July 27, 2020

A Bright Pink Mushroom in Tasmania! - Observation of the Week, 7/27/20

Our Observation of the Week is this Porpolomopsis lewelliniae mushroom, seen in Australia by @franklinhermit!

“I often warn people that if you see a pretty mushroom be careful, because you may develop symptoms of a lifelong disease called Mushroom Madness/ aka Fungi Fever!" says Heather Elson (aka franklinhermit). “I’ve seen it happen to literally hundreds of people over the years, who start out only wanting to know if they can eat them, but on learning more about them, then finding a new appreciation for them in their role in ecosystems and their stunning beauty. It is great to see a growing interest in fungi around the world in more recent years.”

Heather has been photographing and studying fungi for about 15 years, and this year is working with Dr. Genevieve Gates from the University of Tasmania, 

[who] has kindly offered to mentor me to learn to identify fungi through microscopic characters so that I may be able to further identify the fungi that I find and perhaps one day I may be able to further contribute to science by describing new species...Compared to plants and animals, we really know so little about fungi. For example, in Australia alone, it is estimated that only 5% of around 250,000 species of fungi have been formally described.

Heather resides in a tall, wet eucalypt forest in far south Tasmania, and that’s where she found the fungus you see above. “[It’s] one of many found on the property over the years, she says,

Tasmania's Gondwanan heritage and diverse ecosystems carved from climatic, physical and biological impacts has created unique habitats with equally unique fungi. I have been recording observations of fungi on the property with the aim of providing this data to Fungimap for their research, policy and conservation.

Found in eastern Australia, Tasmania, and New Zealand, Porpolomopsis lewelliniae is a small (its cap measures about 3-6.5 cm) common mushroom that often grows in leaf litter during fall and winter. While there are other pink mushrooms about, this one’s cap splits right down the gills as it grows.

Heather (above), tells me she uses iNaturalist “to support the work of Fungimap - an Australian non-profit organisation who raise awareness, educate and advocate around the important role fungi play in our environment.” After ten years of observing fungi, she’s happy to have found a platform where she can finally share her archive of observations.

I have begun entering years of these fungi observations to the iNaturalist Fungimap Project, so that I can ensure these observations are of some value to the scientific and general community rather than sitting on my computer! Uploading to iNaturalist also provides the added bonus of serving as an online backup of these images and information so that they do not get lost in the event of a digital disaster at home which is also one less thing for me to worry about! I really encourage others to use iNaturalist so that their sightings can reach a broader audience and help science.


- You can check out Heather’s website here, and the Tasmanian Fungi Facebook group, which she admins, here.

- I interviewed iNat user and mycologist @leptonia a few years ago, and he has some tips for finding and photographing mushrooms in this video.

Posted on July 27, 2020 23:37 by tiwane tiwane | 16 comments | Leave a comment

July 21, 2020

A Pair of Vultures in Kenya, Photographed by a Nature Enthusiast from India - Observation of the Week, 7/21/20

Our Observation of the Week is this pair of griffon vultures - Rüppell's on the left and white-backed on the right - seen in Kenya by @rujutavinod!

A resident of Pune, just east of the Western Ghats range (also known as the Sahyadri mountains), Rujuta Vinod recalls first becoming seriously interested in nature in the 1980s, when local environmentalists began raising awareness about the ecological issues of the mountain range - one of the world’s biodiversity hotspots. “Thereafter,” she says, “I kept a track of news about continued devastation of nature-wilderness-wildlife in India, with lot of concern.”

By the mid-nineties, she started visiting local natural areas, such as the wetlands in her district, and tells me “I got terribly fascinated by the winter migratory birds. WWF India, Pune division was the organization, which conducted field trips and weekly free classes, where renowned naturalists presented their work and expressed concern over the rapidly declining number of wildlife species in India.” However, balancing work responsibilities (she practiced anesthesiology and psychotherapy), parenting (she was raising two sons) made wildlife study and documentation difficult. And by the year 2000 or so she was discouraged by her “inability to stop the speed and extent of loss of wildlife,” so she stopped her field visits.

