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 10:54 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 02:10 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 06:14 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 09:53 PM by tiwane tiwane | 0 comments | Leave a comment

June 21, 2016

A New Way to Add Observations

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

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

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

Posted on June 21, 2016 03:18 PM by kueda kueda | 49 comments | Leave a comment

June 15, 2016

Observation of the Week, 6/15/16

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

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

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

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

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

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

- by Tony Iwane


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

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

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

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

Posted on June 15, 2016 11:47 PM by tiwane tiwane | 1 comments | Leave a comment

June 13, 2016

Identify

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

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

Posted on June 13, 2016 08:07 PM by kueda kueda | 34 comments | Leave a comment

June 08, 2016

Observation of the Week, 6/8/16

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

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

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

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

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

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

- by Tony Iwane


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

- Glowworm video artwork!

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

Posted on June 08, 2016 09:28 AM by tiwane tiwane | 1 comments | Leave a comment

June 01, 2016

Observation of the Week 6/1/16

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

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

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

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

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

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

- by Tony Iwane


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

Posted on June 01, 2016 11:36 PM by tiwane tiwane | 0 comments | Leave a comment

May 25, 2016

Observation of the Week, 5/25/16

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

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

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

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

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

- by Tony Iwane


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

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

Posted on May 25, 2016 06:34 PM by tiwane tiwane | 0 comments | Leave a comment
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