February 16, 2017

Observation of the Week, 2/16/17

Our Observation of the Week is this Martiodrilus earthworm, seen in Colombia by @hydaticus!

“Juan Palacio, one of my friends at [University of Texas at Austin], is from Colombia, and he invited me and another friend (Will) to the place where he did his Master’s research: Cueva de Los Guacharos National Park. Juan could not join us, unfortunately, but Will and I stayed in the park for a week,” explains Robby Deans (aka @hydaticus). “The park is known for its limestone caves and the oilbirds (Guacharos) that nest in them. We got to see many of these birds, and a variety of other awesome wildlife. Other highlights include Andean Cock-of-the-Rock, Eyelash Viper, and many great butterflies such as Rhetus dysonii and Morpho sulkowskyi.”

Robby’s current research involves aquatic invertebrates, but the invertebrate photographed above is decidedly terrestrial. “I was at the back of the group, but I could see a long thin animal slowly moving down the trail,” recalls Robby. “My first thought was that it was a snake, so I was already excited. Then, Will says he thinks it is a caecilian, and so I get even more excited. After Will picked it up and turned around so I could see it, we immediately realized it was a worm, and the two of us just started laughing at how impossibly big it was. It was definitely one of the more memorable moments of an awesome trip.”

What they found was an earthworm of the Martiodrilus genus (the first one posted to iNaturalist!), which are native to South America can can grow to several feet in length. Robby says this one appeared to be 2-3 feet long, depending on how stretched out it was. Not much is known about this genus, but like other earthworms they dig through the soil, aerating it and creating rich humus for plant life. And while Martiodrilus are large, they are dwarfed by the Giant Gippsland Earthworm from Australia, which has been recorded at around 3 meters in length!

Robby continues his research at UT and also teaches field courses, including Entomology and Vertebrate Natural History. “I [also] have started getting more into photography over the past three years, which helps me to share what I see with everyone else,” he says.

“I first started using iNaturalist just to share my photos and sightings with other people who are interested in natural history. Now that more people are using it, I use it more often to see what other people are finding. Things are always changing, and enough people are using the site now that you can really track those changes. The site also does a great job of linking other sources of information, and it is the only place I know of that has point observations on a map for all taxa together in one place.”

- by Tony Iwane


- Are there Martiodrilus videos on YouTube? Of course.

- And of course David Attenborough visits Australia’s giant worms.

- Interested in Vermicomposting? Here’s a how-to from University of Nebraska-Lincoln.

Posted on February 16, 2017 10:53 PM by tiwane tiwane | 0 comments | Leave a comment

February 14, 2017

(Bonus) Observation of the Week, 2/13/17

This group of Harlequin Ducks, seen in Canada by @slrtweedale, is our (Bonus) Observation of the Week!

This belated Observation of the Week comes from Sarah Tweedale. Enjoy!

“As a young girl I’d wander the forest and beach taking delight in exploring what was beneath the rocks on the beach, and in the forest fascinated by everything about it: the trees, and the way they danced in the wind, the different kinds of bark on the various trees, the bugs in the forest floor amongst the cedar bits and fir cones,” writes Sarah. “Finding fungus was like finding a treasure, and the discovery of little stands of Indian Pipe that sprung from the forest floor when the conditions were right, was a wonder to me, as was their pale translucency.” She also learned about photography from her father’s old Zeiss Ikon camera when she was a teenager.

With her career and her family, Sarah’s photography “took something of a back shelf. But not my eagerness to keep learning.” After retiring, she’s had more time to explore the surroundings of her home on Galiano Island, one of the Southern Gulf Islands in Canada’s British Columbia and work on her photography “with both my Canon 70 D and, very conveniently my iPhone.”

Sarah takes her Golden Retriever out for walks in the morning, and says “I meander out to the water’s edge by our flagpole and enjoy the feel of the breeze, sounds of seals, eagles, herons, songbirds, and in the winter, the early morning feeding of various ducks...on the morning I captured the photo of the Harlequins, I was just plain fortunate that I got to the edge of the water before our dog did, as she’d have flushed them off, and there they were, lined up on the rocks. There was little wind, so the waves were small, and the water fairly silky smooth. It made for a happy shot!”

Spectacular diving ducks that live along the northern coasts of North America, Harlequin ducks prefer rough coastal waters and and quickly flowing streams, where they search for the invertebrates and fish that make up their diet. In fact, researchers have found that many adult Harlequin ducks have evidence of broken bones, which is believed to be from their turbulent habitats. Unlike many other ducks, Harlequins make a “squeaky” noise when communicating; they are sometimes called “sea mice.”