But in 2013, after retiring from her position as a psychotherapist, Rujuta says 

[I] restarted pursuing my real passion of documenting wildlife. I now started using cameras. Side by side, I started learning and then contributing in eco-restoration. I got my life back when I saw forests and wetlands and grasslands and deserts and saw the wildlife again with my own eyes and captured the species in my camera. The whole experience was of “healing from within” as my practice had drained my energy.

She started uploading her observations to the India Biodiversity Portal (7,500 so far), eBird, and more recently iNaturalist. Then, last June, after years of watching documentaries about the great migrations in Africa, a dream came true for Rujuta when she visited the Maasai Mara in Kenya.

The vultures you see above were photographed after she and her tour group watched spotted hyenas drive away two lionesses from a wildebeest carcass.  

We saw Black-backed Jackals, many species of vultures (Lappet-faced, Rüppell's Griffon and, African White-backed), Marabou stork, and of course a clan of Spotted Hyenas around that carcass. [The] Hyenas were so hungry that the whole time they claimed the meat and crushed the bones (I still remember the sound), they did not allow anybody to come closer.

However, the jackals and Marabou stork were sneaky and snatched the meat while the hyenas were busy pulling the parts of that carcass. Vultures continued to stand at the periphery and tried to get a few pieces whenever the road was clear for them. I saw those wonderful vultures for the first time and liked the design on the feathers of Rüppell's Griffon and the head & face of Lappet. This shot was the only one I got with good clarity of the animal in the focus.

A very large bird, with a wingspan of about 2.26 to 2.6 meters (7.4 to 8.5 ft), Rüppell's griffons are thought to fly at a higher altitude than any other bird, as evidenced by one colliding with a plane flying at about 11,300 meters (37,000 ft). They’re known to often soar at at 6,000 meters (20,000 ft) and use vision only to spot their next meal. According to the IUCN, the wild population of Rüppell's griffons is about 22,000, and their main threats are habitat loss, hunting, and poisoning. White-backed vultures aren’t as large or known to fly as high as the Rüppell‘s griffons, but they are unfortunately vulnerable to the same threats, and their population is in decline as well.

Rujuta (above, in the Maasai Mara) uses iNaturalist to create an electronic public biodiversity record, “and to help indirectly the forest department and biodiversity officials to protect the habitats, critically endangered and endemic wildlife.”

[The] more I work on this portal with my heightened enthusiasm, my feeling of hope replaces my frustration. I get a good peaceful sleep at night.

I have joined many projects on iNaturalist, which has a worldwide database. I see wonderful high resolution Macro images uploaded by people around the world. I get inspired by those who have identified thousands of images and those, who have uploaded hundreds of thousands of observations. When I see a record of a single species in many thousands – I feel amazed at the hours and energy spent by those individuals.


- Sir David Attenborough shows us how Rüppell's griffons use warm air to take flight.

- This short piece in The Hindu reflects on the Save the Western Ghats march of 1987.


Posted on July 21, 2020 16:28 by tiwane tiwane | 9 comments | Leave a comment

July 18, 2020

Less Agreeable Observations, More Agreeable Text Formatting

Hey all, just wanted to let you know about two recent changes. First, we've removed the "Agree?" buttons on the website when 1) the observation is Research Grade and 2) the identification you're agreeing with isn't "leading." We did this to discourage people from adding redundant identifications to observations that don't need them, i.e. observations that no longer "need IDs" because there's already a community consensus at the species level. I suspect most people add IDs like this because they're fixated on increasing their identifications count. To be clear, the point of adding identifications is not to make a little number increase. It's to help people first, and to improve the accuracy and precision of the taxon associated with each observation second. And yes, I'm well aware that the identifications "leaderboards" might be the biggest factor motivating people to behave like this, but fixing that is a bit more challenging (it will require taking the site down for an evening, at least; I'd prefer to just remove them, but I'm guessing that would not go over well). And also yes, I'm aware some people do this "defensively" to prevent people from shifting the Community Taxon in the future, and still other people add IDs like this because they rely on the system recognizing their ID when extracting data from iNat. That's why we didn't make adding these kinds of IDs impossible, but things are a little harder for you now. It's a tradeoff. I'm hoping this change will also reduce the amount of "thank you" IDs people add. It's great to express gratitude, but a nice comment is a better option than an ID. Anyway, if you're not seeing an "Agree?" button where you were expecting one, this is why.

