Journal archives for January 2016

January 05, 2016

Critter Calendar

Happy 2016 everybody! To mark the New Year, we're rolling out a new weekly schedule of featured organisms that we're calling the Critter Calendar.

Inspired by National Moth Week, each week for the duration of 2016 we will announce a featured critter along with a little blurb to help you recognize them and know where to look. We will tally all of the observations made of the critter during the week in a project, and at the end of the week, we will recap what was found and highlight any interesting findings.

We've picked widely distributed, frequently observed groups and have arranged them based on the timing of past iNaturalist observations. So hopefully as many participants from around the globe as possible will be able to find these critters near their backyards.

This first week running from Sunday January 3rd through Jaunary 9th we are featuring cormorants and their relatives!

Critter Calendar Weeks

Critter Calendar weeks so far:

Posted on January 05, 2016 12:00 AM by loarie loarie | 14 comments | Leave a comment

It's Cormorant Week on iNaturalist! Jan 3 - 9

This week we're featuring a group of waterbirds known as Suliformes. This order of birds is distantly related to other waterbirds such as herons, loons, and penguins. They are made up of four distinct families:


Cormorants are the most widely encountered of the group. They are large, black, somewhat awkward looking birds often found swimming in lakes, ponds, and along coasts around the world. Cormorants catch fish by swimming after them underwater. Their feathers lack oil which allows them to sink, but prevents them from flying while wet. As a result, they are often seen perched with wings spread to dry.


Anhingas, sometimes called swamp-turkeys, resemble cormorants but have thiner, snakelike necks. They are confined to freshwater in tropical and near tropical climates such as the swamps of South East North America. When not swimming, they are usually found perched in trees.

Gannets and Boobies

Gannets and boobies are ocean birds. Gannets prefer colder waters while their warm water counterparts the Boobies are confined to the tropics. Both are usually seen flying over seas in search of food unless you visit the small rocky islands where they nest. They resemble sleeker, shorter necked cormorants. From the air, they dive-bomb into water like living spears after fish and squid.


Frigatebirds are also found flying over tropical oceans. Their extremely long pointed wings allow them to spend nearly all of their time in the air. While they also eat fish and squid, frigatebirds steal food caught by other birds like boobies by harassing them in the air until they relinquish their catches. Like Boobies, you're much more likely to see Frigatebirds in the air unless you visit their nesting colonies.

If you think you see any of these this week, share your observations with us. We’ll be keeping track here. Happy Suliforme hunting!

Posted on January 05, 2016 08:47 AM by loarie loarie | 6 comments | Leave a comment

January 06, 2016

Observation of the Week, 1/5/16

This Vole-toting Stoat seen by redfaux in Routt County, Colorado is our Observation of the Week.

The Stoat (Mustela erminea), or Short-tailed Weasel, is a secretive predator and not often seen in the wild, but Austin, Texas residents Heather Valey (redfaux on iNaturalist) and her husband Daniel were able to capture the above image when visiting Heather’s father in Clark, Colorado this past December.

While enjoying a morning cup of coffee, her father said "Hey look there's the weasel!" and pointed out the window. “The weasel,” she explains, is her father’s nickname for the Stoat had been making a daily appearance around his home. This day, however, it had a fresh kill in its mouth (which iNaturalist users have identified as a Vole), so Daniel grabbed the camera and began firing away from the front deck. “It looked at first like the Stoat was just going to stay obscured in some brush with his kill,” says Heather, “but much to our surprise he ran out in the open and posed for us with the vole for a few seconds. To ask a Stoat to stand still for that long is asking a we were lucky.” They ended up with a wonderful photo of winter wildlife, and one of our most popular Observations of the Day posts ever!

Heather says she had always been raised to appreciate nature, but it was on a photo tour of the Galapagos Islands last spring (see photo above) where she truly “caught the wildlife photography and observing nature bug. Ever since that trip I have to get out a couple times a week with the camera and do a nature walk...even if sometimes all I have with me is the iPhone.”

On a trip to the Wild Basin Wilderness Preserve last June, Heather saw a posting about iNaturalist and the park’s Wild Basin Biodiversity project. She calls it “a nature journal in your pocket at all times,” and now when she goes out on nature walks, Heather says iNaturalist “makes me think about what I’m has also encouraged me to be curious of my surroundings in nature and put some effort in trying to identify what it is I’m seeing.