Sarah uses iNaturalist to record her findings on Galiano Island, and says “In addition to logging information I find iNaturalist a wonderful resource [for] identifying and learning more about the species that live nearby. The great benefit to the whole enterprise, to me, is that the more I learn, the more I see. And the more I see, the more curious I am to learn more. iNaturalist is a great gift for a person like me. Thank you so much.”

- by Tony Iwane


- Check out more of Sarah’s photography and thoughts on her blog, Curious Spectacles.

- Here’s a short video of Montana’s Harlequin Ducks, with some cool footage of them in some quick streams.

- Harlequin ducks are a pretty interesting species. For instance, during breeding season females return to the same streams where they were born, bringing along a male they met on the coast! A longer article about them can be found here.

Posted on February 14, 2017 12:41 AM by tiwane tiwane | 0 comments | Leave a comment

February 09, 2017

Observation of the Week, 2/9/17

This Pompelon marginata moth, seen in Singapore by @sohkamyung, is our Observation of the Week!

“I had always been interested in nature, having been brought up on nature documentaries by Sir David Attenborough, but I only got more hands-on with nature recently,” says Kam Yung Soh. “A few years ago, we (including my wife and 10 year old son) decided to sign up for a butterfly count organised by the Singapore National Parks Board. It was a fantastic experience and since then, the family has been going out on weekends to the various parks and nature reserves in Singapore to discover nature, especially insects and butterflies. My wife and son are the ones who usually spot the creatures, which I then proceed to shoot.”

“I'm actually an Electrical Engineer by training. Neither me nor my family have any formal training in biology or natural history,” explains Kam Yung. “But my son is now pretty good at identifying butterflies, especially after we got the book A Field Guide to the Butterflies of Singapore by noted local butterfly expert SK Khew.”

The Pompelon marginata moth that he photographed above was found during a family outing at Mount Faber Park in Singapore. “As we were walking along a shaded path, we saw an iridescent blue insect fluttering in the air,” recalls Kam Yung. “We initially thought it was a butterfly and wondered what kind of butterfly it might be. It was only after it had settled on a leaf, fortunately just next to the walking path, that we realised that it was a moth; and a beautiful one too.” The moth was identified by local expert Foo Jit Leang as Pompelon marginata.

Ranging throughout much of Southeast Asia, the Pompelon marginata moth is a day-flying species that hosts on Wild Cinnamon (Cinnamomum sp.), around which it is often found. Look carefully at the back of its head and you can see a hint of the brilliant red that covers much of its thorax and abdomen, which is broken up by black dots. This species is considered to be a Euploea butterfly mimic.

A passionate citizen scientist, Mr. Soh posts his photos to Facebook, Twitter and Google+ as well as iNaturalist, and he hopes they “will help to encourage friends to be more adventurous and see nature in the wild, and not just in the local zoo.”

“Using iNaturalist has changed the way I see nature by making me be more observant, especially for the smaller creatures like insects. It is probably a common mis-belief that Singapore is a completely urban place,” says Kam Yung. “The IDs of my sightings by fellow iNaturalist users have also helped educate me on the fascinating natural behaviour of the various creatures I observed, instead of just having a photographic record of them.”

- by Tony Iwane


- Here’s a nice PDF on P. marginata from Nature in Singapore. There are some cool photos and a Tachinid maggot that emerged out of on caterpillar.

- Check out more moths and butterflies of Singapore in their respective projects.

Posted on February 09, 2017 01:37 PM by tiwane tiwane | 1 comments | Leave a comment

February 02, 2017

Observation of the Week, 2/2/17

This Lesser Oriental Chevrotain, seen in Thailand by @juddpatterson, is our Observation of the Week!

Just outside of Thailand’s Kaeng Krachan National Park is a series of watering holes that had originally been created by poachers. In dry times, many animals, including Scaly-breasted Partridges, White-rumped Shamas, Southern Red Muntjacs, and even King Cobras came to the watering holes and were easy prey for the poachers.

However, in 2009, “a couple of locals worked with the poachers to try a more sustainable strategy by giving birders and photographers access to these hides,” says Judd Patterson. “ Any initial skepticism quickly evaporated as hundreds of people scheduled visits. The demand continues to grow and now visitors from all over the world enjoy the abundant wildlife and pay the former-poachers a small fee for the privilege.”

Judd works for the National Park Service as a Data Manager for the Inventory and Monitoring Program, and in his free time is an avid bird watcher and bird photographer. He visited these watering holes and, behind a blind, photographed many animals, including the Lesser Oriental Chevrotain pictured above.