The other change is the new support for Markdown in comments and IDs and the formatting buttons. For those not familiar with Markdown, it's a more convenient formatting scheme than HTML that builds on how you may already express things like emphasis in plain text. You can use the buttons that now display when you add comments and IDs on the website to see how this formatting works, but here's on overview:

Code Output Keyboard Shortcut
*italic* italic CMD-i / CTRL-i
**bold** bold CMD-b / CTRL-b
[link](https://www.inaturalist.org) link CMD-k / CTRL-k
* an
* unordered
* list
  • an
  • unordered
  • list
1. an
1. ordered
1. list
  1. an
  2. unordered
  3. list

> block quoted text is a nice way
>
> to quote external sources
        
block quoted text is a nice way

to quote external sources

But wait, there's more!

Code Output
`code` code
|this|is|
|-|-|
|a|table|
this is
a table

The important bit is the row of hyphens below the header row.

We're supporting most of basic Markdown formatting, plus the tables extension, even though we don't have buttons for all those things.

It's also worth noting that we're supporting Markdown on comments, identifications, journal posts, and mostly on user profiles and project descriptions (you may run into trouble if that text is being truncated as it is on the project detail page). We're also supporting Markdown in the mobile apps for comments and IDs right now, even though we don't have the formatting buttons there. Mobile support for Markdown in user profiles, project descriptions, and journal posts is a work in progress (bold, italic, and links work fine, lists and tables not quite). We're still supporting HTML like we used to, but we're parsing it a bit more striclty than we used to. There are also a few weird cases where past text may now be formatted incorrectly, e.g. if you (like me) were in the habit of listing traces through keys like this,

1. Hairy patella
4. Red tail
18. Falcate toes

you'll need to switch to something like

1\. Hairy patella
4\. Red tail
18\. Falcate toes

Finally, thanks to everyone who chimed in on the Forum about this. Also, huge kudos to todtb for contributing the keyboard shortcuts for the text editor and for adding it to Identify (he's also working on making the text editor available when editing comments and identification remarks). He just volunteered to do both and did a great job, so thank you!

Posted on July 18, 2020 01:46 by kueda kueda | 208 comments

July 10, 2020

The Plant Life Project, iNat, and Exploring Nature While Black - iNat User Camisha Butler

[Last month, a few weeks after iNaturalist released its Black Lives Matter statement, we received an email from Camisha Butler, (@camcamcam, below) a Black iNat user who hails from the Atlanta area in the United States. Camisha wrote about her lifelong relationship with nature, her use of iNat for her Plant Life Project, and some of the experiences she’s had being Black while out in nature. She said she’d be happy to share her story, so we exchanged a few emails and I used her responses for what follows. - Tony]

While Camisha Butler grew up in the city (Atlanta’s West End, to be exact), she spent many of her childhood summers about one and half hours away in Hancock County, with her grandmother and her cousins. “[My grandmother’s house] was surrounded by a large field and I often spent my time running around barefoot and climbing trees,” she recalls. “I still love walking around barefoot in the summer and feeling my toes dig into the grass and moist soil.” And at around the age of twelve she and her family would join her brother’s Boy Scout activities, like hiking and camping, “and that is when I first became excited about being outdoors and realizing that it was an interest and lifestyle.”

However, Camisha has had negative experiences while out exploring, and in her experience this is often due to the misconception that Black people don’t enjoy the outdoors. She’s been told “I didn't know black people camped,” by an acquaintance, and says

I have experienced curious stares from whole families on hikes and even at the showers while camping, [and] although it's not particularly harmful behaviour, it feels restrictive and that makes me feel uncomfortable, as if I'm not entitled to enjoy a mountainside or gaze out on a rushing creek in peace...In my adult years, I have found a community of black women and men who hike regularly and we often share different trails or pictures from our hikes. I think it's important to have representation everywhere as no race is a cultural monolith and nature belongs to the Earth, which means it belongs to everyone. 

