April 21, 2018

Observation of the Week, 4/21/18

Our Observation of the Week is this Conops thick-headed fly, seen in Belgium by @henkwallays2!

A naturalist who was first interested in amphibians (especially salamanders), Henk Wallays has been photographing wildlife for a long time now - “Most [amphibian] images...date from before the digital age (like me ;-) and are on slide,” he says - and has recently become interested in macro photography. “I have also started to appreciate the nature from my neighbourhood  and took up the idea of going for photographic inventories…mainly on the smaller animals. I am very keen on photographing solitary bees for the last 5 years now , but I tend to make shots of almost anything that passes in front of my lens. The purpose being to make sharp images depicting the animals with as much detail as possible.” Describing his macro photography as a “hobby that kind of went out of hand,” Henk always brings his camera and twin flash gear with him wherever he goes.

One place he tries to visit every year is the Viroin region of Belgium, “which is known for its rich biodiversity...There are so many different insect and plant species in the various nature reserves out there which I can not find elsewhere.” It was on a visit there in 2009 when he found the awesome Conops fly pictured above. “During this trip we actually found some new solitary bee species which I had not seen before and then there was this Conops,” he recalls. “Although we do from time to find Conops where I live, this animal just posed so nice that I had to make the shot.”

The beautiful, nectar-sipping adult form of the Conops fly belies its somewhat savage life cycle. Female Conops flies will often attack bees, especially bumblebees, in mid-air and spread open the segments of the bee’s abdomen, where they will deposit an egg. Once the egg hatches, the larva will feed on the hemolymph (blood) of the host before slowly devouring its internal organs and eventually killing the host. It will then pupate inside the dead bee and emerge in the spring.

Henk (who wanted to share his photo of a rare Epeoloides coecutiens bee rather than one of himself) found out about iNaturalist just over a week ago and is “currently busy uploading some of the older material.” He says that “although my experience with iNaturalist is short I kind of appreciate this platform a lot. Especially the fact that you are supported in having the right name tag on the animals or plants; either by (great) automated support (working well for plants specifically) and not the least also by other people helping out in those areas where I am not that familiar about (thanks for all of them who so far helped me out).”

“For now my image library is really too big and needs some clean up, it counts well over 150,000 shots on more than 3,000 species of animals, plants, [etc.],” says Henk. “And I hope to continue expanding it with more and better shots along the way.”

He’s passionate about contributing his sightings to different databases such as iNaturalist, AmphibiaWeb (where his old salamander photos have been uploaded), and Belgium’s own database. “So now in the field,” he explains, “you actually see me enter the observations twice on the cell phone, once for iNaturalist & once for Belgium.”

- by Tony Iwane


- Check out Henk’s photo gallery!

- Here are two videos of adult Conops at rest. Great looks at their halteres, which enable flies to be such awesome aerial acrobats.

Posted on April 21, 2018 06:39 PM by tiwane tiwane | 1 comments | Leave a comment

Observation of the Week, 4/21/18

Our Observation of the Week is this Conops thick-headed fly, seen in Belgium by @henkwallays2!

A naturalist who was first interested in amphibians (especially salamanders), Henk Wallays has been photographing wildlife for a long time now - “Most [amphibian] images...date from before the digital age (like me ;-) and are on slide,” he says - and has recently become interested in macro photography. “I have also started to appreciate the nature from my neighbourhood  and took up the idea of going for photographic inventories…mainly on the smaller animals. I am very keen on photographing solitary bees for the last 5 years now , but I tend to make shots of almost anything that passes in front of my lens. The purpose being to make sharp images depicting the animals with as much detail as possible.” Describing his macro photography as a “hobby that kind of went out of hand,” Henk always brings his camera and twin flash gear with him wherever he goes.

One place he tries to visit every year is the Viroin region of Belgium, “which is known for its rich biodiversity...There are so many different insect and plant species in the various nature reserves out there which I can not find elsewhere.” It was on a visit there in 2009 when he found the awesome Conops fly pictured above. “During this trip we actually found some new solitary bee species which I had not seen before and then there was this Conops,” he recalls. “Although we do from time to find Conops where I live, this animal just posed so nice that I had to make the shot.”