“’s a fun app!”

by Tony Iwane

Read Heather’s blog post about discovering iNaturalist.

Check out Heather’s photos on Flickr.

Top photo: Daniel Valey

Bottom photo: Heather Valey

Posted on January 06, 2016 07:14 AM by tiwane tiwane | 0 comments | Leave a comment

January 10, 2016

It's Woodpecker Week on iNaturalist! Jan 10 - 16

This week as part of the Critter Calendar we are featuring a group of birds known as Piciformes.

Woodpeckers with their near global distribution are the best known, but the group also includes eight other lesser known families confined to the tropics. All Piciformes share X-shaped 'zygodactyl' feet with two toes pointing forward and two pointing backwards - most birds have just one toe pointing back.


Woodpeckers are easily identified by their habit of drumming into and prying at bark in search of food with their strong bills. The group includes large species like the Pileated Woodpecker pictured at top as well as smaller species like the Downy Woodpecker. Many large woodpeckers are dependant on old-growth forests for food. As this habitat has declined, several species of large woodpecker including the Ivory-billed and Imperial Woodpeckers have recently gone extinct. While most woodpeckers drill holes to search for insects or sap, Acorn Woodpeckers drill holes to store acorns and keep them safe from squirrels. Lewis's Woodpecker was discovered on the Lewis and Clark Expedition and represents one of the few surviving specimens brought back from that expedition.


Toucans are well known for their colorful plumage and large beautiful bills. These birds primarily eat fruit and are confined to the neotropics. In the paleotropics, an unrelated group of birds called Hornbills occur that have similar habits and physical characteristics.

Jacamars and Puffbirds

Two other families confined to the neotropics are the closely related jacamars and puffbirds. Both are sit-and-wait hunters that perch motionless on branches and ambush insects that fly by. Jacamars look like oversized hummingbirds with long bills and metalic plumage. Puffbirds have a puffy, large-headed appearance.


Honeyguides have a paleotropical distribution. Their unusual diet of beeswax has resulted in a habit of leading honey badgers, humans, and other honey-eating mammals to beehives. After the mammal has done the hard work of breaking up the hive, the honeyguide has access to all the beeswax it can eat.


Barbets were once thought to be a single widely distributed family of birds, but were recently found to represent four distinct families. Two families live in the neotropics, one lives in Africa, and one lives in Asia. However, all have the similar appearance of stocky little short-billed toucans like the Red-headed Barbet pictured here. Like toucans, barbets are colorful and primarily eat fruit.

If you think you see any of these this week, share your observations with us. We'll be keeping track here. Happy Piciforme hunting!

Posted on January 10, 2016 09:26 AM by loarie loarie | 3 comments | Leave a comment

January 14, 2016

Observation of the Week, 1/13/16

This Harvestman seen by steve_kerr in Trotters Gorge, New Zealand is our Observation of the Week.

Currently an Associate Professor of Neuropharmacology at the University of Otago in New Zealand, Steve Kerr says “I think I missed my calling just a little bit.” He grew up in North Carolina and was an avid insect collector as a child, amassing a collection of about 600 specimens, “pinned and mounted the old fashioned way,” and is especially interested in both flies and spiders. “They do seem to go together in an ironic sort of way,” he jokes.

However he eventually took a break from collecting (for 35 years!) until he bought small Panasonic camera and “discovered the joys of macrophotography.” The harvestman seen above, in fact, was shot with a Panasonic FZ-100 with a Raynox 250 macro adapter lens, “a nice little rig that's very portable and field friendly.” He got such a great shot he was even able to notice the “Phineas Gage” spike through its eyes when he looked at the photos at home. “If I had noticed it at the time, I might have tried to pull it out. I might have had a friend for life.”

What is a Harvestman? Harvestmen (Order Opiliones) are arachnids, so they are related to spiders, scorpions, mites, and ticks. But unlike spiders, the cephalothorax (head and the body segment where legs are attached) and abdomen of harvestmen are fused together, and they have a single pair of eyes. They also have long spindly legs and are commonly called “daddy longlegs.” Unlike spiders, however, they have mouthparts which allow them to eat particles of solid food (spiders and most other arachnids can only consume liquids), cannot make silk, and are not venomous at all. Oh, and those giant things protruding from the front of this harvestman? Those are its enormous chelicerae! “I would love to have seen them flexed outwards and open, but they tend to keep them drawn up tight like that most of the time,” says Steve.

