October 28, 2016

Observation of the Week, 10/27/16

Our Observation of the Week is a pair dueling Great White Sharks seen by @serpophaga off of the Farallon Islands!

Located about thirty miles west of San Francisco, the Farallon Islands are small spurs of rock jutting up from the Pacific Ocean and famous for their bird, seal, whale, and shark denizens. Throughout the years, the islands’ wildlife was decimated by seal hunters, egg collectors (500,000 eggs per month were collected in the mid-nineteenth century), and others, but the site is now a protected wildlife refuge. Researchers from Point Blue Conservation Science and the U.S. Department of Fish and Wildlife have studied the plants and animals there for decades, and recently iNat user Adam Searcy (@serpophaga) spent some time on the islands to help with surveys.

“Much of the fall work on the Farallones involves censusing and banding migrant birds,” says Adam. “We attempt to find and identify every bird that arrives on the island every day (and every butterfly, dragonfly, etc.) In addition to this work, there are pinniped censuses and tag re-sighting, cetacean surveys, and shark monitoring. Weather permitting, a sentry is on 'shark watch' for most daylight hours every day for most of the fall season (= shark season).”

This shark attack was spotted by the biologist who was on shark watch and radioed to the others that a “close and large attack” was occurring off the East Landing. Adam says “many attacks we observe are too distant to allow for good photographic opportunities--that was not the case with this attack.” He and others rushed to the site and by the time they got there the shark was “well into feeding on the carcass.” The large amount of blood and the oil slick indicated that the prey was a Northern Elephant Seal, males of which can reach sizes of 14 ft (4 m) in length and 5,000 lbs (2,300 kg) in weight (the females are quite a bit smaller). Adam goes on to say, “as we watched, a second shark appeared and began powering into the carcass alongside the first animal. This quickly turned into what appeared to be a scuffle between the two sharks, with tails flailing above the water. After about ten minutes, the carcass was finished, the blood pool dissipated and the sharks went on their way.”

The Great White Shark population of the Farallones is considered to be genetically distinct from other members of their species, and sharks tagged there have been tracked to Hawaii and Guadalupe Island, which is off of Baja California. Males tend to return every year, females every other year, and many have been identified by researchers who use scars and other markings to distinguish them.

Adam has now returned to the mainland, but contributed nearly ninety observations to iNat during his stint on the Farallones. He says he uses it as “a digital companion to my regular field notes. The community of amateur enthusiasts and experts are also most useful when I branch out into groups that I'm unfamiliar with, e.g., lichens. I posted a bunch of lichen observations from the Farallones and I've been happy to receive assistance in identification from the iNat community.”

Adam is also encouraged by iNat’s large community: “One aspect of iNaturalist that has encouraged me to upload more and more observations (and I've only just begun in the last 8 months or so) is its ability to generate detailed biodiversity data on a scale that was previously unimaginable,” he says. “Having a global army of enthusiastic contributors will lead to more refined understandings of where organisms currently are, where they are expanding, and where they are contracting. Even uploading observations of common organisms across their range may lead to documentation of changes in status and distribution. Citizen science at work!”

- by Tony Iwane

- Adam’s kept a blog of some of his adventures, definitely worth a read!

- In 1997, whalewatchers witnessed an Orca and a Great White Shark battle off of the Farallones. National Geographic made a video about it.

- San Francisco PBS station KQED made two short videos about the Farallones, one more about the ecosystem, the other focusing on the life of researchers there. 

Posted on October 28, 2016 12:47 AM by tiwane tiwane | 0 comments | Leave a comment

October 24, 2016

Observation of the Week, 10/23/16

Marine invertebrates seen by @dougperrine off of Hawaii are our Observations of the Week!

Noted underwater photographer Doug Perrine recently posted quite a few pictures taken during a “blackwater dive” off the Kona coast of Hawaii this month, and they are absolutely stunning, so I thought I’d feature all of them this week.