About nine years ago, Camisha learned that her great-great-grandmother, Susie Reaves, was both a midwife (“she personally delivered over 200 children in her lifetime”) and someone who treated others with medicinal herbs. “She would prepare various teas, tinctures and salves which she also kept in her home for her family and patients,” says Camisha. 

This really inspired me. Although I loved being outdoors and being amongst the trees and other greenery, it struck me that I did not know anything about them, I didn’t even know their names. I desired to grow an understanding of the plants around me, not so much for medicinal purposes, but just because I felt it my birthright and responsibility to develop a knowledge of greenery around me so that I can continue our family relation to Mother Earth.

“I’m a serial collector. I collect records, concert ticket stubs, museum pencils and I've even had a paper bag collection,” Camisha explains, “[so] around 2012, I thought I would begin ‘collecting’ plants. Not physically, but through identifying plants around me through photography, and that was the birth of The Plant Life Project.” So she started identifying and learning about the naturally occurring plants she encountered, particularly weeds. Her favorite is the American trumpet vine (above), which is native to eastern North America. 

Last summer, I first saw the trumpet vine on the side of the highway and I became obsessed. I happened to find some growing off an old building in the city and I stretched my arm AND camera zoom to capture a pic so I could learn its name. I’m happy to say that just yesterday, I spotted some vines growing over a very accessible bridge up the street from my house. I went home, dressed properly in my boots, sweats, long sleeves and gloves and I came back and down around the bridge to get my first up close picture. They are so beautiful in color and shape, they appear melodic, the name is quite fitting. It was the highlight of my weekend.

After years of using various resources for identification, Camisha started on iNat in 2018, and appreciates the computer vision suggestions and the corrections, as well as helpful comments from other users. Her goal is to have at least 150 observations by year’s end, with the majority being research grade. She’ll also break out the iNat app while shopping for house plants to get some care tips and information. “The iNat community,” she says, 

is super inclusive and diverse in cultures and interests. It's exciting finding iNat users near and far. There's a comfort in the diversity on the platform because it shows that we're together in our common love of nature. There are biologists, nature photographers and observers from around the world with varied reasons for using iNat, some love plants like me and some enjoy fauna. The community really provides a well rounded view that anyone can be a naturalist. And because IDs are crowdsourced, you have an opportunity to interact with many knowledgeable people from anywhere.


- You can follow Camisha and her #PlantLifeProject on Instagram at nutellabrownbaby.

- Coincidentally, it happens to be #BlackBotanistsWeek! Follow the hashtag on Twitter and Instagram.

Posted on July 10, 2020 21:37 by tiwane tiwane | 34 comments | Leave a comment

July 07, 2020

A Japanese Naturalist Documents Their Country's Native Plants - Observation of the Week, 7/6/20

Our Observation of the Week is this Aquilegia buergeriana var. buergeriana flower, seen in Japan by @skycat!

[skycat doesn’t speak English and I don’t speak Japanese, so both of us relied on Google Translate here. I’ve cleaned up Google Translate’s version of  skycat’s responses, hopefully not too much was lost in translation in either direction.]

“I've always loved living things since I was a kid, and I used to collect beautiful flowering plants from nearby mountains and grow them at home,” recalls skycat. That passion continued into adulthood, and they’ve been gardening for quite some time now. 

After years of looking at plants that have been bred to be pretty, skycat now wants to show off the beauty of wild plants as well, and has been photographing plants unique to Japan, hoping to one day see them become as popular as the standard garden plants from the country, such as the Golden-rayed Lily (ヤマユリ) and the Japanese Camellia (ヤブツバキ).

One such plant is the native Aquilegia buergeriana, which skycat says is widely distributed in Japan’s mountainous regions. Many members of this species have red sepals, but skycat says in the Tokai region, where they reside, the flowers have whitish-yellow sepals. 

The genus Aquilegia, known in English as “columbines”, contains around 70 species and is native to the northern hemisphere, especially in areas of higher elevation. The flowers of this genus are striking, with five sepals and five petals. The petals have five nectar spurs reaching past the back of the flower, giving the columbine flowers a distinctive look.

skycat tells me they use iNaturalist as a record of “my own images taken in the past. 

