Journal archives for August 2016

August 04, 2016

Observation of the Week, 8/4/16

This Antarctic Minke Whale, seen by @clinton in Auckland, New Zealand, is our Observation of the Week!

“I fully expected that we would have to euthanize the animal as it was in a very unusual location for that species (i.e. stuck on a tidal flat well up a very busy harbour) and its height on the flat meant it had to have been there for some time,” recalls Clinton Duffy, a Technical Advisor-Marine, in the Marine Ecosystems Team, New Zealand Department of Conservation. “However, we were surprised to find the animal was calm and very alert, and in good condition with no external signs of injury.”

Trained volunteers from Project Jonah had already been on the scene, managing spectators and stabilizing the whale. As the ride rose, Clinton and two others (Yuin Kai Foong and Dr. Rochelle Cosntantine) stayed with the whale as the crowds dispersed. The whale was walked into deeper water, submerging then surfacing for breath. “This went on for about 40 minutes during which time a boat load of volunteers arrived in wet suits and were able to help keep the whale upright. Then suddenly, without any warning the whale began swimming at speed towards the main channel.” They followed it in boats in an attempt to steer it out to sea, but it eventually disappeared. “Hard to believe you could lose an animal that size. I think we all expected it to turn up on another mudflat on the next tide but it was never seen again.  All in all it was a good result,” he says.

Cetaceans (whales and dolphins) strand for many reasons, such as illness, age, navigational errors, and noise pollution from sonar. Sometimes mass strandings occur, and it’s thought to be caused by the intense social bonds in some species - a few may strand, then send out alarm signals to others, who also get caught ashore. According to Project Jonah, New Zealand has one of the highest stranding rates in the world, averaging about 300 per year. Antarctic Minke Whales are the third smallest baleen whale species in the world, with females averaging about 29.2 ft in length and males 28.2 ft in length. Their relatively small size made them unattractive to the whaling industry and it wasn’t until the 20th century that some were commercially hunted, mainly for their meat, and thus Antarctic Minke Whales are now among the most numerous of baleen whales, with population numbering in the hundreds of thousands.

“A lot of my work involves the investigation and establishment of marine protected areas,” says Clinton. “I have a broad in interest in marine biodiversity but I am particularly interested in the biology of sharks and rays.” His current research interests include the movements, habitat use and population size of Great white sharks, and he’s also interested in spurdogs and smoothhounds in the South Pacific. As a child he spent many holidays in a small beach house on the Wairaparapa Coast, and was interested in the flora and fauna he found there. “Not many people were able to tell me the names of the plants and animals I found or caught so I had to teach myself using whatever books I could find or was given."

Clinton considers himself a fairly new iNaturalist/NatureWatchNZ (iNat’s sister site in New Zealand) user, but he’s already found several interesting observations that might be records for New Zealand, which he’s passed on to other scientists. “Beyond that,” he says, “I am considering starting a project focussed on sharks and rays occurring in the South Pacific to see if we can generate better information on potentially threatened species in the region, and I would like to begin others devoted to the fauna and flora of the Waitemata and Manukau Harbours, here in New Zealand.”

- by Tony Iwane

- National Geographic shows a close encounter with an Antarctic Minke Whale in...Antarctica.

- A classic YouTube video shows two divers having a very close encounter with two baleen whales. Yikes!

- If you find a stranded whale or dolphin, it’s best to call experts, as helping such large animals can be dangerous for both you and the animal. Here’s a list of contacts for the U.S.

Posted on August 04, 2016 07:14 AM by tiwane tiwane | 0 comments | Leave a comment

August 11, 2016

Observation of the Week, 8/10/16

This Langaha pseudoalluaudi snake, seen in Madagascar by victorialnjackson, is our Observation of the Week!

“While I'm by no means an expert on Leaf-nosed Snakes from Madagascar...I can say that her observation is quite exciting,” writes herpetologist Paul Freed (@herpguy). “Of the three species of Leaf-nosed Snakes endemic to Madagascar, her observation is one of the rarest of the three.” Paul notes that in Gerald Kuchling’s paper from 2003, Kuchling says the species was described from only the type specimen, found in 1966! “It is possible that additional specimens have been seen/collected since 2003, but given their limited distribution in remote regions of northwestern Madagascar, and the cryptic appearance of this highly unusual snake, it's not likely that many other specimens have been found,” says Paul. This snake is also the first record of this species on iNaturalist as well.

