Journal archives for September 2016

September 01, 2016

iNat and Media Attention in 2016

iNaturalist has been the recipient of some media attention this year, from the National Park Service’s BioBlitz 2016, which peaked on May 21st, and xkcd’s mention of iNat in its early June comic, but our biggest boost came from this story on NPR by KERA’s Lauren Silverman, which ran on August 6th and made some comparisons between iNat and the Pokemon Go craze.

iNat user Sam Kieschnick (@sambiology), an Urban Wildlife Biologist in Texas, had been running a few moth programs during National Moth Week and one program in Midlothian, Texas got some press in a local paper. “Lauren Silverman...must have read that and called me up to get some more information,” says Sam. “Another moth night was coming up in Dallas, so I invited her to it.  She brought some recording tools to make a story for the local and statewide shows. The story ended up going a little bit towards the Pokemon Go angle, and that was good - because of that, it was picked up nationally on Sunday morning's All Tech Considered.”

The NPR story really boosted the number of new users to iNat, as well as activity on the website and in our mobile apps. For example, here’s a chart showing the number of new iNat iOS users after the NPR piece aired crushing any old records we had (you can see the earlier spikes around the BioBlitz and the xkcd mention).  

It’s interesting to compare these new user spikes to the number of iOS sessions (a period of time when a user is actively engaged with the app). There’s a really big spike during the BioBlitz’s peak days, although not as large as the NPR story garnered.

The BioBlitz spike was due to a high number of multiple sessions (same folks using the app multiple times), whereas the NPR spike was caused by a large number of new users, rather than multiple sessions. Different audiences and goals, perhaps?

What’s cool is that our numbers post-NPR are still significantly higher than average. After the xkcd mention we had a huge spike in web sessions, then a sharp drop-off; after NPR, session numbers remain much higher than usual and very high for this time of year, which historically has lower session numbers. And while we of course can’t link all new users to the NPR story, it’s fun to check out the numbers of new users since the story ran: 35,414 new users were created between August 5th and August 30th, and they’ve made 58,518 observations - about 31% of all observations made since August 5th. Not bad!

So what’s going on here? Did the NPR story just reach the right demographic? Have a wider reach overall, since it’s from a major news source? Or perhaps the popularity of Pokemon Go helped everyone realize that going outside and pointing your phone at things can be a lot of fun - priming folks for iNat. It’s also noteworthy that the NPS BioBlitz was focused on a specific period with a specific goal, whereas the NPR piece took a different tack, emphasizing fun, competition, exploration, and discovery - something folks can use any day, wherever they are.

If you’ve got some thoughts, feel free to share below.

- by Tony Iwane (with data help from the iNat team)

Posted on September 01, 2016 04:07 AM by tiwane tiwane | 3 comments | Leave a comment

Observation of the Week, 9/1/2016

This two-tailed Arizona Bark Scorpion seen by @jaykeller in Arizona is our Observation of the Week!

“My parents told me that in my earliest years, up to about age 4, I was deathly afraid of anything with more than 4 legs. By age 6 or so, that fear turned to intrigue, and I never looked back,” says Jay Keller. At age thirteen he had an 8,000 specimen insect collection and even helped the assistant curator of the Frost Entomological Museum of Penn State sort and re-catalog large portions of their collection and conduct public tours. In his teen years, nature took a backseat to other interests (“sports, cars, music, GIRLS etc.”) but he was always aware of it. By his mid-twenties, however, he got back into nature “by becoming an all-too-serious birdwatcher, which waned a few years ago as I became bored with that and started re-noticing all forms of nature, especially rekindling my interest in insects - now primarily through photography vs. collecting.”

Jay’s friend BJ Stacey (@finatic) introduced him to iNat a few years ago, and he says “once I decided to dip my toe into it, I became hooked, and now spend far too much time with it for my own good! You will always see me on the leaderboards not because I want to be at the top of the heap, but more because I am a very active nature photographer who tends to be in nature all the time, which is the one thing other than my family that provides me stress relief and happiness.” As of today (September 1st, 2016), BJ and Jay are our two top observers, with over 65,000 (!) observations between them.