The beautiful, nectar-sipping adult form of the Conops fly belies its somewhat savage life cycle. Female Conops flies will often attack bees, especially bumblebees, in mid-air and spread open the segments of the bee’s abdomen, where they will deposit an egg. Once the egg hatches, the larva will feed on the hemolymph (blood) of the host before slowly devouring its internal organs and eventually killing the host. It will then pupate inside the dead bee and emerge in the spring.

Henk (who wanted to share his photo of a rare Epeoloides coecutiens bee rather than one of himself) found out about iNaturalist just over a week ago and is “currently busy uploading some of the older material.” He says that “although my experience with iNaturalist is short I kind of appreciate this platform a lot. Especially the fact that you are supported in having the right name tag on the animals or plants; either by (great) automated support (working well for plants specifically) and not the least also by other people helping out in those areas where I am not that familiar about (thanks for all of them who so far helped me out).”

“For now my image library is really too big and needs some clean up, it counts well over 150,000 shots on more than 3,000 species of animals, plants, [etc.],” says Henk. “And I hope to continue expanding it with more and better shots along the way.”

He’s passionate about contributing his sightings to different databases such as iNaturalist, AmphibiaWeb (where his old salamander photos have been uploaded), and Belgium’s own database. “So now in the field,” he explains, “you actually see me enter the observations twice on the cell phone, once for iNaturalist & once for Belgium.”

- by Tony Iwane


- Check out Henk’s photo gallery!

- Here are two videos of adult Conops at rest. Great looks at their halteres, which enable flies to be such awesome aerial acrobats.

Posted on April 21, 2018 06:38 PM by tiwane tiwane | 0 comments | Leave a comment

April 13, 2018

Announcing Changes to Projects on iNaturalist

We’ve introduced some new functionality for projects on iNaturalist! One of the most-requested features related to projects is the ability to *automatically* include all observations in a particular place or taxon across all time and in a continuously updating manner. Unfortunately, associating observations with projects has been a computationally expensive process, so we have limited “the aggregator” to a small subset of trusted projects, or to time-bound bioblitz projects, to protect site performance.  Another common request is the ability to associate two or more projects together under an umbrella, such as all of the projects associated with a single organization.

Starting next week, users can create two new types of projects using automatic collection and umbrella projects. Here’s what the page will generally look like when you go to create a new project (some text will still change):


We can convert many existing projects to the new ‘collection’ project type, providing that its parameters match those on Observations Search, such as taxa, places, dates, and users. We are not able to convert projects that have a “Must be on list” rule. Existing projects that meet the criteria above can be converted to the new ‘collection’ project type by project administrators when you go to edit your project by contacting help+projects@inaturalist.org with the URL of the project you would like to convert (updated on 4/25/18).

Existing projects (let’s call them traditional) came in several flavors.  Most (82%) are ‘regular’ with a significant minority (12%) as ‘bioblitz’. A tiny fraction (<4%) were some experimental project types that never really worked well.

The vast majority of projects are created for one of these purposes:


  1. Run a BioBlitz (i.e. collect all observations within space and time boundaries).

  2. Collect interesting observations which couldn’t otherwise be found using Observations Search (e.g. Amazing Aberrants, Observation of the Day).

  3. Gain access to true locations of obscured/private observations and/or filter observations identified by project curators.

  4. Collect additional data using observation fields.

  5. Create a repository of all observations for a place and/or taxon that can be branded, shared, and used for outreach (e.g. to encourage participation in a park or observations of specific taxa).

  6. For educators to assemble observations made by students.

The status quo for projects has been especially difficult for the last two purposes. The limits on the aggregator have been frustrating for people who want all observations from a given place and/or taxon continuously updated. As a result, project owners, managers, and/or curators have had to manually add observations or rely on users to add their observations themselves. Educators have had to rely on students adding their observations to a specific project, which is laborious for the students and/or the educators. New ‘collection’ projects should be an improvement for both of these purposes because you can use standard search parameters to automatically include observations by date added or observed, place, or user (and more).

