April 20, 2017

Observation of the Week, 4/20/17

This Cryptocellus tickspider, seen in Panama by @stephane_degreef, is our Observation of the Week!

Belgian-born environmental engineer Stéphane De Greef has a humorous yet insightful take on the field of biology:

I think every child is interested in nature until their mother tell them “Don’t touch that! It’s dirty! Dangerous! Disgusting!" Children who just ignore these warnings usually become biologists! In many of us, you’ll still find the same enthusiasm, passion and curiosity we had when we were children. It’s intense, it’s in us 24/7 and, frankly, it’s often contagious! When I was a kid, I lived near a small forest in Belgium. Every weekend, I would walk out early morning with my gumboots and my pocketknife and go exploring the nearby woods, streams and caves...And guess what? Thirty years later, I’m still doing the exact same thing. And I love it.

While he has spent over a decade in Southeast Asia, Stéphane is now spending an entire year in Panama’s Cocobolo Nature Preserve, studying arthropod diversity. He has a “soft spot” for ants and arachnids, and wants to “use my findings for awareness and education, and to promote the place so that more people can experience the rainforests and cloud forest first hand and understand why it’s so important to preserve it.”

He found the amazing organism pictured above while leading a group of students from Virginia Tech, collecting unusual arthropods. “So there I was,” recalls Stéphane, “walking in the rainforest with my gumboots, looking under rotting logs for unusual critters, when I noticed these small arachnids. Too stocky to be harvestmen. Too flat, thick and slow to be spiders. But I knew I’d seen them before in photos elsewhere: on Piotr Naskrecki’s Facebook wall.”

Stéphane collected several specimens and photographed them back at the research station, for the Meet Your Neighbours site. @sjl197 here on iNat was able to identify them as members of the genus Cryptocellus, which belong to the small arachnid order of Ricinulei, or the Hooded Tickspiders.

Numbering only 58 described species, little is known about the Hooded Tickspiders. They are tiny, usually only reaching 10mm in length; predatory; and have a retractable “hood” that covers their chelicerae (mouthparts). Lacking true eyes, they use the chelicerae and their long second pair of legs as sensory organs, and in males the third pair of legs are modified for copulation. In fact, this third pair of legs can be used taxonomically to differentiate between genuses and species. They are found only in the Neotropical region and West-Central Africa. Oh, and like ticks and mites, tickspider young only have six legs - the other pair grows in later!

Outreach is an important part of Stéphane’s work, and while he uses Facebook, he says it’s not great for organizing his data, “which is why I turned to iNaturalist. It allows me to share my findings in a nice, clean, efficient way, including my photos, my field notes and geolocation. I get the benefits of crowdsourcing the identification and people who are not keen on Facebook can still access my work. It’s nice, tidy and efficient, and the species catalogs are exhaustive and up-to-date...While iNaturalist hasn’t changed the way I interact and see the natural world, it definitely changed the way I share my discoveries with the world.”

- by Tony Iwane


- Stéphane has a great website that includes his photos, a field guide to arthropods of northwest Cambodia, information about his upcoming Bug Camps in Panama, and more. Check it out!

- In case you wanted to know more about tickspiders...

- Gumboot dancing is an artform in Africa, here’s a cool video about it. Oh, and Paul Simon’s Gumboots is a great song as well.

Posted on April 20, 2017 03:26 PM by tiwane tiwane | 0 comments | Leave a comment

March 31, 2017

Observation of the Week, 3/31/17

This Aspidimorpha sanctaecrucis beetle, seen in in Indonesia by @tickteng, is our Observation of the Week!

While not a professional naturalist, Patrick has always been interested in the natural world. As a child, he says, “I spent a lot of time watching documentaries, learning about nature. I'd chase any insects and collect them. My favorites were grasshoppers and mantids. I'd go into the muddy pool to find any little fishes or critters. I find that the life of these little creatures is fascinating and too pretty to be missed.”

He recently joined iNaturalist because he wanted to share the photos of wildlife that he’s taken, and we’re glad he did. The above Aspidimorpha sanctaecrucis beetle photograph above became one of our most viewed social media posts ever, with nearly 12,000 views on Twitter (and garnered the nickname Power Ranger beetle) and nearly 6,000 on Facebook (where it was called an Iron Man beetle)!