“These dives date back to a National Geographic magazine assignment given to staff photographer Bill Curtsinger to document the vertical migration of plankton off of Kona, Hawaii, where volcanic mountains plunge deeply into the sea, resulting in water depths of thousands of meters just a few kilometers offshore,” Doug tells me. “Curtsinger hired a local diver / budding underwater photographer named Christopher Newbert as his assistant, and the two of them spent countless hours offshore, initially using a plexiglass cage photographing the myriad bizarre creatures that migrate to the surface at night.”

Soon, most of the dive companies in Hawaii began to offer these dives, and for experienced divers they’ve become quite popular, since divers almost always see animals they’ve never come across before. “People often compare doing one of these dives to taking a trip to outer space. (Or innerspace. One guide says, "it’s like the ‘60s, but without the hangover"),” says Doug. “I love seeing and photographing bizarre animals that I’ve never seen before (or, in some cases, that nobody has ever seen before).” For instance, the Tremoctopus gracilis pictured above is carrying the broken-off tentacles of a Portuguese Man o’ War, which it uses for defense. And, well, I’ll let The Oatmeal tell you about the amazingness of Mantis shrimps, like the larval one below, which Doug photographed.

“Since very few people are able to see marine wildlife in person, my job is to expose them to the beauty of these animals, help them to understand some of the science surrounding them (i.e. act as a translator for the scientists doing the actual research) and hopefully get them to care about, and want to protect, marine wildlife,” says Doug. “I use iNaturalist as a way to share my photographs with scientists researching those subjects, and to enlist their help in getting my subjects identified. Most of my professional experience is with charismatic megafauna, so I know my marine mammals, sharks, and sea turtles pretty well, but plankton is way outside my realm of expertise...it means so much more to me if I can find out what they are, and what they’re doing.”

- by Tony Iwane

- Doug’s photos are represented by www.SeaPics.com, and you can also check out his photoshelter gallery.

- Sweet, sweet blackwater dive footage off of Kona.

- Doug wrote an article about blackwater diving for CNN, and here it is.

- More about amazing Mantis shrimps.

Posted on October 24, 2016 12:02 AM by tiwane tiwane | 1 comments | Leave a comment

October 19, 2016

Citizen Scientist by Mary Ellen Hannibal

San Francisco science and culture writer Mary Ellen Hannibal has recently come out with a new book titled Citizen Science: Searching for Heroes and Hope in an Age of Extinction and part her research entailed covering California Academy of Sciences’ Citizen Science program. 

Not only does Mary Ellen participate in the Intertidal Biodiversity Survey at Pillar Point project (run by @kestrel and @rebeccafay), she also interviewed iNaturalist Co-directors @kueda and @loarie for her book.

I recently had an opportunity to talk with Mary Ellen about the past, present and future of citizen science and the importance of iNaturalist and other projects in crowdsourcing data and engaging the public. You can watch a video (a big thank you to @dpom, @kestrel, and Richard Morgenstein for their photos and footage) of our chat below, and be sure to check out her book!

A talk with author Mary Ellen Hannibal about citizen science and iNaturalist from iNaturalist on Vimeo.

Posted on October 19, 2016 04:07 AM by tiwane tiwane | 2 comments | Leave a comment

October 14, 2016

Observation of the Week , 10/13/16

This Thyreus cuckoo bee seen in South Korea by @whaichi is our Observation of the Week!

An American who’s been teaching English in South Korea since 2007, Paul Bailey has been using iNat to document the organisms he sees on along a river during his walk to and from work. And after nearly  a year of using iNat he’s recently met up with Kim Hyun-tae (@pintail) a few times to look for frogs, salamanders (including the endemic species Karsenia koreana), snakes, and other animals, and says that on their first trip, Mr. Kim “heard about my interest in insects he gave me one of his old macro lenses which I used to take that photo of the Thyreus. so without his help that photo may not have been possible!”

Armed with this lens, he says “I walked further south than usual along the river one afternoon and noticed a large cluster of fleabanes that I wanted to check out for pollinators. As I drew closer I noticed a moving patch of blue, but it was too far away to see clearly and it eventually disappeared into the nearby vegetation...I noticed the patch of blue coming back and it turned out to be a bright blue bee that landed quite close to me on one of the fleabanes.