Victoria Jackson, who posted this observation, is a student of Biological Sciences at the University of Exeter in the UK, and was a research assistant on an expedition that Operation Wallacea was conducting in northwestern Madagascar. “We surveyed everything from the trees and other plants to the invertebrates, herps, birds and mammals,” she says. “One of the herpetologists on the team was out on a survey when they found this Langaha pseudoalluaudi and brought it to the camp to show everyone (they put it back where it had been found afterwards). It was amazing to see, so delicate and beautiful and a very gentle snake.”

Very little is known about L. pseudoalluaudi, but the most common snake of the genus, L. madagascariensis, has been the study of some observation and research. It’s difficult to differentiate sexes in most snake species but in the Langaha genus, females have a more “leafy” snout, whereas the males have a snout that is more smooth and pointed. L. pseudoalluaudi females also have protruding scales above the eye, which L. madagascariensis females lack. Langaha snakes are considered ambush predators (makes sense) and hang from branches and vines in the forest, waiting for reptile and amphibian prey. They have been observed stalking and chasing lizards, however. Like many colubrid snakes, they are rear-fanged, basically meaning they have to chew on prey to envenomate it - which is exactly what this researcher let one of them do. He felt severe pain for hours, enough so that he “found it very difficult to sleep because of the intermittent severe throbbing and tenderness which continued throughout the night.”

Victoria (above, with a male white morph Paradise flycatcherTersiphone mutata) is hoping her studies will lead her to a career in biology, a field which has appealed to her since she was a child, “[and] which grew and grew through watching David Attenborough's nature programmes on TV.” She’s “interested in many aspects of biology, not just zoology and wildlife etc., but also genetics and cells and how everything works together.”

As for iNaturalist, Victoria loves using it to record what she sees every day, in addition to her trips abroad. “It's great when I don't know what something is because the chances are, other users will be able to identify it,” she says. “I think it's a great modern way to record your sightings on a database that scientists around the world can use!”

- by Tony Iwane

- A very nice little article (PDF) about observing L. madagascariensis behavior in the wild, something that has not been done much.

- Speaking of Sir David Attenborough, here’s a nice playlist from his great Life in Cold Blood series.

Posted on August 11, 2016 01:42 AM by tiwane tiwane | 2 comments | Leave a comment

August 22, 2016

Observation of the Week, 8/22/16

This Gelotopoia bicolor katydid, seen in Guinea by @nefariousdrru, is our Observation of the Week!

The above katydid is the first one of its species posted to iNaturalist, and it was found not by a professional naturalist or wildlife biologist, but by Heather, an infectious diseases epidemiologist!

This spring, Heather deployed to Guinea in response to a flare-up of the Ebola virus, working with the Council for State and Territorial Epidemiologists, who was helping the CDC staff the response. The flare-up happened in the forest and response time was critical, so the UN and WHO cleared some forest next a village and set up a camp for the responders.

When she visited the camp for the first time, Heather noticed a dead moth and some other insects. “As I was taking photos, I realized that what I thought was a twig hanging off the tent was actually a moth, so then I went looking for more,” she says. “I then realized that there were ‘bugs’ seemingly everywhere (at that time, my knowledge of insect taxonomy was pretty much just “butterfly, moth, ant, roach, praying mantis, and ‘bug’”). All that to say that, I didn’t know what I was looking at but I knew enough that it was special, even if just to me.” Heather continued to take photos in her spare time: “I’m a giant nerd and really enjoy adventuring. So, what that means is that on my adventures, I end up taking a lot of photos and working backwards.” After struggling with various identification resources, Heather heard the NPR story about iNaturalist, “so I figured I’d give these IDs another shot. That changed everything.”

Not much information is available about the Gelotopoia bicolor katydid, but katydids (Tettigoniidae, also known as “bush crickets”) are a large and incredibly diverse family of the order Orthoptera (the grasshoppers, crickets, katydids, and more). You can distinguish a katydid from its releatives by looking at its antennae - it has long, thin antennae, whereas grasshoppers have antennae which are shorter and more thick. Many katydids are actually predatory, with some species even predating snakes and lizards! Members of this family, like the one Heather found, have also evolved incredible camouflage.