The two of them recently took a trip to Arizona, which is when Jay found this remarkable two-tailed Arizona Bark Scorpion, as he was using a UV flashlight to look for fluorescing scorpions. “I observed it for a minute before I realized that something was ‘off’...when I quickly realized that there was only one set of legs and chelae, it suddenly dawned on me that I was looking at a single Bark Scorpion with two metasomas and two stingers!” In terms of anatomy, a scorpion’s “tail” is called the metasoma, and is an extension of its abdomen, or opisthosoma (the anus is actually located near the end of the metasoma, towards the stinger).

Wanting to study this rare individual, Jay notes that he “very carefully” was able to put it in a vial (the Arizona Bark Scorpion is the most venomous scorpion in North America) and took it home, where he says he “[gained] permission from my wife to maintain such a creature at least for a period of time.” You can read more updates and info about the scorpion on Jay’s iNat journal post here, it’s definitely worth checking out. And yes, both tails seem to be totally functional and are used for stinging. He notes that “others who are far more experienced with scorpions than I, and who have themselves observed many thousands of individuals have told me they have not yet found one.”

In regards to photographing and exploring nature, Jay says “I have a strong desire to simply understand what I am seeing out there, and the photos not only aid in their eventual identification, but ultimately make me want to research the creatures at a much deeper level, which is in part made possible with the community on iNaturalist. iNaturalist is a really exceptional forum for all those with a keen interest in the natural world to learn about, enjoy and share with others the amazing diversity of life that exists around us.”

- by Tony Iwane

- Here’s video of a two-tailed scorpion in captivity, feeding on a cricket. This one doesn’t use its stingers here, however. 

- If you want to get a UV flashlight for yourself, they’re relatively cheap and easy to find on the internet. It’s fun to go on a night hike and see what else fluoresces, like millipedes, lichens, plants and more!

Posted on September 01, 2016 11:18 PM by tiwane tiwane | 0 comments | Leave a comment

September 08, 2016

Observation of the Week, 9/8/16

This Brown smooth-hound shark, seen along San Francisco Bay by @sassafire, is our Observation of the Week!

Naturalist Morgan Dill grew up along the shores of Lake Michigan, and says she  “couldn’t be pried off the beach in the summers. I spent most of my days outside exploring, playing in the nearby creek and building forts in the backyard, scattering seeds I’d find and then watching them sprout and grow.” Now she’s a naturalist who works at the Crab Cove Visitor Center along the shores of San Francisco Bay, where she leads field trips, does seine netting, and educates folks about the bay’s flora and fauna.

Last week some visitors came to the visitor center saying they had found a small shark washed up on the tide line, so Morgan and her colleague went to check it out. They identified it as a Brown smooth-hound shark, “which we don’t typically see, though they are not uncommon,” she says, they confirmed it was a female and wasn’t injured. They then walked it out into the water and watched it swim away.

While Northern California is known for its population of Great White Sharks, that species usually hangs out along the coast, especially around the Farallon Islands, and only rarely enter the bay itself. There are, however, many other species of smaller sharks that call the bay home, such as Leopard Sharks, Northern Pacific Spiny Dogfish, large Broadnose sevengill sharks, and of course the small Brown smooth-hound shark, which is actually preyed-upon by the sevengills. Brown smooth-hounds average around two feet in length, and swim close to the bottom where they find invertebrates and small fish for food. Their name comes from their iridescent brown dorsal color. It’s tough to know why this one was so close to shore, but these sharks tend to pup in the shallow waters of the bay in spring and summer. The bay is an important nursery for many fish, including sharks. Not a commercially important fish, so far its population numbers have been holding steady, unlike many other shark species.

Morgan admits to not being “the most prolific of iNaturalist users when it comes to posting observations,” but she uses iNat in other ways, such as checking IDs of things she’s found, and she’s using it with high school students for a program she teaches that’s run by the East Bay Regional Park District and the Save the Redwoods League. “[The students] are always surprised that people are out there willing to look at what they find and identify it,” she says. “I love knowing they are getting real feedback from other citizen scientists, and have a feeling of contributing with their own experiences out in the field.”

And for Morgan herself, “I think that being a naturalist, and using iNat, makes me pay attention to the smaller details, and giving time to really consider what would help identify or distinguish an organism. Taking time pushes me to think about the beautiful intricacies of things, and ultimately discover more.”

- by Tony Iwane

- Here’s a short video showing a pregnant Brown Smooth-hound shark.

