata - eating” Project. Check them out!

- If you wanted actual video of a Green Marsh Hawk devouring the head of another odonate, then you’re in luck! Here’re two: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=enMQ6HRi9TA and https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oOX-mlbJxmY

Posted on April 28, 2017 01:25 AM by tiwane tiwane | 1 comments | Leave a comment
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