Heather will continue to add observations from the places she travels to. “I’ve only been an INaturalist member for a couple of weeks now but now I know... there’s a place for my observations other than my ever expanding photos folder,” she says. “It has really helped me see how I fit into a larger community and appreciate the warmth of veteran naturalists who are willing to act as a resource for a newbie like myself.”

- by Tony Iwane

- Check out Heather’s other observations from Guinea here. Please help ID them if you’re knowledgeable about the region!

- Noted entomologist, author and photographer Piotr Naskrecki has written quite a few blog posts about katydids, showcasing their diversity. Here are some of them

- Katydid nymphs are usually really cool looking. Bugguide has a collection of nymph photos.

Posted on August 22, 2016 06:53 PM by tiwane tiwane | 0 comments | Leave a comment

August 25, 2016

U.S. National Park Service - 100 Years, 100k Observations

The National Park Service (NPS) consisted of 35 parks and monuments when President Woodrow Wilson established it on August 25th, 1916. And in that same year, a fourteen year-old Ansel Adams, who had collected bugs and tromped through the wilderness of San Francisco as a young child, visited Yosemite National Park with his family. It was his first visit there, and he later wrote, “one wonder after another descended upon us...There was light everywhere...A new era began for me.”

One of the first inexpensive cameras in common use was the Kodak Brownie box camera, and Ansel was lucky enough to have one. He of course began to avidly photograph what he saw at Yosemite, on his way to becoming one of the most popular and influential photographers in the history of the medium. His photos (and his lobbying) were instrumental in the creation of King’s Canyon National Park and have inspired countless people to appreciate and preserve the natural world.

A century later, the National Park Service now oversees over 400 parks and monuments, which are visited by 300 million people every year. Visitors no longer carry Kodak Brownie cameras, but they are armed with smartphones; pocket-sized wonders combining cameras, gps antennae and internet connectivity.

Thus BioBlitz 2016, a citizen science project using iNaturalist to record as many species as possible in the national parks through this centennial year. And just in time for the NPS’s actual 100th birthday, iNat users have just passed the 100,000 observation mark in the NPS Servicewide BioBlitz project, which aggregates all observations throughout the system! That’s about 9% of all iNat observations recorded this year, worldwide - not bad. Over 10,000 species were recorded by over 5,000 users, ranging from the western Pacific to the coast of Maine, and all of the research grade data will be added to the National Park Service’s NPSpecies database, helping NPS staff gain a deeper knowledge of each park’s biodiversity. For example, 13 spider species, 17 lichen species, 2 terrestrial isopod species and 1 native earthwom species were all new species added to the George Washington Memorial Parkway’s list!

To help you get an idea of BioBlitz 2016’s scale (and because they’re cool), there are two interactive maps on this post - one up at the top of the post and one just below this paragraph, which include all observations in the project through 8/23/16. Make sure you play around with them! A big thanks to @loarie and @kueda for making the above and below interactive maps, respectively.

There’s still four months left in 2016, so get out there and make some observations in a nearby national park if you can. You’ll be helping in the greater understanding and preservation of over 84 million acres of land - an incredible heritage. Who knows, maybe you could be our next Ansel Adams!

by Tony Iwane

Psst! Since only verified observations will be added to NPSpecies, your identification assistance is critical for BioBlitz 2016 observations!  Use our Identify tool to identify any organisms in the project that you can - every little bit helps!

Posted on August 25, 2016 04:01 PM by tiwane tiwane | 1 comment | Leave a comment

Observation of the Week 8/24/16

This Spider-tailed Horned Viper, seen in Iran by matthieuberroneau, is our Observation of the Week!

I love snakes, and a few years ago my friend @robberfly sent me a video of the Spider-tailed Horned Viper. I was floored, and never forgot about this bizarre animal. So when Matthieu Berroneau’s observation of one (the first one with photographs on iNat) was being passed around by the iNat crew it made my day.

OK, personal tangent out of the way.