Like a past Observation of the Week, Patrick found this animal while waiting for a bus. “So, it was Friday, the sun was scorching hot,” recalls Patrick about the day he took the photograph. “I just finished doing my work, waiting for the bus. It took a while for the bus to come, so I decided to explore the grass nearby. And there, when I turned a leaf upside down, I found that little beetle, gleaming in its gold armor. That was not my first encounter with this beauty. I picked it up and then took a photograph of it in my hand. After a photo or two, the beetle then flew away from my hand, back to its peaceful sanctuary.”

Aspidimorpha sanctaecrucis beetles can be found throughout much of easter and southeastern Asia, from northeast India through China and down to Indonesia. As a member of the “tortoise beetles,” it has elytra (the hard outer wings) and a pronotum (thorax overing) that spread out to cover the legs. In this beetle’s case, those parts of it anatomy are translucent and have gold and red patches, which fade once the animal dies. Both larvae and adults feed on plants in the morning glory family, and the larvae even cover themselves with fecal shields!

- Tony Iwane


- You can check out Patrick’s Instagram feed here.

- Can’t get enough tortoise beetles? There are over 400 observations of them on iNat!

- More about fecal shields from Wired Magazine. Yup.

Posted on March 31, 2017 11:20 PM by tiwane tiwane | 0 comments | Leave a comment

March 30, 2017

The Spring Bump and Overall iNat Growth

Numbers! Sure, they don’t have feathers, fangs, or pseudopodia, but they can be pretty cool. Taking a look at our Stats page, you can see that iNat is experiencing our yearly “spring bump,” coinciding with spring in the northern hemisphere (which came early this year) and the explosion of flowers, insects, reptiles, etc. But you can also see an overall trend in total growth of about 100%. In fact, March 27th was our biggest day of overall traffic ever, and right now we’re recording over twice as many observations compared to the same dates last year (e.g. 29,172 on March 27th (A), 2016 vs 71,005 on March 27th, 2016 (B)). 

With twice the amount of observations, you’d expect to see a similar change in active user numbers, and comparing March 27th, 2016 (A) and March 27th, 2017 (B), that’s almost exactly what’s happened - 7,387 vs 14,440, and climbing steadily this year. Even the slowest day in the doldrums of winter has doubled, from 4,024 to 8,064. Users are also increasingly turning to mobile platforms - iOS observations are up 250% over this time last year, and Android observations are up 600%!

What’s cool is that the quality of observations and community engagement has also been increasing, along with quantity; research grade observations now make up a higher percentage of overall observations. Right now we have about 4.8 million verifiable observations, about 2.4 million of which are research grade. A year ago, of the 2.3 million verifiable observations, 1.1 million were research grade, so the ratio of research grade to total observations is becoming more favorable. Keep on using the Identify page to ID more observations!

All told, iNaturalist should be hitting 4 million verifiable observations (and 5 million total) in the next few weeks and, if trends continue, it’s possible we’ll be at 10 million total observations in about another year.

A big thank you to everyone for making iNat a vibrant, growing community, we’re looking to see more big numbers in the upcoming City Nature Challenge!

- Tony Iwane (with lots of data help from Patrick Leary)

Posted on March 30, 2017 11:08 PM by tiwane tiwane | 1 comments | Leave a comment

March 24, 2017

Observation of the Week, 3/23/17

This Cyerce nigricans sea slug, seen on Lord Howe Island by @ianhutton, is our Observation of the Week!

Ian Hutton grew up in Sydney, Australia and came to know the outdoors through Boy Scouts, but it is on Lord Howe Island, a remote speck of land 370 miles (600 km) east of the Australian continent, where he’s lived most of his life. “After school I joined the Australian Weather Bureau as a way of getting out of Sydney and exploring Australia by working in some remote areas,” he recalls. “I’d done a little bit of travelling up the East Coast with the Weather Bureau and in 1980 I came to Lord Howe Island on a Bureau posting and have been here since.”

Ian has explored the island thoroughly throughout his many years there, studying birds, plants (he discovered about 12 new species), and intertidal creatures, as well helping researchers (“It was a great time for me. I enjoyed their company and learned a lot by being with them,” he says), and publishing a dozen books.

“I have photographed every plant of Lord Howe Island with flowers, fruits, bark, and seedling, all the birds in various stages and behaviors, and many insects,” says Ian.

"But perhaps I am most fascinated by the intertidal marine life. The seashore is the place I can go and lose myself for a few hours, wandering around rock pools at low tide, and always see something I haven’t seen before – animals, a behavior, and endless fascination. The sea slugs are a particularly beautiful group of marine animals and I love finding these and photographing them, over and over. …… and….. my favourite is of course the Black and gold cyerce or Cyerce nigricans shown in this image –  quite rare and I [see] only maybe 6 a year, and always take photographs."