Chevrotains are part of the Tragulidae family of ungulates, and are also known as mouse-deer. They’re considered primitive ruminants, and are thought to be somewhat more like pigs than other ruminants, sharing the trait of four toes on each foot. The Lesser Oriental Chevrotain is considered the smallest of all ungulates, weighing in at no more than 2 kg (4.4 lbs), and its diminutive size helps it move quickly through the forest when it needs to. It is found through much of Southeast Asia.

“My first exposure came during the 2016 NPS Centennial when I was asked to assist with the Kings Mountain National Military Park bird bioblitz in South Carolina,” says Judd, photographing an ‘Akohekohe in Mau’i above). “It didn't take long for the expansive taxonomy, slick smartphone app, and mapping feature to capture my attention.

“Beyond birds I now stalk flowers for insects and butterflies, pester my botanically inclined friends for identification help, hope for help on mushrooms that pop up in the yard, and pause longer to study the fish that are flashing through the water. One of the most exciting elements of iNaturalist to me is the Identotron feature that is continually being fed and improved by new observations and identifications. Where else can you find an ever-adapting list of the most common species for any region and taxonomic level?”

- by Tony Iwane


- Here’s 10 adorable minutes of a Lesser Oriental Chevrotain doing some munching. Recorded at a watering hole outside of Kaeng Krachan.

- An article about the how the poachers’ watering holes were transformed into wildlife viewing areas.

- Judd also posts his bird photos at Birds in Focus.

Posted on February 02, 2017 12:41 PM by tiwane tiwane | 0 comments | Leave a comment

January 31, 2017

An iNat Introduction to Tidepooling

One thing that I (and I’m betting many other iNaturalist users) notice is that once we start iNatting, we begin to get curious about everything - not just whatever taxa or habitat we were originally into. Several years ago, if it wasn’t a herp, spider, or nudibranch, I generally walked past it. But the more I went out, especially with other naturalists who had different interests than myself, the more I noticed and photographed many types of wildlife I’d previously disregarded, such as birds, butterflies, plants, and even lichens.

So in that spirit, I’m planning on making a series of iNat Introductions to different types of naturalizing throughout the year. For each one I’ll interview and follow a naturalist or two who’s experienced in the field and make a short video that includes their advice and goes over equipment, techniques, ethics and safety - just enough to get beginners off the ground and making observations.

With Northern California’s best tides coming in December and January, I set out with Rebecca Johnson (@rebeccafay) and Alison Young (@kestrel), the California Academy of Science’s Citizen Science leaders, for an introduction to tidepooling. Rebecca and Alison are experienced marine intertidal explorers and their enthusiasm and educational background were perfect for this. They run the Intertidal Biodversity Survey at Pillar Point project (nearly 11,500 observations!) among other programs and are all about iNat. Liam O’Brien (@robberfly), Jonathan “JC” Carpenter (@reallifeecology), and Josie Iselin (@josieiselin) also make cameos.

I hope this video encourages you to get out and explore the intertidal zone wherever you live, it’s an easy way to discover a plethora of organisms that we normally don’t get a close look at.

Up next will be an intro to mushrooming with Christian Schwarz (@leptonia), and I’m also planning intros to birding, dock fouling, mothing, and more. If there’s a type of naturalizing you’d like to see, or if you have any tidepooling tips of your own, write them them in the comments!

- Tony

Posted on January 31, 2017 12:05 AM by tiwane tiwane | 9 comments | Leave a comment

January 27, 2017

Observation of the Week, 1/26/17

This Siamese Peninsula Pitviper, seen in Malaysia by @rharris70, is our Observation of the Week!

“I'm out in the field every opportunity I get and have over 40 years experience now,” says Roger Harris, who lives in Somerset, England. “I became interested in nature as a child at around the age of 8 and was immediately hooked. I live in the UK and started with birds but by my teens had  become interested in reptiles, insects and plants too. I still consider myself a fairly 'rounded' naturalist but my loves are definitely birding and herping, particularly snakes with a strong interest in venomous species.”

Well, it’s Roger’s beautiful shot of a venomous snake, the Siamese Peninsula Pitviper, that’s our Observation of the Week. It’s one of several he found while on a trip to Malaysia near the end of 2016, which he went on with his friend, TV naturalist Nigel Marven. He also ran into Oriental Whipsnakes (here’s one) and found some incredible birds and other animals.