For example, a professor could add the usernames of all of her students to a project that will automatically capture all observations made and added to iNaturalist during the semester. Then all student observations from the entire semester will be easily visible for her review, enabling her to ensure that the observations are appropriate and identified.

These changes were made in advance of the upcoming City Nature Challenge (organized by the citizen science teams at the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County and the California Academy of Sciences), which is a perfect use case for an umbrella project. Sixty-four different metropolitan areas around the world will submit observations to iNaturalist made during April 27-30. The umbrella project allows you to easily compare the numbers of observations, species, and participants across several projects at once. For an immediate sense of what it will look like since the event has not started yet, we also created an umbrella project for last year’s City Nature Challenge.

In the near future we plan to include the ability to use observation annotations as additional project parameters, e.g. to only pull in observations from a particular insect life stage. We plan to combine this feature with improvements to the observation search filters tool.

As with any new features, there are always trade offs, and we know that these new projects will not work for all projects and needs.  Here are some major differences with new, collection projects (compared to traditional projects):


  • Collection projects do not provide access to private and obscured coordinates for project admins.

  • No links on individual observations to the collection projects in which they are included.

  • No ability to associate additional observation fields with collection projects (fields can still be added to individual observations).

Once we open the new project creation tool, everyone who goes to create a project will be offered a choice between creating a ‘collection’ or ‘umbrella’ style project. If you want to create a traditional project because you need one of the features lacking in the new collection projects, there will be a link to the old project creation page. The aggregator will also be disabled for new ‘traditional’ projects. Eventually we hope to phase out the creation of new ‘traditional’ projects, but we are aware that the aforementioned needs must be addressed (especially access to private and obscured coordinates). We are exploring other approaches to those needs.

The iNaturalist staff have created (or converted from existing) a few projects for you to explore. Please let us know if you encounter any problems with these as we prepare to fully release the functionality.

Examples:

City Nature Challenge 2018 (umbrella with 64 projects)

City Nature Challenge 2017 (umbrella with 16 projects)

Southwest Texas iNat-a-thon (collection with 23 users over 4 days)

Below you can see the design of the project creation page for new ‘collection’ projects (note: the text below will be updated for consistency with the descriptions above).

Posted on April 13, 2018 01:41 PM by carrieseltzer carrieseltzer | 73 comments | Leave a comment

April 07, 2018

Observation of the Week, 4/7/18


Our Observation of the Week is this group of Pitcher Plant Mining Moths, seen in Mississippi by @misspt!

The inside of a carnivorous plant is not the first place one would think of to look for (living) insects, but that’s exactly where Pitcher Plant Mining Moths thrive, as iNat user Lillian Gibb (misspt) documented in her photo (above).

Lillian saw the flower while on an outing with the Mississippi Naturalists Facebook group. “We were fortunate to have about 15 people from 3 different states and multiple areas of interest participate in an outing to the DeSoto National Forest area called Buttercup Flats.” It’s a restored Longleaf Pine Savanna ecosystem, which Lillian says “receives the routine burning that allows the ecosystem to flourish.  

This particular area is a pitcher plant bog and we specifically were able to find and identify 7 different types of carnivorous plants. We also saw several other organisms specialized to the Longleaf Pine Savanna besides the Pitcher Plant Mining Moth, including Bachman's Sparrow, Henslow's Sparrow, and Polygala nana.

As their common name suggests, the larvae of this moth host on the leaves of pitcher plants, which are carnivorous. After hatching, the larvae consume the leaf flesh in a pattern several grooves near the top of the leaf. This causes the upper part of the leaf to stop growing, and it forms a hard cap over the top, protecting the larva from predators. The flesh of the leave below the grooves remains fresh and growing, providing them food.