[With the new lens] I was...worried that I wouldn't end up with any decent pictures so I snapped more than 80 photos while I had the opportunity. And honestly, I did also enjoy watching it buzz around the flowers so it wasn't really a bad way to pass the time.”

Bees in the genus Thyreus are some of the several thousand species of bees known as “cuckoo bees,” which are brood parasites - named after the famous Cuckoo birds. Like other brood parasites, female cuckoo bees don’t actually care for or provision for their young - they instead make other animals do it. In most solitary bee species, a female leaves a provision of nectar and pollen with their egg (or eggs). Once the egg hatches, the larva will eat the provisioned food then pupate into its adult form. A female cuckoo bee, however, lays its egg in the nest of other bee species, and when the cuckoo bee egg hatches the larva eats the provisioned food and will often kill and eat the host larva as well! Due to this fascinating life cycle, a female cuckoo bee doesn’t have scopa, or anatomical structures for collecting pollen, on her body.

Paul’s current interest in nature traces back to an introductory entomology course he took in college, where he “ended up with a pet tobacco hornworm (Manduca sexta), a pair of Madagascar hissing cockroaches (Gromphadorhina portentosa), and a collection of silkworms (Bombyx mori) that I raised on behalf of the entomology department.” So it’s not a surprise he’s found some fantastic insects while in South Korea.

Using iNaturalist “[has] been a great way for me to learn more about the more detailed differences between members of the same Order or Family,” says Paul. “I no longer lump all butterflies together, for example, and now start thinking of them as 'Blues', 'Skippers', 'Brushfoots', etc.” And in addition to documenting the wildlife around his residence, Paul says “I've found myself looking for something to record every time I take a trip to another part of Korea, sort of as a 'wildlife souvenir' of the journey...I haven't made any travel plans based on someone else's observations yet, but it might happen before too long!”

- by Tony Iwane

- Here’s some footage of a Thyreus bee getting some nectar. Check out the colors!

- @pintail started a Korean Nature project on iNat, you can find it here. There are more than 13,000 observations in it.

- Blue is not a common color in nature, one reason being that many animals can’t make blue pigments. Instead, many blue animals get their color by creating materials whose structure reflects blue light. NPR has a nice article about this phenomenon.

Posted on October 14, 2016 01:24 AM by tiwane tiwane | 0 comments | Leave a comment

October 11, 2016

Bonus Observation of the Week, 10/10/16

This Crystallopsis hunteri snail, seen in the Solomon Islands by @vespadelus, is our bonus Observation of the Week!

There are so many great observations posted to iNat everyday that it’s an embarrassment of riches and tough for me to pick one for Observation of the Week. I contacted Michael Pennay about his amazing snail find but only recently was able to get a reply, as he was out in field.

“The field,” of course, is the Solomon Islands, where he’s been working two and a half years. Originally from Australia, Michael has also worked in Papua New Guinea and says “[I] love the Pacific Islands, there are so many cool things to see and many people have an exceptional intimate understanding of their environment.”

His current work in the Solomon Islands recently involved a biodiversity survey in the highlands of  Makira island, “a three day hike from the coast uphill and a hard slog carrying survey equipment.” Michael says “In the highlands are beautiful moss forests [see below] that are constantly wet. There are mythical creatures called kakamora that Makira legend has it lives in the forests, and seeing these places you could believe it. Being almost constantly wet the forest had an amazing array of orchids and snails.”

The Crystallopsis hunteri snail that Michael found is one of the many cool gastropods he found there (check out this semi-slug). It’s beautiful, of course, but if you look closely you’ll see that its shell is actually translucent! Many juveniles are green, but only some adults are (here are some other photos for comparison), so there is quite a bit of easily noticeable variation in comparison to some other snail species. This is also  the first observation of this species posted on iNat.

Michael continues his field work, using iNat to keep track of some of his finds. “I mainly use iNaturalist as a personal field notebook to record my observations from particular places so I can look back on them...I really love the community ID side of it and appreciate the assistance of other users in identifying species I’m unfamiliar with. There are some amazingly talented and knowledgeable members of the iNaturalist community. I try to reciprocate this as much as possible by providing IDs for species that I'm familiar with.”