I like the fact that I can easily retrieve past images...I take photos so that other people could understand not only the flowers of the plant, but also the leaves, the overall appearance, and the way it appears in its habitat. As I have used iNaturalist, I’ve begun to carefully observe even smaller flowering plants that I had not noticed before.

- by Tony Iwane


- The U.S. Forest Service has a thorough article about the co-evolution of North American columbine flowers and their pollinators (primarily hawk moths and humming birds in North America).

- Differences in columbine nectar spur length are due not to the number of cells in the spur, but to the elongation of those cells.

Posted on July 07, 2020 04:42 by tiwane tiwane | 13 comments | Leave a comment

June 28, 2020

An Entomologist in Iraq Finds a Rare, Recently Described Monitor Lizard! - Observation of the Week, 6/28/20

Our Observation of the Week is the first Nesterov’s Desert Monitor posted to iNat, seen in Iraq by @soran4!

“I grew up in a small village in the Kurdistan region of Iraq so I have great contact with nature,” says Soran Ahmed, who is currently a Masters of Science student in entomology at the University of Sulaimani. “I have a huge interest in studying biodiversity of Iraq, mainly insect diversity but I also love identifying any animals I find in our nature, and conserving threatened animals. I usually go to the field at least once a week to find animal diversity in our region.”

Soran found the monitor lizard you see above near a water source (see video here), and tells me they’re at risk of being killed by humans due to a misunderstanding about their behavior. The lizard’s local common name translates roughly as “goat sucker” and people in the area mistakenly believe they bite the teats of goats and sheep, and will thus sometimes dispatch them.

This monitor species was described in 2015 by Wolfgang Böhme, et al. A specimen was actually collected in 1914 by Russian herpetologist P.V. Nesterov, who “had intended to include them as a new Varanus species in his long manuscript on the reptiles of Kurdistan,” but he was not able to finish his work due to the outbreak of World War I and the Russian Revolution of 1917. A closer look at these once forgotten specimens, along with a recent photo of the lizard in the field by Willi Schneider, led to further study and finally a description of the species. Although little is known about these lizards, they are believed to range only in “the western and southwestern margin of the Zagros Mountain range on both sides of the Iraqi/Iranian border and down to the area of Shiraz, Fars Province, Iran.”

Soran (above) says “since we do not have sufficient sources for identification, using iNaturalist indeed helps me for identification purposes; it is really helpful. It’s also a perfect gate for sharing our diversity with other peoples around the world.”

- by Tony Iwane. Some quotes have been lightly edited for clarity and flow.


- Take a look at Soran’s YouTube channel, and he also has an Instagram account here

- There are over 7,500 monitor observations on iNat, check them out!

- Another reptile in the region, the spider-tailed horned viper, was also only recently described after a specimen was collected decades ago. It was the subject of an Observation of the Week post back in 2016.

Posted on June 28, 2020 20:52 by tiwane tiwane | 20 comments | Leave a comment

June 22, 2020

A Trip to Texas Provides a Long Sought Photographic Opportunity - Observation of the Week, 6/21/20

Our Observation of the Week is this Long-tailed Giant Ichneumonid Wasp (Megarhyssa macrurus), seen in the United States by @cholmesphoto!

“I became interested in Megarhyssa a number of years ago when I stumbled across a congregation of males of M. macrurus and M. greenei on a log waiting to mate with emerging females,” recalls New York based photographer Clarence Holmes. “I was able to capture photos of the males, but one of my macro targets since then has been to capture photos of a female (particularly M. macrurus ovipositing). I have had limited opportunities until recently.”

That changed, however, on a recent trip to the Dallas-Fort Worth area of Texas this spring. On his first visit to the Lewisville Lake Environmental Learning Area (LLELA) he found an ovipositing female but couldn’t get a good angle on it.  “At the time I added it to my long mental list of missed opportunities and moved on...

The next day I returned to investigate a few different trails, and while walking one of them stopped to take in a view along a creek.  I detected motion to my right and there I saw three female M. macrurus all ovipositing on the same tree!  I took time to observe their behavior and was able to capture my long desired photo of the female ovipositing.