After finding out about iNaturalist and NatureWatchNZ (iNaturalist’s sister site in New Zealand) several years ago, Steve has been contributing his own observations and identifications to the iNaturalist community. He owes “a lot to the entomologists and arachnologists here in New Zealand and elsewhere in the world who have been kind enough to answer my endless emails asking for help with insect and spider ID's.”

And bringing it back full circle, he’s “been able to view and comment on North American insects that I haven't seen since I was a kid. Like seeing so many old friends again!”

- by Tony Iwane

Nearly 2000 harvestmen observations have been uploaded to iNaturalist - check them out!

Harvestmen will sometimes aggregate in large clumps. Here’s a video depicting and explaining this behavior.

Finally, any claim that “daddy longlegs” are extremely toxic is a myth. Harvestmen lack venom completely, and there is no scientific evidence that cellar spiders (Family Pholcidae, also commonly called daddy longlegs) have venom that is medically significant to humans.

Posted on January 14, 2016 04:31 AM by tiwane tiwane | 1 comment | Leave a comment

January 17, 2016

Its Hawk Week on iNaturalist! Jan 17 - 23

It’s another bird week on our Critter Calendar, and this week we’re focusing on the Hawks, Eagles, and their relatives, collectively known as the Accipitriformes.

This order contains most of the diurnal birds of prey, nearly all of whom have large broad wings, sharp hooked beaks, and strong raptorial (aka grasping) claws. While falcons are similar to eagles and hawks, genetic testing has shown them to be more closely related to parrots and passerine birds and are not included in the accipitriformes order.


The Accipitridae are a diverse group which includes large hunting birds such as eagles and hawks (also known as buzzards), and carrion eaters like the Old World vultures. They possess formidable eyesight, some seeing 8 times better than humans, and birds like the buteos can often be seen soaring high on thermals, looking for prey for far below them. Others like the smaller accipiters are smaller and quicker and will catch birds on the wing while flying through wooded areas. And Kites of the genus Elaninae hover over open fields, looking for rodents. Birds of this family can be found on all continents except for Antarctica.

New World Vultures

Unlike the Accipitridae, New World vultures such as the ubiquitous Turkey vultures and Black vultures have strong senses of smell, which they use for finding rotting carcasses. Their heads are featherless, their claws do not grasp strongly, and they are the birds best-adapted to soaring, sometimes traveling miles and miles each day on thermals.


Ospreys are birds of prey who specialize in hunting fish. They are the only extant species in the family Pandionidae, and can be found worldwide wherever there is a body of water large enough to offer them a steady supply of food. Ospreys have brown upper parts and white underparts which may have some dark streaks.

Secretary Bird

And finally the family Sagittariidae, which also counts only one species as a member - the Secretary Bird. Found in the Sub-Saharan region of Africa, this mostly terrestrial raptor looks like a mash-up between an eagle and a crane, having a strong hooked bill and long legs, which it uses for running down prey on open grasslands. In addition to its body structure, the Secretary Bird has a distinctive crest of black feathers on the back of its head.

If you think you see any of these this week, share your observations with us. We'll be keeping track here. Happy Accipitriforme hunting!

Posted on January 17, 2016 08:33 AM by tiwane tiwane | 3 comments | Leave a comment

January 21, 2016

Cormorant Week Wrap

We kicked off the Critter Calendar in style with a record breaking Cormorant Week on iNaturalist! We counted 89 Observations from 11 countries by 54 observers representing 15 distinct species.


As expected, we had a lot of Double-crested Cormorants checking in from North America, but we counted seven different Cormorants in total. Gena Bentall (@gbentall) managed to tick all 3 cormorants from California at Moss Landing, near Monterey

The relatively widespread Neotropical Cormorant and Great Cormorant were each well represented across the Neotropics, North America, and Europe. We also counted two cormorants from Australia and New Zealand. The Little Black Cormorant from New Zealand is well represented on iNat, but was missed this week. We also dipped on a few African species that have previously checked into iNat, but not this week.

A swimming Double-crested Cormorant observed by @tnewman


The American Anhinga was well represented from the New World, and thanks to efforts by Ry Beaver (@ryber), we had a second Anhinga species with his Australian Darter from near Perth.