The Siamese Peninusla Pitviper, Trimeresurus fucatus, is part of the Asian Lancehead genus, which has a complicated taxonomic history. This species was once considered a variant of the Pope’s Pitviper but is is now considered its own species. It ranges through southeast Asia, from Thailand and into the peninsular part of Malaysia, which is where Roger spotted it. Note the beautiful dual stripes on this male, which go down its flanks (giving it a red tail), and the large heat-sensing pits near its eyes. This is an arboreal snake that preys mainly on rats and squirrels, and its bite is considered medically significant to humans. Richard also saw this larger female nearby, who was still shedding her skin.

“I've only recently discovered iNaturalist so still finding my way around it but I immediately thought what a great resource it is,” says Richard. “What could be better than having people with an interest in all types of natural history getting together in one place to share resources, knowledge and information - it's a fantastic community of like-minded people.”

- by Tony Iwane

- Nigel keeps a great nature blog, and you can read his Malaysia trip post here - tons of great photos and stories!

- Niiiice footage of a Trimeresurus pitviper adjusting its jaws.

Posted on January 27, 2017 12:38 AM by tiwane tiwane | 2 comments | Leave a comment

January 23, 2017

(Bonus) Observation of the Week 1/23/17

This Tench with a Red Swamp Crawfish in its mouth, seen in Italy by dinobiancolini and Jacopo Pagani is our (Bonus) Observation of the Week!

(Due to illness and the holidays, it took awhile to get in touch with these gentlemen, so this is belatedly published. Also, English is not Dino and Jacopo’s first language, and I’ve done some light editing of their quotes for this piece.)

Dino Biancolini and his friend Jacopo Pagani, who are both life sciences graduate students at La Sapienza University of Rome, were at Jacopo’s countryside house when Jacopo noticed the large Tench floating in the house’s artificial pond. When they recovered the dead animal, they found that big fish had a crayfish stuck in its mouth!

“Unfortunately, size matters in nature and an error in this sense can be fatal,” says Dino. “[That’s what] likely happened when this fish tried to eat a Red swamp crayfish (Procambarus clarkii) too large for its mouth and died by asphyxiation.”

Dino explains that “this decapod is a very harmful, highly invasive species in Italy that is causing the disappearance of many prey and competitor species. Fortunately some native predators have begun to exploit this new trophic resource, unfortunately with a sad outcome in this case. We thought that the observation was very important for this reasons as well as very odd, so we decided to upload it to iNaturalist.”

Red swamp crayfish are the famed native “crawfish” of Louisiana in the United States, where they are an important culinary item. In fact, they are often raised in rice paddies, a practice that has spread to Asia. These crayfish have been introduced to many areas of the world, including Asia and Europe, where can become quite invasive. They are a vector for Crayfish plague, a mold that has caused serious decline in Atlantic Stream Crayfish, a native European decapod.

Both Dino (above) and Jacopo (below) became fascinated with nature when they were growing up in the country, and that love for nature has led them to pursue to degrees in the natural sciences. Dino currently is a PhD in the Global Mammal Assessment research group, and says “my project aims to predict the future range expansion and invasion of introduced mammals of the world in view of climate and land-use change, to understand their possible impacts on native species.”

And Jacopo says he is “currently a Master’s Degree student in Ecobiology. My thesis is focused on the study of the phenotypic trajectories in Diplodus ssp. associated with ontogeny and diet.”

“I use iNaturalist to help scientific research and enrich my knowledge,” says Dino. “In fact, since I participate in this wonderful project, I learned a lot. Thanks to the community’s help, I can now recognize many more species, both animal and plants, than before, and my vision of biodiversity has been greatly expanded, thanks to the constant flow of observations from around the world that I get.

“I believe that citizen science is a powerful tool for conservation biology because it enhances both data collection and the awareness of general public, two key factors in biodiversity protection.”


- Here’s an informative video from EOL about the Red Swamp Crawfish and its spread around the world.

- And an older New York Times article about Red Swamp Crayfish in Italy.

Posted on January 23, 2017 06:18 PM by tiwane tiwane | 0 comments | Leave a comment

January 20, 2017

Observation of the Week, 1/20/17

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

“Amphibian eggs?”

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

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

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

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

- by Tony Iwane


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

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

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

Posted on January 20, 2017 02:55 AM by tiwane tiwane | 0 comments | Leave a comment

January 12, 2017

Observation of the Week, 1/12/17

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

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

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

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

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

- by Tony Iwane

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


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

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

Posted on January 12, 2017 05:31 PM by tiwane tiwane | 0 comments | Leave a comment

January 05, 2017

Observation of the Week, 1/5/17

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

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

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

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

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

- by Tony Iwane


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

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

Posted on January 05, 2017 10:36 PM by tiwane tiwane | 0 comments | Leave a comment
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