Take a look at Clarence’s photo and you’ll see the remarkable mechanism this insect uses to get her young off to a good start. Megarhyssa wasps, also known as “stump stabbers”, are able to detect their hosts (the wood-boring larvae of Tremex columba sawflies) then drill into the wood using their incredible long ovipositors (this can take 40 minutes!). The translucent blue membrane you see at the base of the ovipositor pushes it into the wood as the tip cuts. Once the host is found, it is stung and paralyzed, then the egg is laid. The wasp larva will consume the paralyzed host then pupate in the burrow before emerging. 

Growing up in the US state of Ohio, Clarence (above) tells me he’s always been interested in nature, and observed the various birds, insects and plants in his backyard and beyond. “I started doing macro photography of insects in my teens and it has been a constant throughout my life,” he says. “I have expanded my observation of nature as a birder, and recently have taken an interest in fungi and lichens. I license many of my photos of the natural world for various uses including print publications and for use on the web.”

He joined iNat in late 2018 and started uploading his photos and making IDs in 2019. He first tries to use resources like field guides and BugGuide, but says iNats help if he’s stumped (no pun intended).

My primary interest is insects and spiders, but I have also posted observations of anything in nature that I have been able to capture photos of. I spend a lot of time out in the field hoping to discover, observe, capture (photos), and learn about insects and any other aspects of nature that I encounter. iNaturalist has added to these activities by helping me see what others are seeing in my area, by helping me identify what I see, and by allowing me to improve my identification skills in many taxons.

- by Tony Iwane


- You can check out Clarence’s photos here, he’s got quite a diverse portfolio.

- This page goes into the Megarhyssa oviposition process in some detail and includes video. Pretty sweet!

- This is not the first Observation of the Week from LLELA - take a trip with us down memory lane back to December of 2015!

Posted on June 22, 2020 01:16 by tiwane tiwane | 45 comments | Leave a comment

June 14, 2020

In Taiwan, a Zoologist Posts Only the Third Golden-haired Tube-nosed Bat (金芒管鼻蝠) to iNat! - Observation of the Week, 6/14/20

Our Observation of the Week is this Golden-haired Tube-nosed Bat (金芒管鼻蝠 in Traditional Chinese), seen in Taiwan by @manuel_ruedi!

“Basically, I was born with a love of animals,” says Manuel Ruedi. And throughout his life, Manuel has got from being a fan of big cats, then eagles. He eventually got into birdwatching, then moving on to studying bats and mammals in general. “I graduated in biology,” he tells me,

then did my master on the speciation of bats, then a PhD on the biogeography of shrews (all the University of Lausanne, Switzerland), then went for a postdoc at Berkeley to research on pocket gophers with Jim Patton and Peg Smith,[and]  finally came back to lead a big research projects on bats, before ending as a curator at the Natural History Museum of Geneva.

In 2016, Manuel was researching bats in Taiwan with his colleagues, zoologists L.K. Lin and Gabor Csorba. They described two new species and one new genus of bats, and Manuel also had his first chance to see the Golden-haired Tube-nosed Bat shown above.

I never saw Harpiola isodon before,...[but] I immediately understood why this bat got its name: isodon = all teeth equal in size! No larger canines, etc. quite strange for a Murina-like bat. And golden was also clearly appropriate to describe its incredible colour.

Described in 2006, this bat species is native to the uplands of Taiwan (it’s been seen between about 1,000 - 2,400 meters above sea level) and is an insectivore, relying on vocal sonar to navigate in the dark. To give you a sense of scale, the ears of this species average about 13mm in length.

Manuel (above, in Quebec, Canada) says he only heard about iNaturalist a few weeks ago,

But [I] was immediately struck by the power of the community interaction, to ID any living thing…I have about 70,000 pictures of plants and animals worldwide, and dream of finding the time to submit all my observations to iNaturalist… eventually!

- by Tony Iwane.


- This video from the Smithsonian slows down bat echolocation calls so we humans can hear them.

Posted on June 14, 2020 19:23 by tiwane tiwane | 16 comments | Leave a comment

June 11, 2020

Black Lives Matter

We on the iNaturalist team unequivocally believe that Black lives matter. Over the past several weeks and years, we’ve seen the horrors of police brutality and racism that disproportionately target Black people in the United States. While racism is a global problem, our staff is American, and we estimate about 60% of people using iNaturalist are too. The murders of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, and many others have pushed the U.S. over a tipping point, and the resulting protests demonstrate that we can no longer stay silent. We call on all police and law enforcement officers: stop killing our friends, neighbors, and family. And we must collectively work to fight the systemic racism that leads to violence. Now.