As adults, these moths spend much of the day sheltering on the inside of pitcher plant leaves, their feet specially designed to not slide on the slippery, downward-facing hairs that cause other insects to meet their doom. They always face upright when in the leaf, even backing in from the top. And while most moths face away from each other when copulating, Pitcher Plant Mining Moths mate at a ninety-degree angle so they don’t fall to their deaths!

Lillian (above, looking at carnivorous plants) grew up in Kemper County, Mississippi, and was always interested in the outdoors, and says “the first time I really connected with recording and understanding nature was in sixth grade completing a wildflower project in which I brought in the largest number of species by far as compared to my classmates.  My science teachers in ongoing grades helped continue to encourage my scientific endeavors with hands on learning.”

After fifteen years of working on her career and raising her family, she says she took up birding as a hobby, and calls the Longleaf Pine Savanna (and birds) her focus.

Of iNaturalist, she says

[it] has been extremely helpful with clarifying IDs, improving my ID abilities and helping me map my certain areas of interest, particularly Pitcher Plants a threatened/near threatened species. In Mississippi, we are working on trying to interest and involve more of our naturalists. We have so many people with amazing knowledge areas, but they still need a little convincing regarding the benefit of long term online observations that become part of a larger ongoing record.

If you’re a Mississippian who’s into nature, we’d love to see more observations from your state!

- by Tony Iwane


- Moths aren’t the only arthropods that take advantage of pitcher plants!

- Some cool Pitcher Plant Mining Moth info

Posted on April 07, 2018 10:25 PM by tiwane tiwane | 0 comments | Leave a comment

March 28, 2018

New Header

We're testing out a new version of the header! Click the buttons at the bottom of the page to try out Version 1 or Version 2 and let us know what you think. We wanted to improve a couple things:

  1. Search in the header
  2. Support smaller window sizes
  3. More focus on observations and taxa

If you want to provide feedback, please

  1. try and live with a new version for a few days before letting us know what you think
  2. explain why you like or dislike something, e.g. "I used to be able to do X but now I have to do Y and Z to do that"
  3. specify which version of the header you're talking about
  4. tell us what browser you're using
  5. don't just tell us which version you like; if that's all you have to say, just continue using the version you prefer and we'll be able to see that

Also, you can search with keyboard shortcuts. / opens the search field, and you can navigate the autocomplete results with the arrow keys. Hitting ENTER will take you to observations of that result, and hitting CTRL+ENTER or CMD+ENTER will take you to the detail page for that result.

Posted on March 28, 2018 07:26 PM by kueda kueda | 252 comments | Leave a comment

March 24, 2018

iNat Turns 10

iNaturalist made its internet debut 10 years ago in March 2008 as part of a Masters project by Ken-ichi Ueda, Jessica Kline, and Nate Agrin at the UC Berkeley School of information. Since then, it went from a website used mostly in California, to a platform with international portals, multiple languages, mobile apps for iOS and Android, and observations from every country in the world.

One of the original team members, Ken-ichi Ueda, is still deeply involved as a co-director and lead developer. We asked him to reflect on the beginning of iNaturalist.

How did you end up working on iNaturalist for your Masters project?

iNaturalist was actually one of the main reasons I enrolled at the UC Berkeley School of Information. I’d been thinking about making something like iNat ever since I moved to the Bay Area from New England. I’d always been interested in nature, but from the moment my plane broke through the July clouds and revealed the drab, brown hills and neon pink salt ponds surrounding San Francisco Bay, I knew I was in a different ecological world. Luckily, I had a digital camera and the Internet, and I soon discovered that sharing photos of my findings was a great way to both learn about this new ecosystem and connect with others who shared my interests. This was in 2003, pretty much the dawn of modern social media and online mapping, so combining natural history with these things seemed like it had a lot of potential. However, it also seemed like a lot of work, and, being lazy, I did nothing about it. Attending the iSchool was a way to force myself to work on this idea.

What do you wish you’d known 10 years ago when you started?

Nothing, really. If I'd known then what I know now about what it would take to make iNat successful, I probably would have given up.