While it resembles a nudibranch, the Black and gold cyerce is not in the nudibranch order but is instead a sacoglossan, or “sap-sucking” slug that eats algae. Some sacoglossans are even able to keep chloroplasts from the algae in their bodies and use them for photosynthesis (kleptoplasty!), but that is an ability the Black cyerce lacks. Unlike other slugs in its genus it is vibrantly colored and patterned, which warns predators of its foul taste.

“Living here is like living in a David Attenborough documentary,” says Ian, when describing his island home. “It has rainforest clad mountains 2,850 feet high with many plants found nowhere else in the world, thronging seabird colonies with fourteen different species breeding, the world’s most southerly coral reef with its myriad of tropical marine creatures.” He also notes that it’s a leader in conservation, having eradicated invasive animals such as cats and goats, and they are hoping to eradicate rodents by 2018. Ian himself has initiated a weeding ecotour program of the island, which has run 81 times since 1995 and contributed over 25,000 volunteer hours, and for which he was awarded the Order of Australia Medal.

Ian heard about several recent projects involving the Australian Museum, and says “so I thought I would plug a few photos in and introduce iNaturalist to Lord Howe Island and see where it goes from here. It seems a very professional operation with huge potential for sharing knowledge – and that hopefully will encourage conservation of our amazing planet. I will certainly enjoy being part of it, sharing photos not only on Lord Howe Island but wherever I travel.”

by Tony Iwane


- Check out the Lord Howe Island Nature Tours page for more info about Ian, the island, and tours.

- There are over 800 observations from Lord Howe Island on iNaturalist, you can see them here. Amazing stuff!

- If you want to learn more about sea slugs, Sea Slug Forum is where it’s at.

Posted on March 24, 2017 12:59 AM by tiwane tiwane | 0 comments | Leave a comment

March 16, 2017

Observation of the Week, 3/16/17

This busy Mason bee mother, seen in Bulgaria by @exonie, is our Observation of the Week!

“My deeper interest in biodiversity started when I turned nature photography into a hobby,” says Dimitǎr Boevski (@exonie). “Searching for subjects to photograph I started noticing creatures I hadn't noticed before. Upon getting home, I would check my books and the Internet for an ID and read more about the animals that I photographed. Gradually I built up my knowledge and learnt more about their ‘hiding places.’ I was amazed how many different and interesting species were living in my immediate surroundings.”

It’s Dimitǎr’s eye for detail and his endless curiosity that led him to the beautiful series of shots you see above. “At some time in the past I noticed that some of the holes in the wall have been sealed with mud and it was a mystery for a while how that came to be. One spring I found them open and not long after, I saw a bee getting inside. I stood there quite some time watching her buzzing around and going out for pollen. And, naturally, i took some photos.”

He didn’t stop there, though. “As usual, I wanted to learn more about what i have witnessed and found lots of interesting info - including,” he says, “that some people make artificial nests for solitary bees. This inspired me to make such a nest myself.” His artificial nest has one wall made of transparent plastic, so “you can see the internal structure of the nest with the chambers separated by mud walls. And lots of pollen.” So cool.

While they do nest in tunnels, often tunnels in wood, Mason bees (Genus Osmia) do not make their own tunnels (however their relatives, the Carpenter bees, do). As their name suggests, Mason bees find tunnels then use mud, clay, or similar substances to block-off sections of their nest tunnel into cells for individual eggs. A mother Mason bee will collect a large provision of nectar and pollen, then lay her egg on it and seal off the cell. She’ll soon start a new cell after that. When the eggs hatch, the larvae eat up the nutritious provisions and pupate overwinter in the tunnel before emerging the next year. Some farmers put artificial nests in their orchards and gardens to the attract the bees, who are quite good pollinators.

Dimitǎr continues to explore nature and hunt for species (“much more interesting than pokemons!”), and finds that iNaturalist is a great place for him to organize and share his observations. “The data is very well structured which makes it possible to search it and view it in many different ways,” he says. “It is also very open, allowing other projects to use it. Being an editor in the Bulgarian Wikipedia, I always believed that information should be made as widely accessible as possible.”

- by Tony Iwane


- More Mason bee amazingness from Dimitǎr. This one is covered in pollen-eating mites that hitch rides on bees and gorge themselves on their pollen provisions.

