Observation of the Week, 11/18/15

This Texas Diamondback Terrapin seen by robberfly in Aransas County, Texas, is our Observation of the Week!

Ken-ichi here, guest-writing this week's OOTW. I had the very great privilege of spending the last week naturalizing parts of Texas with iNat superstars Mark Rosenstein (maractwin), Liam O'Brien (robberfly), and most importantly Greg Lasley (greglasley, who generously hosted us and showed us around his great state), and while this turtle that Liam photographed was but one of many amazing organisms we observed, it seemed significant to me for a number of reasons.

For those who don't know, the Diamondback Terrapin is a turtle of brackish coastal marshes that can be found all up and down the Atlantic seaboard of the United states, as well as around the Gulf coast. By the early 20th century they had been nearly hunted to extinction for use in turtle soup, but while they have managed to hold on (perhaps due to the decreased popularity of that dish), they remain threatened across their range due to car and boat injuries, death in crab traps, and most importantly, destruction of their coastal wetland habitats.

I grew up seeing these beautiful turtles at the Meigs Point Nature Center, Hammonasset State Beach, in Connecticut, so seeing them in Texas was like running into an old childhood friend in a faraway place. This population has special significance for iNaturalist, however, because it was first documented by Matt Muir while visiting the same spot with Greg Lasley in 2014, when it caused quite a stir in the Texas herpetological community. One herper called it his “holy grail of Texas turtles.”

“That's one of the things I love about iNaturalist,” Matt says. “Observations can be more valuable/special than one realizes in the moment, and one doesn't need to be an expert or taxonomic specialist to contribute something notable. Observe everything!”

And as you can see from Greg's observation from the same spot, several other folks from iNat have had history with these turtles in this part of the world.

To me, this was iNat at it's best: people connecting to nature through careful observation, but also connecting to our past selves through evoked memory, and connecting to each other through shared experience. This was sort of the underlying theme of this entire trip as we met up with several generations of Texas naturalists, some of whom have spent lifetimes exploring the wildlands of Texas and seemed to know not just every plant and butterfly, but plenty of people we met along the way as well, and every animal (human or otherwise) seemed to have a story. Others, like me, were completely new to the state, so every common bird and weed was a fresh experience to be greeted with our strange naturalist's combination of joy and scrutiny, the subject for new memories and stories.

It was a great trip, with great people. If you haven't already, try and find other iNat folks in your area! The more you know people in person, the better the community gets.

- by Ken-ichi Ueda

Posted by kueda kueda, November 18, 2015 07:51 PM

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As I was driving down towards Austin, it felt like I was going to a family reunion. Quite odd because many of the folks present were people I'd never even met before. It was a phenomenal experience and one that I am adding to my memory banks -- as long as it's not pushed out by learning more names of moths. :)

Posted by sambiology about 3 years ago (Flag)

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