Identifier Profile: amila_sumanapala

This is the seventh in an ongoing monthly series profiling the amazing identifiers of iNaturalist!

On December 9th, Amila Sumanapala tweeted:

Identifying @inaturalist obervations is one of my #Hobbies. For the past 2.5 years I have been IDing both recent and past #India #dragonfly and #damselfly obs the best I can. Today I completed IDing 25000 verifiable Indian odonate obs being the first to reach the milestone.

So I thought this would be a great month to feature his work on iNaturalist! In addition to the 25,000+ Indian odonate - dragonflies and damselflies - observations to which he’s added IDs, Amila’s also identified over 2,400 odonate observations in his native Sri Lanka and over 63,000 total observations (of many fauna) worldwide.

Currently a researcher who lives in Boralesgamuwa, Sri Lanka, Amila traces his love of  nature back to his childhood and especially to birdwatching.

When I was 13 my father bought me a book on birds and birdwatching and at the same time I came across an exhibition stall conducted by the Field Ornithology Group of Sri Lanka, at an exhibition held at the University of Colombo. I was fascinated by the idea that people actually dedicated a lot of time and resources to observe and study birds. This got me interested in bird watching as a hobby and it was supported by my mother, who found me a local language field guide to the Sri Lankan birds. Later in my final years at school I learned more about biodiversity in general and the fact that the majority of the world’s biodiversity is still undescribed due to the lack of trained taxonomists, which encouraged me to study more about Sri Lanka’s biodiversity and become a taxonomist myself.

As a budding naturalist, Amila was interested in all faunal groups. But there were few resources for Sri Lankan odonates and  

this made me teach myself odonate identification through literature and field observations and I came to realize that there is a lot more to explore and discover about Sri Lankan odonates and not many people are working on the group. Eventually an interest sparked and I started studying them in detail in order to fill that niche. In 2012, during an exploration in the Peak Wilderness Mountain Range with some friends, I rediscovered the long lost species Sinhalestes orientalis (Sri Lanka Emerald Spreadwing). I published this discovery in 2013 [PDF] and it further encouraged me to focus even more on the odonates. Years later I authored a field guide on Sri Lankan Odonates and also started conducting workshops, lectures and other events to raise awareness and popularize odonates among the naturalists as well as the public.

In 2015 I joined the “Dragonfly South Asia” community and started attending DragonflySouthAsia Meets (DragonflyIndia Meets at the time), which is an annual gathering of dragonfly researchers, enthusiasts and citizen scientists in South Asia (primarily in India), and explored the odonates in several states in India. As an odonate researcher, the understanding of the taxa at a regional level was very important to me.

Amila spends a lot of time in the field, but thankfully he also devotes some time to iNat, which he first heard about at a citizen science workshop during the Student Conference on Conservation Science - Bengaluru in 2014. He signed up for an account then but didn’t really use it until 2018 when his friend Nuwan Chathuranga (@nuwan) “mentioned that iNat is a great platform to get identification support on the lesser known taxa. Thus I started using iNaturalist primarily to learn more on the insects I was documenting.”

When he has the opportunity to get on iNat with his laptop, Amila tells me “Identify tabs with filters set for all Sri Lankan observations and observations on Indian odonates are always open in my browser,” and that he also goes through and identifies older observations when he has the time. He mostly uses field guides, papers, and his own photo reference library, as well as platforms like Odonata of India when necessary. Identifying photos and documenting his own finds have long been hobbies of his, 

[and] it is also an amazing learning experience…Most of the observations I identify are generally of species already familiar to me and have observed during my explorations. However, some species, especially odonates from Northeast India and some insects from Sri Lanka are sometimes challenging to identify but a positive identification always rewards me with the knowledge and the self-satisfaction I gain through it.

I always find the discussions we have with fellow identifiers and experts very enriching. I always try to identify and verify observations by myself through self-studies, which helps me in strengthening my skills in identifying the species I work with and am interested in. By studying observations in iNaturalist contributed by a diverse community of users from all over the world, we can always learn new things.

It also gives us a unique satisfaction from contributing back to the community and science in general with your experience and expertise. Curation of data also improves the data quality in iNaturalist and helps us to get a better understanding on biodiversity as researchers…

iNaturalist and its dedicated community of identifiers became an invaluable resource in my explorations into the world of Sri Lankan insects. It helped lay the foundation of my current work.

(Photos of Amila by Dilani Sumanapala (top) and Nuwan Chathuranga (middle). Some quotes have been lightly edited for clarity and flow.)

- Amila’s website has a lot of cool stuff, like photos, publications, and some talks he’s given (in Sinhalese). 

- several of Amila’s favorite South Asian odonate observations are this Orthetrum andamanicum by @prosenjit (undescribed at the time), this Pseudagrion pilidorsum, and @mazedul_islam’s Gynacantha chaplini, which is the first known documentation of the species in India.

- when identifying beetles and other insects, Amila sometimes uses online museum collections as resources, like NHM’s Data Portal and the Smithsonian’s Entomology Collection.

- Amila’s Gasteracantha diardi spider was an Observation of the Week back in 2019!

Posted by tiwane tiwane, December 29, 2021 20:38


Awesome work Amila, so many amazing Sri Lankan observations and IDs (and some great obs by you in the First Known Photos project!)

Posted by thebeachcomber 7 months ago (Flag)

Wonderful Amila! I am not photographing in your region, so I never ran into you, but IDers like you keep the qhole thing running and interestig! Thanks for your contribution to the platform!

Posted by ajott 7 months ago (Flag)

Interesting read. Sri Lanka is one of the places I want to observe odonates in the future.

Posted by erlandreflingnielsen 7 months ago (Flag)

Congratulations bro and keep the good things.

Posted by dezoysahks 7 months ago (Flag)

Excellent photograph photographing the snake! Thanks for all the work you do on iNat! William

Posted by williamwisephoto 7 months ago (Flag)

Impressive work!

Posted by sedgequeen 7 months ago (Flag)

Well done, Amila. Keep up the good work.

Posted by nyoni-pete 7 months ago (Flag)

Good work.keep it up.

Posted by satishnikam 7 months ago (Flag)

Awesome ! I'm thankful to @amila_sumanapala for so many of ID's . Keep up the good work..

Posted by anil_kumar_verma 7 months ago (Flag)

Very thanks @amila_sumanapala for IDing Odonata of Kerala

Posted by manojkmohan 7 months ago (Flag)

Thank you Amila. You've been the go to person for this region.

Posted by rajesh_balakrishnan 7 months ago (Flag)

Excellent work, thanks for everything!

Posted by susanhewitt 7 months ago (Flag)

Very nice!

Posted by ken-potter 7 months ago (Flag)

Great work @amila_sumanapala
Thank you for everything you have done. You are an inspiration!

Posted by aravinth6 7 months ago (Flag)

@amila_sumanapala, you are a true inspiration and a go-to person for many of us. Thanks for everything. Your Website is super awesome!!

Posted by swanand 7 months ago (Flag)

Thank you @amila_sumanapala for the identifications. You have been doing a great job for the scientific documentation of biodiversity in the region. All the best

Posted by haneesh 7 months ago (Flag)

I forgot to mention that I'd love to hear suggestions for other identifiers to feature! I'm especially interested in people identifying more obscure taxa and/or in regions outside of the US.

Posted by tiwane 7 months ago (Flag)

This is so interesting! Thank you for all that you do.

Posted by mbwildlife 7 months ago (Flag)

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