- There are over 2,000 observations from Bulgaria on iNat. Explore them here!

- Check out some Mason bee action in this video.

Posted on March 16, 2017 11:56 PM by tiwane tiwane | 1 comments | Leave a comment

March 10, 2017

Observation of the Week, 3/9/17

This Alitta brandti polychaete worm, seen in California by @raulagrait, is our Observation of the Week!

Born and raised in Puerto Rico, “with iguanas climbing into in my bathtub and lizards always nearby when I played outside or in my backyard,” Raul Agrait is now a San Francisco Bay Area resident. By day he’s a software engineer (“I once fixed a bug on iNaturalist for iOS - hooray!”), but he’s also become an amateur naturalist.

“My wife introduced me to BioBlitzes and iNaturalist a few years ago, and it has completely changed the way I interact with nature,” Raul explains. “I've always enjoyed going on long hikes and being outdoors, but since I've started using iNaturalist, I've gained such a deep appreciation of the intense diversity that is around us.”

Facing a deadline at work the other week, Raul felt he needed to take a nature break during lunch, so he drove to nearby Candlestick Point State Recreation Area to photograph some birds. He continues,

After walking for a short while, I saw the Horned Grebe and noticed that it seemed to be pulling on something. From a distance, I thought it might be a piece of kelp, because I noticed that it dragged on for quite a way behind the Grebe...then I noticed that a duck started following the Grebe and grabbed ahold of the other end of the worm. At first they swam in the same direction, but after a bit they started doing a tug of war and pulling in opposite directions..After a while, about a half dozen other Scaups joined in and started gnawing at the worm as well.

Eventually several other Scaups joined in the fray, but unfortunately Raul had to return to work so he couldn’t capture the rest of the feeding frenzy. “Frankly, I had no idea what kind of worm that was, or if it even was a worm at all, and find it so amazing that it could be identified and shared with so quickly by experts in the field,” he says.

iNat user @leslieh, marine worm identifier extraordinaire, was able to get this worm to species: Alitta brandti, which is the longest polychaete worm along the western coast of North America, reaching lengths of 1-1.5 meters (!). Like all polychaetes it has a body made of segments that have parapodia, or protrusions on each side. These parapodia often end in bristles called setae, and are used for locomotion as well as respiration. When immature it often lives on the seafloor, but when sexually mature it begins swimming to find mates, often in spring or summer.

Not only does Raul go on solo nature jaunts (“[iNaturalist] makes my brief walks in the middle of the city mini adventures where I can now identify House Sparrows, Bushtits, Anna's Hummingbirds, and Red Admirals.”), nature and iNaturalist have become a family affair:

Our whole family enjoys browsing through observations on iNaturalist together, we use it to plan our family outings ("What species are nearby here?", "What's the closest place we can see this bird?"), and will share observations with each other as readily as news articles. My daughter, who also uses iNaturalist, went away to college out of state this past year, and one of my favorite things in the world is when she shares her observations with me ("Look at this different Phoebe!", "I finally saw a Belted Kingfisher!").

- by Tony Iwane


- Of course there’s a video of an Alitta brandti (here known by a synonym, Nereis brandti), this one found off the coast of Oregon. A great look at its parapodia at work.

- And more wormy wonders of the ocean. 

- July 1st is International Polychaete Day, and the Smithsonian posted a great article listing 14 facts about polychaetes!

Posted on March 10, 2017 12:32 AM by tiwane tiwane | 0 comments | Leave a comment

March 02, 2017

Observation of the Week, 3/2/17

This Timor Flying Dragon, seen in East Timor by @vincekessner, is our Observation of the Week!

“I consider myself to be an amateur malacologist,” says Vince Kessner, “my main interests are collecting and studying land and freshwater molluscs.” Over 45 years, his passion has taken him throughout Australia and around the world, including Indonesia, Europe and the Middle East. A recent iNaturalist member, he sees “iNaturalist as a great source of information, learning and ID tool.”

In 2006 Vince “initiated a systematic survey of non-marine molluscs in East Timor (Timor Leste - or TL), which was the first land and freshwater survey ever undertaken in that country.” On a trip there in 2011, he and his timorose friends “just arrived at Bemalai Lagoon, started getting ready for the survey when in the corner of my eye I noticed something moving. The [Timor flying dragon] just landed on the spare tire. No big drama, my camera was within my reach, so I just took a few shots. I was simply in the right place at the right time.”