Gannets and Boobies

James Shelton (@james5) found a couple of Northern Gannets on the Virginia coast. It looked like we weren't going to get any Boobies, and then Colin Morita (@colinmorita) came through with visit a Hawaiian Red Footed Booby colony. And towards the end of the week, @icosahedron reported 3 Booby Species from the Galapagos!


We had 2 species of Frigatebird check in. The Greater Frigatebird also from the Galapagos, and the Magnificant Frigatebird from Florida, Mexico, and this great spotting of one perched by Scott Trageser (@naturestills) from Barbuda. Both Roger Shaw (@aredoubles) and @tnewman managed to tick Magnificant Frigatebird along with two other species (Anghinga and Double-crested) in Florida this week.

This was the biggest week ever on iNaturalist by number of Cormorant (Suliformes) observations! We appreciate everyone who participated help kicking of the Critter Calendar, and remember, Hawk Week is currently underway - so get outside and find us some raptors!

Details on how we're counting

Thanks to everyone for bearing with us as we fiddle with this Critter Calendar idea. We'll likely change some of the details for how we're counting as we (a) learn from this experience and (b) make some changes to the software. But for now, we're counting (adding to the project) everything observed during the Calendar Week (ie Midnight Sunday through Midnight the following Sunday in London) that is a candidate to become Research Grade (e.g. has a photo, location etc.) and we have permissions to add to the project. The way iNaturalist counts species varies a bit on the site, but we're counting distinct taxa (ie all taxa minus their ancestors).

Thanks to Blake Matheson, Dario Sanches, barloventomagico, birdman_of_jalova David and Dorothy Jenkins (Sharing for 2015), Mikko Koponen, Len Blumin, Drew Avery, Kevin Rolle, Blake Matheson, Jerry Kirkhart, Franco Folini, Marj Kibby, Jan Smith, Xavier Ceccaldi for licensing their photography for use in the graphic.

Posted on January 21, 2016 08:37 AM by loarie loarie | 0 comments | Leave a comment

January 22, 2016

Observation of the Week, 1/19/2016

This Lorestan Newt seen by apbbani in the Khuzestan Province of Iran is our Observation of the Week.

Parham Beyhagi has loved animals since he was a child. He owned an aquarium at the age of ten and soon began to build his own terrariums for reptiles and amphibians. This fascination led him to focus on herpetology after university and he now studies reptiles and amphibians and is an advocate for their preservation.

The rare Lorestan Newt (Neurergus kaiseri) has fascinated Parham since he was a child, and from early on he “wanted to know about them and see them in the natural places where they live.” Habitat loss and illegal collection for the pet trade are two threats to the Lorestan Newt, and Parham says “this observation is very important and shows us that we must keep conserving this special species in Iran if we want to see them later in the wild in their natural habitat.” Parham and other colleagues are actively working on a conservation project for this newt.

In addition to research, Parham teaches about herps all around Iran, especially to children and ecotour leaders. He “finds species and talks to local people about the species that live in their places...I tell them about the decreasing of their populations...and want them to pay attention to the ecological effects of their works and help these animals.”

He and his colleagues have an Amphibians of Iran website and also a project on iNaturalist to educate the world about the herpetofauna of the country. “I want to share some of my information to other people who are interested in amphibians and reptiles of Iran and use information that other people share,” says Parham. He hopes that with more exposure on iNaturalist and other sites, interest and support for conserving Iran’s reptiles and amphibians will grow.

by Tony Iwane

- One of the most amazing reptiles in Iran is the Spider-tailed Horned Viper (Pseudocerastes urarachnoides). Here’s a video of its tail in action.

Posted on January 22, 2016 12:32 AM by tiwane tiwane | 0 comments | Leave a comment

January 24, 2016

It's Duck Week on iNaturalist! Jan 24 - 30

This week on the Critter Calendar we moved from soaring raptors to the aquatic birds of the order Anseriformes - ducks, geese, swans and screamers.