- by Tony Iwane

Posted on October 11, 2016 05:01 AM by tiwane tiwane | 1 comments | Leave a comment

October 06, 2016

Observation of the Week, 10/6/16

This Marbled Newt, seen in France by @blankplank21, is our Observation of the Week!

After hearing about iNaturalist from the story on NPR, Brian Gray says “I uninstalled Pokemon Go for [iNaturalist] and found myself going further and getting more excited about looking for creatures!” On a recent trip to visit his in-laws in France, Brian had a chance to explore their “beautiful warm home surrounded by lush greenery and some forestry,” and “Every free moment was spent on every bee, hornet or spider!...I found some other wonderful creatures that were really pleasant surprises but nothing so spectacular as this Marbled Newt!”

While exploring on a drizzly night, he found some Giant Toads and went on the prowl for more toad-friendly spots when he found several Marbled Newts. “It was my first time seeing a wild live newt...I took a couple of pictures and a short video then left them alone as they crept away, shunning the light of my phone's torch. I was really excited to take those pictures, I wanted to wake everybody in the house up! My parents-in-law are nature lovers too. That's a major bonding point with my father-in-law so I was quite keen to show him. I was also really keen to post it on iNaturalist.”

Marbled Newts are one of the largest newt species in France, with adults ranging from 5 inches (13 cm) to 6.5 inches (17 cm) in length. They range through much of western France and into parts of Spain and Portugal. Like many newts, they migrate to breeding pools during winter and spring (generally February to May), and during this time males grow impressive crests along their back and tail. During this “aquatic phase,” the warty protuberances on the backs of  both males and females smooth out as well. Even when not breeding, males will have a small ridge along their back.

While Brian’s observation was taken in France, he resides in Oxford, England and was born and raised in Nairobi, Kenya. Growing up in Nairobi, he was always fascinated by nature, saying “We still have troops of monkeys (of different types: Vervet, Colobus, Sykes', etc) that pass through neighbourhoods stirring commotion as they proceed. Or the large Marabou Storks that patrol the city dump sites which are as much a fixture of the city as the people. Nature, animals in particular are the points of association with regards to my home country.”

Looking for wildlife has long been one of his hobbies, but Brian believes that using iNaturalist has made him even more passionate and aware of life around him. “Honestly, I wouldn't have found those newts if it wasn't for the pull I felt towards contributing to iNat,” he says. “I really was excited to add that observation and I'm over the moon that iNat and others are getting excited about it as well...it makes you appreciate the organisms you encounter and approach them with more intrigue, level of fascination skyrockets and you value every living thing in your surroundings.”

- by Tony Iwane

- All newts are salamanders, but not all salamanders are newts. Here’s an explainer.

- Here’s some video showing two Marbled Newts courting. You can definitely see the huge sexual dimorphism.

Posted on October 06, 2016 10:44 PM by tiwane tiwane | 1 comments | Leave a comment

October 02, 2016

Observation of the Week, 10/1/16

This Boto seen in Colombia by @eirikralexandros is our Observation of the Week!

When most people think of dolphins, I imagine they’re picturing greyish dolphins cavorting in the open ocean or at the mouths of bays. However, there are several species of freshwater dolphins who live in the large rivers of the world; the Ganges and Indus rivers are home to the endangered South Asian River dolphin, and the now functionally extinct Chinese River Dolphin lived only in the Yangtze river. The largest of the river dolphins are the Amazon river dolphins (also known as Boto), found throughout six countries in South America, and growing up to 8.2 ft (2.5m) in length and 408 lbs (185 kg) in weight. They often take on a pinkish hue as adults, and have the widest prey variety of any toothed whale, having been recorded eating at least 53 species of fish. They’ll event team up with giant otters and tucuxi (a distant relative) when hunting!