What has surprised you most about iNaturalist?

When I started I suffered from the Field of Dreams fallacy: turns out building something doesn't mean people will use it. You also have to convince people to use it, especially when it is this kind of weird edifice for conducting an activity not that many people are into (i.e. naturalizing). This “if you build it, they will come” myth has been pretty thoroughly crushed in the modern age of social networks (Would you invest in a Facebook competitor? How about a new search engine?), but it was never more than a myth. iNat didn't take off until Scott Loarie came along and started spreading the word about it.


- Travel back to 2015 when we made an interactive animated map showing all iNat observations over time.

- Hear Ken-ichi and Scott talk about iNat waaay back in 2013 at the Commonwealth Club in San Francisco.

- And go even further back to 2011: San Francisco’s KQED wrote an article about iNat and posted a video of Scott and Ken-ichi demonstrating the iOS app in sweet sweet 240p resolution. 

Read more about iNaturalist.

Posted on March 24, 2018 10:45 PM by tiwane tiwane | 8 comments | Leave a comment

Observation of the Week, 3/23/18

Our Observation of the Week is this exquisite Shuttlecock Egg Cowrie, seen off of Mozambique by @seastung!

“Southern African diving is also unlike diving anywhere else in the world,” says Georgina Jones (seastung) of Cape Town. “Our coastline has amazing diversity for its length...Just as the Fynbos biome is one of the richest in the world, I find the waters around the Cape Peninsula to be astonishingly rich in biodiversity.”

And Georgina has contributed much to the understanding of the marine life here, such as writing a field guide for the peninsula, and “setting up a diving orientation course to help people with understanding the different techniques used, gear required and ecosystems involved around the coast...it's a work in progress.” And finally, she’s currently working on setting up an image-based reference library for southern African marine life, as well as collating an update of [Cal Academy’s own] Terrence Gosliner's 1987 Opisthobranchs of southern Africa.” Phew!

She photographed the above snail after some friends of hers noticed turtles in an area off the coast of southern Mozambique. They had discovered a field of sea pens below the turtles, on which the turtles have been presumably feeding (they haven’t observed the turtles feeding on them yet).

It lies in 30-36m of water and the turtles...are presumably the top predators in the system -- they're certainly the biggest! But the shuttlecock cowries are playing their part. I have images of them feeding on sea pens [above], as well as photos of their commensal shrimps [below]. It's a completely fascinating ecosystem in which we find a wide variety of phyla which I plan to upload to iNaturalist in due course.

While its common name contains the word “cowrie,” Shuttlecock Egg Cowries are actually members of the family Ovulidae, also known as the “false cowries” because most lack the classic egg shape of cowries; as you can see, this one has long lance-like extensions on either end. As Georgina noted, these are predatory (and sometimes parasitic) snails and their beautiful mantle is nearly always out, covering and smoothing out the shell. The shell itself is usually plain white in color. What’s cool is that in parasitic species, mantle patterns often resemble that of the host organisms.

As for the commensal shrimp on the snails, Georgina says “so far all I have seen it doing is scooting about on the cowrie. I'd assume it eats the cowrie poo and any scraps of food but...that's just a guess.”

Georgina [above, diving with a Prayid siphonophore]  has recently begun using iNaturalist after being an iSpot user for some time. As a new user, she says “[I find] I am taking images of species I would normally ignore because I know you don't yet have them in your database -- most of iNaturalist's southern African observations have come from tourists so far and it's interesting to see what species you have images for as a result.” She says she’ll soon be adding more photos of the species she has a special interest in, and focusing on identifying observations.

- by Tony Iwane. Photo of Georgina Jones by Arne Gething.


- They’re not cowries, but check out this video of sea slugs chowing down on a colony of sea pens!

- Mantles are so cool. Here’s a Banded Egg Cowrie with its mantle out.

Posted on March 24, 2018 02:18 AM by tiwane tiwane | 0 comments | Leave a comment

March 18, 2018

Observation of the Week, 3/18/18

Biting midges feast on the hemolymph of a Giant Golden Orb-weaving Spider while it in turn sucks the juices from a wasp - this is our Observation of the Week! Seen in Singapore by @budak.