A professional herper and photographer in the south of France, Matthieu Berroneau has also been obsessed with this snake, ever since it was first described in 2006. Despite having recently returned from a trip to Malaysia, he and his companions had the opportunity to visit Iran and they couldn’t turn it down. They “planned to observe different crazy species of Amphibians and Reptiles of Iran like Paradactylodon persicus, Phrynocephalus mystaceus and of course Pseudocerastes urarachnoides (Spider-tailed Horned Viper).” And that they did - with the help of local guides and their own expertise, Matthieu and his group found over 60 reptiles during their two week, 5,500 km trek through the country. The search for Pseudocerastes urarachnoides in Iran’s Ilam province was an adventure in and of itself, involving armed guards, stormy weather, and of course an encounter with a venomous snake. Matthieu goes into more detail here, definitely check it out. “This day will live long in my memory and it is still with stars in the eyes that we leave Ilam,” he wrote. "Iran is an absolutely beautiful country inhabited by friendly and cheerful people, full of incredible scenery and unsuspected wildlife."

The first specimen of Pseudocerastes urarachnoides was collected in a 1968 survey and promptly misidentified as a Persian horned viper (Pseudocerastes persicus) with a tumor or growth, rather than a new species. When another specimen was collected in 2003, it spurred more research and the description of a new species in 2006. And researchers suspected that the snake used its strange tail as a lure (which many other snakes do), this behavior wasn’t observed in the wild in until 2008. With its perfectly camouflaged scales, the snake is well hidden from its prey until it’s too late. However, at least one snake has been observed having its spider appendage pecked clean off by a bird!

Matthieu recently joined iNaturalist, but he’s been documenting his finds online for much longer - his high quality photos are on Flickr; he and his friends have created, where they share their photos and experiences; and he has a Facebook page. He’ll continue posting to iNaturalist and says he’s found it useful for keeping track of where he’s found his many subject. “And if at the same time this can help the scientistic community and the conservation of endangered species,” he says, “it's perfect for me!”

- by Tony Iwane

- Here’s some footage of Pseudocerastes urarachnoides using its tail to catch a  bird.

- All of Matthieu’s iNat observations in Iran can be found here.

- Make sure to check out’s trips page to read about their other amazing trips.

- The original published description of Pseudocerastes urarachnoides.

- Please note that while Matthieu writes excellent english, I did clean it some of his quotes for clarity.

Posted on August 25, 2016 10:16 PM by tiwane tiwane | 1 comment | Leave a comment

August 30, 2016

Observation of the Week, 8/17/16

This Common Glider butterfly, seen in the Democratic Republic of Congo by @congonaturalist, is our belated Observation of the Week for August 17th, 2016!

I originally emailed Naftali Honig (@congonaturalist) weeks ago, but email communication has been spotty, as he is in the Democratic Republic of Congo doing anti-poaching and anti-trafficking work, mainly with elephants but with other threatened wildlife as well. Originally from New York, Naftali says he “started getting involved in doing anti-poaching and anti-trafficking work after living in the rainforest for a year. I would have loved to just stay in the forest and explore, but there are too many threats to the wildlife I came to love there.” He’s a 2016 National Geographic Emerging Explorer, and you can read more about him and his work here

Of course during his time and his work there, Naftali sees many other animals. “I see Common gliders all the time in Central Africa. They seem to be common here in this corner of the DRC...Curiously, right after this photo got chosen as Photo of the Week, what seemed like millions of Common gliders flew over the village where I was in DRC! Conditions must have been just right.”

The Common glider butterflies of Africa (Cymothoe caenis, different from the Common gliders of Eurasia, which are Neptis sappho) are, as their name suggests, common throughout tropical Africa, and are varied in color and pattern. The straight lines you see on the one above are markings on the underwings and wouldn’t normally be seen from above without strong backlighting, like we have here. They’re a migratory butterfly, and it’s likely Naftali saw a migrating group come through the village.

Naftali uses iNaturalist to log his findings, and says “Citizen science is a fascinating approach in the 21st century and frankly I've learned a lot about taxa for which I simply haven't got the guidebook out in the Congo! I'm usually not too far from my bird and mammal guidebooks, but butterflies? Wasps? Orchids? This global community of passionate people is really impressive and genuinely inspiring.”

- by Tony Iwane

- Here’s a video of National Geographic’s 2016 Emerging Explorers, including Naftali.

Posted on August 30, 2016 04:54 PM by tiwane tiwane | 0 comments | Leave a comment