Counting some of the most familiar and iconic birds in the world as members, the Anseriformes are well adapted to living life at the water’s surface. They all have webbed feet for powerful swimming, most have special oils which protect their feathers from water, and their bills have special filters, called lamellae, which help them feed on the plants that make up most of their adult diets

Ducks, Geese, and Swans

Nearly all Anseriformes belong to the family Anatidae, which includes the ducks, geese and swans. Dabbling ducks, like the ubiquitous Mallard, tend to feed in shallower waters where they can upend themselves to feed on shallow aquatic vegetation, their hindquarters sticking above the water’s surface. Diving ducks such as Ring-necked duck tend to submerge their entire bodies when searching for food, and have larger feet than dabblers. Many ducks are sexually dimorphous - males often have bold colors and patterns, while females are usually drab in plumage. The Paradise Shelduck is a notable exception to this pattern.

Geese and swans of the subfamily Anserinae are bigger than ducks and have longer necks. Large Mute Swans are known to have wingspans reaching 3 m (9.8 ft) and may weigh 15 kg (33 lbs). Geese and ducks can often be found feeding on terrestrial vegetation.


The family Anhimidae, or “screamers,” consists of three species who live in South America. More terrestrial than the Anatidae, their feet are only partially webbed and their bills are more pointed than flattened. Bizarrely, they have air bubbles in their skin which supposedly make crackling noises when pressed!

Magpie Goose

Papua New Guinea and Northern Australia are home to the lone species of this family, the Magpie Goose. Their bill shows they belong in the Anseriformes but are considered an early offshoot within the order. Magpie geese have black and white plumage, yellow legs, and can congregate in large groups during breeding season.

If you think you see any of these this week, share your observations with us. We’ll be keeping track here. Happy Anseriforme hunting!

Posted on January 24, 2016 04:55 AM by loarie loarie | 0 comments | Leave a comment

January 27, 2016

Observation of the Week, 1/27/2016

This Fried Egg Jellyfish seen by nilsradecker off of Sardinia, Italy is our Observation of the Week.

When asked how he became interested in wildlife, Nils Radecker replied “As Attenborough once pointed out, I believe this question is the wrong way around. All children are interested in nature, we just have to make sure not to lose this interest. I think getting out there and seeing it for yourself is all you need to do to keep this interest alive.” When he was a child, Nils’ parents took him to many places to see nature, and his passion for it has definitely not abated. Raised in Germany, he has observed wildlife around the world and is now studying coral reefs in Saudi Arabia for his PhD.

In 2013 his travels took him to Gennargentu National Park on the island of Sardinia and nearby Cala Goloritze bay. He and his marine biologist friends explored the “crystal clear water” which was filled with sea life. And at its outer reaches, “currents were bringing in all kinds of jellyfish into the bay. Among those the infamous Fried Egg Jellyfish (Cotylorhiza tuberculata).” Found only in the Mediterranean region, this jellyfish’s population reaches its peak in late summer and can be more easily seen close to shore during that time. “Of course,” says Nils, “we used this amazing opportunity for some pictures of this iconic species.”

Growing up near the ocean in Northern Germany, the marine world has always been a part of Nils’ life, and as he studied biology “it just became obvious that the marine environment is the biggest mystery we have left on our planet. So I was keen to go into the unknown and eventually ended up studying coral reefs.” His research focuses on coral bleaching (see photo above, showing Nils swimming over bleached coral in the Red Sea), which is a disruption between the “crucial symbiosis of corals and associated algae living in their tissue due to ocean warming.” He and his team are trying to understand the mechanism of coral bleaching and have recently discovered that bacteria are part of this process. They “hope that this may hold the key to preventing future coral bleaching. But unfortunately there’s still a lot of work ahead for us.”

Puzzled by how little was known about Saudi Arabia’s wildlife, Nils found iNaturalist when he was looking for a way he and his colleagues could record their everyday wildlife observations. He says, “I believe it’s the ideal platform to share this kind of knowledge with everyone. I sincerely hope I can convince more people in the region to use this tool to finally get an idea what is out there.”

- by Tony Iwane

photo of Nils by Claudia Pogoreutz

- Here’s an article recently published by Nils and his colleagues.

- Check out this video of a swimming Fried Egg Jellyfish.

- Another jellyfish, the Phacellophora camtschatica, is also called the Fried Egg Jellyfish, but it lives in colder waters and can grow to enormous proportions - its tentacles can reach 6 m (20 ft) long!

Posted on January 27, 2016 02:52 PM by tiwane tiwane | 0 comments | Leave a comment