“Timor flying dragon” is a bit of a misnomer, as it actually doesn’t fly but glides and, as far as we know, doesn’t breathe fire or hoard gold. However, it’s an exceptionally cool reptile, one of about forty species in the genus Draco, or gliding lizards. Extra flaps of skin and flexible, extendable ribs are how the “wings,” or patagia, are constructed, and allow to the lizards to escape from predators. Some glides have been recorded at 60 m (200 ft)! The Timor species are sexually dimorphic - patagia of the males are bright yellow, and patagia of the females varies depending on each island’s population.

Lizards are cool, but Vince’s mollusc work on East Timor has resulted in some pretty great findings:

Prior to the survey, only half a dozen species were reported from the country. Preliminary result are amazing: so far we have discovered about 140 species of land snails belonging to 45 genera and 23 families. The results are really preliminary and will change, once all the mountain peaks over 1700 m above sea level and the Oecussi District are surveyed, and all the species positively identified or named.

The East Timor project is really exciting - beautiful mountains, nice people, lot to see and discover. I wish I was 10 years younger. I am nearly 75 and climbing those hills and mountains can be quite painful experience for me…

- by Tony Iwane


- Vince is a Resarch Associate at the Australian Museum in Sydney, who is helping with the Timor project. Here’s an article about some of their findings, as well as the home page for the expedition.

- The BBC has amazing (and over-foleyed) slow motion footage of a flying dragon, of course. 

Posted on March 02, 2017 11:08 PM by tiwane tiwane | 1 comments | Leave a comment

February 24, 2017

Observation of the Week, 2/23/17

Our Observation of the Week is this Cryptic mantis, seen in Zimbabwe by @i_c_riddell!

A longtime nature enthusiast, Ian Riddell has been a Ranger for Zimbabwe’s Department of National Parks since he was a student, and was a professional Safari Guide as well. “I use iNaturalist for nearly all my records,” he says, “having found it soon after it started after searching for some site where I could put my piles of records to use – and Zimbabwe showed as a big blank on the map.”

He’s since added over 600 observations from Zimbabwe (nearly half of all iNat observations there), including the stunning young Cryptic mantis seen above. As you can tell, this insect was found not on an adventure in the bush (“the bush is the colloquial term for any venture out of the city to wild places,” says Ian), but in his home.

“I noticed the mantid out of the corner of my eye whilst combing the cat! There was something ant-sized moving on a folded blanket on a verandah table,” he recalls. “Not an ant ‘cause the movement was wrong, so dashed inside to grab the camera and a gorgeous tiny mantid was revealed.”

The Cryptic mantis ranges throughout southern Africa, and females can grow up to about 5-6 cm in length, with the males a bit smaller. As an adult, it will have green, leaf-like wings and several leafy projections from his hind legs. In the photo you can see the thin prothorax behind its head, which is a trait of the species.

Ian says he’s “Still interested in all aspects of nature; in the garden, on a bird outing, a National Parks visit, bio-diversity surveying, whatever,” and currently does some work for BirdLife Zimbabwe, leads some birding trips, and writes short ornithological and travel articles. And he’s still into learning, admitting that “A lot of spare time is taken up on identifying past and present discoveries; moths are a real challenge!”

- by Tony Iwane


- Are there Cryptic mantid videos on YouTube? Of course

- Here’s an article about another amazing mantis, the Orchid Mantis.

Posted on February 24, 2017 12:53 AM by tiwane tiwane | 0 comments | Leave a comment

February 23, 2017

An iNat Introduction to Mushrooming

As promised in this post, here's part two of a video series to help iNat users get out and exploring new taxa. This time, it's mushrooms!

Here in the Bay Area we're lucky to have Mushrooms of the Redwood Coast: A Comprehensive Guide to the Fungi of Coastal Northern California co-author Christian Schwarz (@leptonia) nearby, so I made a sojourn to Santa Cruz and to record some of this advice and thoughts about searching for these these crazy organisms. He's a great teacher and a real enthusiast, and I hope you find him as inspiring and helpful as I did. It was tough to finish the video because every time I started editing it, I wanted to immediately get out and find some fungi instead of staying in - and I was never particularly into them before!

The video is meant to be a very basic intro to finding and photographing mushrooms for iNaturalist; if you find yourself wanting to get more in-depth knowledge, Christian suggests joining a local mushrooming or mycological group to get some hands-on tutelage in the field.

- Tony

Posted on February 23, 2017 06:21 PM by tiwane tiwane | 0 comments | Leave a comment

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
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