Parasites are, as we all know, a fact of life. And while we don’t often think of spiders as having them, budak’s photo shows that our eight-legged friends do have to deal with blood-sucking hitchhikers - just like the rest of us.

budak is a self-taught naturalist, who “grew up near forests, rivers, [and] mangroves in Malaysia” and has volunteered at the Lee Kong Chian Natural History Museum in Singapore as well as participated in citizen science activities like Seagrass-Watch and the Comprehensive Marine Biodiversity Survey. He’s also the top iNaturalist observer in Singapore, having logged over 4,700 observations of 670 species! He uses iNat “as a 'repository' and an aid for identification/education thanks to the many experts for different taxonomic groups.”

Of course, one way to up your observation and species count is to find situations like flies feeding on a spider feeding on a wasp. budak recalls coming across this scene while on a photo walk in the Labrador Nature Reserve. “These large but harmless spiders are fairly common by trails/forest fringes in the region,” he says. “I saw this individual feeding on a scoliid wasp and wanted to take a closer look/shot, which revealed many biting midges on the cephalothorax.” His observation was originally published here, “although Art Borkent later shared that he believes the midges are Atrichopogon not Forcipomyia” explains budak.

One of the largest orb-weaving spiders in the world, female Giant Golden Orb-weavers can grow to body sizes of about 5 cm in body length and 20 cm if you include the legs. Males, however, are tiny - maxing out at 5-6 mm body length! Immensely strong, the silk of this spider is golden in color and females use it to build webs over a meter in diameter. Not only can they be parasitized by flies, but small kleptoparasitic Argyrodes spiders steal small prey from the large golden webs.

Whether the flies on this spider are Atrichopogon or Forcipomyia, they would be classified as biting midges of the family Ceratopogonidae. Called “no-see-ums” in North America and “midgies” in Scotland, biting midges are often considered pests to humans, as their bites can cause itchy welts. It is unknown if the spiders get itchy when bitten...

- by Tony Iwane


- Golden orb-weavers are just so cool. Some males deposit silk on the female when courting, and some females have been known to kill and eat birds.

- Golden orb silk has been woven to make an incredible textile that was on display at the Art Institute of Chicago. It was quite a process.

Posted on March 18, 2018 11:51 PM by tiwane tiwane | 3 comments | Leave a comment

March 12, 2018

Observation of the Week, 3/12/18

Our Observation of the Week is this amazing look at a Sahara Sand Viper, taken by @abdellahbouazza in Morocco!

Sand dunes present both an interesting challenge and an opportunity for legless predators like snakes. In order to move swiftly across the loose and often hot surface, vipers from both the old world and new world evolved the sidewinding form of locomotion. And for ambush predators like the above Sahara Sand Viper photographed by Abdellah Bouazza, the sand provides excellent opportunities for hiding.

A PhD a Marrakech University, Abdellah is a herpetologist who’s currently focusing “on some ecophysiological (thermoregulation, reproduction) and biogeographical aspects (distribution and conservation) of amphibians and reptiles in Morocco and others Mediterranean areas.”

In the spring of 2017 he and some friends traveled to southern Morocco in search of snakes. They visited the sandy areas of Khenifiss National Park and, after finding some other reptiles, also chanced upon the “beautiful small sand viper, Cerastes vipera (30 cm) during the first hours of the night” Abdellah explains that the coastal population of this snake differs morphologically from others, “with contrasted or dark brown colour patterns and bright orange eyes. It lives in coastal dunes from southwestern Morocco in sandy plateaus on the edge of the Atlantic Ocean.”

With most of its body buried, the Sahara Sand Viper can both protect itself from the heat of the day and lie in wait for prey. However, it isn’t just a passive hunter: it lures prey by twitching the tip of its tail above the sand, then strikes when the rodent or lizard (or bird) is close enough. Like all vipers it is venomous and has retractable fangs. You wouldn’t want to get bitten by one, but its venom is not typically considered fatal to humans.