Black lives in nature

We believe that nature is for everyone. Biodiversity is for everyone. Curiosity and exploration are for everyone. Everyone should be able to be in nature without fear of discrimination. Unfortunately, recent events in the United States have reminded us that enjoying the outdoors carries much greater risks for Black people like Christian Cooper, who had the police called on him while birding, or Ahmaud Arbery, who was chased down and murdered while jogging. We stand for the safety and the right of Black people to be outdoors and in nature without being subject to suspicion, confrontation, or the threat of violence.

We encourage you to read accounts of Black peoples’ experiences in nature to better understand how race plays a role in natural history and outdoor recreation, particularly those of Christian Cooper, Carolyn Finney, J. Drew Lanham (and this), Corina Newsome, John Robinson, and Rue Mapp, among many, many others. There are plenty more examples shared by BlackAFinSTEM on Twitter.

Our mission is to connect people to nature through technology, and that means making it easier for anyone to relate to, understand, and participate in the natural world around them, regardless of their background. iNaturalist is rooted in science, conservation, natural history, and technology, each of which has its own issues with systemic racism that have historically discouraged the participation of BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, People of Color). This moment and movement is specifically focused on Black people in the United States, but the actions we’ve taken and plan to take fit into the larger picture of increasing diversity, access, and inclusion in the global iNaturalist community across all axes of systemic discrimination. It takes concerted action to overcome the inertia of historical biases and power structures. We acknowledge that we have much to learn and we want to share where we are in the process.

Action

In 2015, we instituted Community Guidelines that include zero tolerance for racist language and hate speech. We consider racism to be grounds for immediate and permanent suspension. These guidelines have been enforced in the past and will continue to be enforced.

Identifying humans as non-human animals on iNaturalist has been a hurtful form of racism done both intentionally by some users and unintentionally by our software, albeit rarely in both cases. We act on intentional behavior like this by removing content and permanently suspending users, and we have tried to avoid automatically comparing pictures of humans to pictures of non-human animals that may be offensive. We know we can do better, and are working toward assessing our computer vision model for racial bias in a systematic manner (as opposed to our past efforts which have been largely anecdotal), exerting more control over taxon photos to avoid hurtful comparisons, and suppressing observation photos of humans to neutralize racist attacks and protect personal privacy.

We will also make an effort to share more Observations of the Day, stories, and blog posts featuring BIPOC naturalists. If you are interested in being featured, please email help@inaturalist.org. Additionally, we would like to support social movements like #BlackBirdersWeek, #BlackInNature, and #BlackBotanists. To our knowledge, these movements have primarily taken place on mainstream social media platforms, but we welcome them to connect on iNaturalist as well to foster relationships and build community around nature observation.

We will meet as a team at least once a month to take stock of these actions and to consider how we can continuously improve diversity and inclusion within the iNaturalist community. This is not a one-time action on our part, and we plan to keep this conversation going and continually address what we can do to make our community better moving forward.

We welcome your feedback

We want iNat to be welcoming to people of all backgrounds, but to be honest, we don't know if it is. We don’t collect information on the race, ethnicity, or even gender of our users, and we currently have no anecdotal evidence of people feeling unwelcome on iNat due to their race or ethnicity.

  • We invite anyone from the BIPOC communities who has a story to tell or feedback on their experiences about race and iNaturalist to contact us at help+race@inaturalist.org, or if you feel comfortable sharing your story publicly, we've started this iNat Forum thread.

  • We would also greatly appreciate your direct feedback, thoughts, and ideas for making our community a more inclusive and diverse space together. How can the iNaturalist community better serve BIPOC? Let us know at help+race@inaturalist.org or on this iNat Forum thread.

  • We know there are organizations working hard to overcome the obstacles that BIPOC face in participating in nature, and we aim to do more to support these organizations on iNaturalist. We know that some groups use iNaturalist as a tool for diversifying science and nature exploration, but we don’t know if they have particular needs that are unmet by our current system. If you support or are a part of any organizations that make nature more accessible to BIPOC and other marginalized groups, please let us know on this Forum thread.