Eirick Pinilla was a field veterinarian for his university when he photographed the above Boto. “We had to catch some monkeys for genetics studies and we moved between base camps (exclusively by water transportation),” he says. “So that day I was arriving to ‘Lagos de Tarapoto’ base camp and just before disembarking and merely a few meters away from the river bank a couple of dolphins ‘grabbed the spotlight.’” A pretty spectacular sight.

Eirick says he’s always been interested in nature, which is what led him to his current career as a wildlife veterinarian and conservationist. And while he loves all animals, his favorites are “bats, owls, snakes and basically whatever thrives at night.”

“I've found iNaturalist the right tool to share my experiences and the little knowledge I've got about nature,” he says. “I must confess I'm a lot more interested in photography now (that I know iNaturalist) and in freezing those special moments so that other people can enjoy them as much as I do.”

- by Tony Iwane

- Some nice footage of Amazon river dolphins, courtesy of the BBC.

- Sonar engineers attempt to accurately survey the Ganges river dolphin, to aid in its conservation.

Posted on October 02, 2016 05:13 AM by tiwane tiwane | 0 comments | Leave a comment

September 22, 2016

Observation of the Week, 9/22/16

This Madagascar jungleskimmer seen in Madagascar by @erlandreflingnielsen is our Observation of the Week!

Erland Nielsen is an engineer by trade, but does entomology in this spare time, “more or less 100 % of it,” he says. His main interest since 1998 has been the order Odonata, or the dragonflies and damselflies, although lately he says “my interest has spread to other kind of insects, especially flies (Diptera) and true bugs (Hemiptera).”

Erland saw the Madagascar jungleskimmer on a trip to Madagascar which was arranged by Odonatours.com, and it was the first trip by the company. “At least three new species was found,” says Erland, “and the trip was an effort to get some pictures for the forthcoming book on the dragonfly fauna of the island, by KD Dijkstra. This book will be distributed for free to institutions and schools in Madagascar, teaching them about a corner of their their unique fauna.” In order to photograph the quick-moving jungleskimmer, Erland had to crank the ISO on his camera to 6400 and use a narrow aperture, but he was able to capture its somewhat unique ovipositing behavior in a great shot. “My main interest in dragonflies are behavior,” says Erland, “and getting a photo of the Madagascar jungle-skimmer doing oviposition was really great.”

Like all dragonflies, the Madagascar jungleskimmer is aquatic or semiaquatic when in their nymphal stage, which can last for several years. Adult female dragonflies, then, have to lay their eggs in or around water. Most do so by either quickly dipping their rear ends on the water’s surface and depositing an egg, or cutting slits into aquatic plants and laying the eggs inside the plants. The female Madagascar jungleskimmer, however, flicks water droplets (with her eggs inside) onto the shore! Some other species are known to do this as well, and as of I can’t find a clear-cut explanation for it. If anyone knows, please write in the comments!

A prolific Flickr user, Erland has found that using iNat’s Flickr importer is an easy way for him to add his geotagged photos to iNaturalist, and hopes to add more of his observations from around the world to iNat.

- by Tony Iwane

- To give you an idea of what this kind oviposition looks like here’s video of a Tyriobapta torrida dragonfly in Singapore flicking her eggs onto land. Very quick!

- Odonatours.com has a report of their tour available online here [pdf].

Posted on September 22, 2016 10:19 PM by tiwane tiwane | 2 comments | Leave a comment

September 15, 2016

Observation of the Week, 9/15/16

This Marvellous Spatuletail seen in Peru by @>joanseptembre is our Observation of the Week!

Male hummingbirds are well known for their flashy, iridescent plumage but Marvellous Spauletail males take their courtship plumage and displays a bit further. Unique among birds, this species has only four tail feathers, and in males two of those feathers are extremely long (2-3 times body length) and end in large flat discs, or “spatules.” When courting, males hover in front of females and wave these spatules back and forth. They also make a snapping sound, which until recently was thought to be made by the feathers, until a BBC film crew showed the noise came from the bird’s beak. 