Abdellah (above, holding a snake) explains that “[when teaching] I enjoy showing students nature, her importance, and I hope to pass on my knowledge and passion to the next generation. I try to combine scientific research with creating awareness about the biodiversity around us.”

He only recently joined iNaturalist, but says that it “contributed my interest in sharing records of my observations and paying attention to my research subjects and biodiversity around me. Also, I can share my observation with several experts who are happy to help in determining some unknown species for me.”

- by Tony Iwane


- Abdellah has his own website and Flickr page. Check them out!

- On this trip Abdellah went with some friends from Atheris. They captured incredible video of a Sahara Sand Viper from Morocco here.

- On a personal note, I was lucky enough to see some perfect Sidewinder rattlesnake tracks in the Mojave Desert a few years ago. When sidewinding, the part of the snake touching the sand does not actually move, leaving impressions like these.

Posted on March 12, 2018 09:38 PM by tiwane tiwane | 0 comments | Leave a comment

March 04, 2018

Observation of the Week, 3/3/18

Our Observation of the Week is this Giant Pill Millipede (not a pillbug), seen in Madagascar by @damontighe!

This observation is one of over 1,800 that Damon Tighe made on a recent trip to Madagascar, currently more than any other iNat user. Armed mainly with his iPhone, a cheap clip-on macro lens and a small DIY moth light, he documented quite an array of wildlife and even spread some iNaturalist love to the guides there.

“Madagascar is vast country with varied topography and is a little larger than [my home state of] California,” says Damon. “Its early break-off from Africa 160 million years ago and subsequent isolation after breaking off from the Seychelles and India 66–90 million years ago has allowed for a diversity of organisms that is incredible. Famous for lemurs and chameleons, the country offers so much more than these iconic charismatic critters.”

And one of those charismatic critters, of course, is the bizarre Giant Pill Millipede. Damon recalls,  

I saw my first Sphaerotheriida my second night in Madagascar at Andasibe and I spotted it while cleaning up from an all-nighter with a moth light that just before dawn brought in one of the largest moths in the world, Argema mittrei...The last thing I expect a millipede to do is roll up into a tight unopenable ball, but in Madagascar millipedes in the Order Sphaerotheriida do just that!

Giant Pill Millipedes range from Southern Africa into Asia and to Australia and New Zealand, but the largest ones reside on the island of Madagascar, where island gigantism has caused some species to achieve the size of an orange when rolled-up! Like other millipedes, they are detritivores who feast on rotting plant matter, but because of their unique defensive posture these many-legged creatures don’t excrete toxic substances to ward off predators, as most other millipedes do. When rolled-up, the dorsal plates on their second and last segments interlock, allowing the millipede to relax its muscles and still maintain its posture.

Guides are compulsory in Madagascar’s national parks and reserves (“They have a wealth of knowledge, especially around charismatic fauna.”), and Damon (above, sporting an Argema mittrei moth) introduced a few of them to iNaturalist:

I met a few guides who had smartphones and I brought along a handful of clip-on macro lenses to give them. I showed them the basics of iNaturalist and with these two tools in hand some of them turned into passionate explorers, reveling in all that they could document, and all that they still had to learn about organisms right around them. I'm working with one guide in Isalo National Park to be the point person for the distribution of a bunch of macro lenses and little cards that explain how to use iNaturalist since the park receives the most visitors of any in Madagascar and wifi access is readily available at a number of places in the adjoining town.

- by Tony Iwane


- A different order of millipedes, Glomerida, also roll-up into balls, but these live primarily in the Northern Hemisphere and are much smaller, reaching lengths of about 20 mm (0.79 in).

- Here are a few Giant Pill Millipedes in various states of defense.

- Slugs of the family Chlamydephoridae are known predators of Giant Pill Millipedes.

Posted on March 04, 2018 01:15 AM by tiwane tiwane | 0 comments | Leave a comment