This blog post touches on many issues that warrant further discussion. Since comments on the iNaturalist blog are not well suited to complex conversations, we've disabled comments on this post and encourage further dialogue to happen on the iNaturalist Forum at the links above.

We encourage everyone in the iNaturalist community to join us in reflecting on how our individual actions have impacted this movement, and how each of us can affirm that Black lives matter to more broadly foster diversity, access, equity, and inclusion in our community. There are just 8 staff members but over a million people using iNaturalist. Individually and collectively, our words and actions matter. Thank you to everyone who is already working hard to make the world a more fair and just place.

Sincerely,
The iNaturalist Team
Abhas, Alex, Amanda, Carrie, Ken-ichi, Patrick, Scott, and Tony

Resources for the iNaturalist community:

Posted on June 11, 2020 19:47 by kueda kueda

June 07, 2020

A Kenyan Biologist Spots an Endemic Ethiopian Frog! - Observation of the Week, 6/7/20

Our Observation of the Week is this Badditu Forest Tree Frog, seen in Ethiopia by @jkn!

Born and raised in Nairobi, Kenya, many of James Kuria Ndung’u’s formative experiences in nature occurred when he visited his grandparents in the Central Province countryside. “Both of my grandparents were educated and they taught me a lot regarding ethnobotany, birds, animals and other facets of natural history through narratives, folk songs, poetry etc,” he tells me. “In real sense, I was being nurtured to become an interpretive naturalist, in my own rights!”

In high school, James was active in the Wildlife Clubs of Kenya, and the various activities, lectures, and programs “opened yet another dimension” in his life. “I got to learn the floral and faunal scientific species common names, which became much more easier as I had...already known most of them in my mother-tongue language, through my rural folks.”

His lifelong interest in nature led to him become a professional biologist who is also interested in outdoor education, and James ended up spending about three years as a full time naturalist for Bale Mountain Lodge, nestled in Bale Mountains National Park (BMNP) in southern Ethiopia. There he lead interpretive walks and coordinated with researchers doing field work in the area. 

It was on one of these walks that James spotted the frog you see photographed above, a Badditu Forest Tree Frog. He and the guest came across it while on the Sanetti Plateau, the largest afro-alpine habitat in Africa, and James says “[the frog] brought my guest of the day and myself a great joy despite the freezing temperatures...It was my first time to see and record the species, during both my study and working stint in the Bale’s.”

This frog species, which is endemic to Ethiopia, typically lives at higher elevations - 1,900 to 3,900 m (6,200 to 12,800 ft) - and likes grasslands, although it will live in some forests and forest edges. Females reach 40–63 mm (1.6–2.5 in) in length, while males are a bit smaller, reaching 20–45 mm (0.79–1.77 in). They are generally fossorial (burrowing) but come out to breed after heavy rains.

Although interested in all facets of nature, James (above) has focused on avian biology for much of his career and is a trained, qualified and certified “A”-grade bird ringer/bander through the South African Bird Ringing Scheme (SAFRING). However, he is currently not engaged in any research, “as opportunities here in Kenya have dwindled with the harsh economic times and a lot of bureaucracy, as well as the prohibitive research fees, delayed permit issuances, institutional affiliations and tedious paperwork.”

This has allowed James some time post his photos to iNat, like the Badditu Forest Tree Frog. “I use [iNaturalist] as a learning tool and as a sharing platform to showcase my field observations with my fellow nature lovers, enthusiasts, researchers, scientists and the greater public at large,” He tells me.

Everyone is entitled to education. Luckily being in the digital era, sharing and learning through such a great platform has indeed increased our scientific knowledge gaps through the practical participatory and  involvement of all persons including the citizen science. I am delighted to be a proud member of the iNaturalist family!

- by Tony Iwane

- Check out James’s publications here.

- Almost exactly two years ago, another Observation of the Week blog came at us from the Bale Mountains - @veronika_johansson’s Ethiopian wolf

Posted on June 07, 2020 20:59 by tiwane tiwane | 27 comments | Leave a comment