Marvellous Spatuletails live only a small area of the Peruvian rainforest, and were a target species for iNat user Joan Septembre (@joanseptembre) on her most recent trip to the country. She’d missed out on seeing them three years earlier, but made sure to visit Huembo Reserve this time, which is known for having a population of them. And sure enough, she saw at least two males come to one of the feeders in the reserve!

“They were smaller than many of the other hummingbirds, if you don't count the tail feathers, and much less aggressive,” she says. “They would sit in the bushes and wait until most of the other hummingbirds had gone...if it looked safe, they would go to the feeders for a very short time, then dart off again.” Many other hummingbirds would chase them off as well.

“I have a lot of fun taking photos for iNaturalist,” says Joan. “It makes me more aware of what is around me, things I wouldn't notice otherwise, [and] I feel that I get as much as I give when I post on iNaturalist.  I am ending up with a great record of some of the interesting plants and animals that I've seen in various places around the world, and they have been identified for me!...I hope that some of the things I've observed and photographed will be interesting for others to view, and useful for scientific research as well.”

- by Tony Iwane

- Pretty much everything about hummingbirds is amazing, especially in slow motion. Here’s a great one involving a wind tunnel.

- And another fun one from Earth Unplugged.

Posted on September 15, 2016 09:41 PM by tiwane tiwane | 0 comments | Leave a comment

September 08, 2016

Observation of the Week, 9/8/16

This Brown smooth-hound shark, seen along San Francisco Bay by @sassafire, is our Observation of the Week!

Naturalist Morgan Dill grew up along the shores of Lake Michigan, and says she  “couldn’t be pried off the beach in the summers. I spent most of my days outside exploring, playing in the nearby creek and building forts in the backyard, scattering seeds I’d find and then watching them sprout and grow.” Now she’s a naturalist who works at the Crab Cove Visitor Center along the shores of San Francisco Bay, where she leads field trips, does seine netting, and educates folks about the bay’s flora and fauna.

Last week some visitors came to the visitor center saying they had found a small shark washed up on the tide line, so Morgan and her colleague went to check it out. They identified it as a Brown smooth-hound shark, “which we don’t typically see, though they are not uncommon,” she says, they confirmed it was a female and wasn’t injured. They then walked it out into the water and watched it swim away.

While Northern California is known for its population of Great White Sharks, that species usually hangs out along the coast, especially around the Farallon Islands, and only rarely enter the bay itself. There are, however, many other species of smaller sharks that call the bay home, such as Leopard Sharks, Northern Pacific Spiny Dogfish, large Broadnose sevengill sharks, and of course the small Brown smooth-hound shark, which is actually preyed-upon by the sevengills. Brown smooth-hounds average around two feet in length, and swim close to the bottom where they find invertebrates and small fish for food. Their name comes from their iridescent brown dorsal color. It’s tough to know why this one was so close to shore, but these sharks tend to pup in the shallow waters of the bay in spring and summer. The bay is an important nursery for many fish, including sharks. Not a commercially important fish, so far its population numbers have been holding steady, unlike many other shark species.

Morgan admits to not being “the most prolific of iNaturalist users when it comes to posting observations,” but she uses iNat in other ways, such as checking IDs of things she’s found, and she’s using it with high school students for a program she teaches that’s run by the East Bay Regional Park District and the Save the Redwoods League. “[The students] are always surprised that people are out there willing to look at what they find and identify it,” she says. “I love knowing they are getting real feedback from other citizen scientists, and have a feeling of contributing with their own experiences out in the field.”

And for Morgan herself, “I think that being a naturalist, and using iNat, makes me pay attention to the smaller details, and giving time to really consider what would help identify or distinguish an organism. Taking time pushes me to think about the beautiful intricacies of things, and ultimately discover more.”

- by Tony Iwane

- Here’s a short video showing a pregnant Brown Smooth-hound shark.

- Last year a Great White Shark was seen making a kill off of Alcatraz, the first known recorded incident of a Great White kill inside the bay.

- While most of us picture a Great White or something similar when we hear the word “shark,” sharks and rays (their cousins) are incredibly diverse. Here are some photos and descriptions of some of them, courtesy of the BBC. 

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