- Last year a Great White Shark was seen making a kill off of Alcatraz, the first known recorded incident of a Great White kill inside the bay.

- While most of us picture a Great White or something similar when we hear the word “shark,” sharks and rays (their cousins) are incredibly diverse. Here are some photos and descriptions of some of them, courtesy of the BBC. 

Posted on September 08, 2016 08:54 PM by tiwane tiwane | 0 comments | Leave a comment

September 15, 2016

Observation of the Week, 9/15/16

This Marvellous Spatuletail seen in Peru by @joanseptembre is our Observation of the Week!

Male hummingbirds are well known for their flashy, iridescent plumage but Marvellous Spauletail males take their courtship plumage and displays a bit further. Unique among birds, this species has only four tail feathers, and in males two of those feathers are extremely long (2-3 times body length) and end in large flat discs, or “spatules.” When courting, males hover in front of females and wave these spatules back and forth. They also make a snapping sound, which until recently was thought to be made by the feathers, until a BBC film crew showed the noise came from the bird’s beak. 

Marvellous Spatuletails live only a small area of the Peruvian rainforest, and were a target species for iNat user Joan Septembre (@joanseptembre) on her most recent trip to the country. She’d missed out on seeing them three years earlier, but made sure to visit Huembo Reserve this time, which is known for having a population of them. And sure enough, she saw at least two males come to one of the feeders in the reserve!

“They were smaller than many of the other hummingbirds, if you don't count the tail feathers, and much less aggressive,” she says. “They would sit in the bushes and wait until most of the other hummingbirds had gone...if it looked safe, they would go to the feeders for a very short time, then dart off again.” Many other hummingbirds would chase them off as well.

“I have a lot of fun taking photos for iNaturalist,” says Joan. “It makes me more aware of what is around me, things I wouldn't notice otherwise, [and] I feel that I get as much as I give when I post on iNaturalist.  I am ending up with a great record of some of the interesting plants and animals that I've seen in various places around the world, and they have been identified for me!...I hope that some of the things I've observed and photographed will be interesting for others to view, and useful for scientific research as well.”

- by Tony Iwane

- Pretty much everything about hummingbirds is amazing, especially in slow motion. Here’s a great one involving a wind tunnel.

- And another fun one from Earth Unplugged.

Posted on September 15, 2016 09:41 PM by tiwane tiwane | 0 comments | Leave a comment

September 22, 2016

Observation of the Week, 9/22/16

This Madagascar jungleskimmer seen in Madagascar by @erlandreflingnielsen is our Observation of the Week!

Erland Nielsen is an engineer by trade, but does entomology in this spare time, “more or less 100 % of it,” he says. His main interest since 1998 has been the order Odonata, or the dragonflies and damselflies, although lately he says “my interest has spread to other kind of insects, especially flies (Diptera) and true bugs (Hemiptera).”

Erland saw the Madagascar jungleskimmer on a trip to Madagascar which was arranged by, and it was the first trip by the company. “At least three new species was found,” says Erland, “and the trip was an effort to get some pictures for the forthcoming book on the dragonfly fauna of the island, by KD Dijkstra. This book will be distributed for free to institutions and schools in Madagascar, teaching them about a corner of their their unique fauna.” In order to photograph the quick-moving jungleskimmer, Erland had to crank the ISO on his camera to 6400 and use a narrow aperture, but he was able to capture its somewhat unique ovipositing behavior in a great shot. “My main interest in dragonflies are behavior,” says Erland, “and getting a photo of the Madagascar jungle-skimmer doing oviposition was really great.”

Like all dragonflies, the Madagascar jungleskimmer is aquatic or semiaquatic when in their nymphal stage, which can last for several years. Adult female dragonflies, then, have to lay their eggs in or around water. Most do so by either quickly dipping their rear ends on the water’s surface and depositing an egg, or cutting slits into aquatic plants and laying the eggs inside the plants. The female Madagascar jungleskimmer, however, flicks water droplets (with her eggs inside) onto the shore! Some other species are known to do this as well, and as of I can’t find a clear-cut explanation for it. If anyone knows, please write in the comments!

A prolific Flickr user, Erland has found that using iNat’s Flickr importer is an easy way for him to add his geotagged photos to iNaturalist, and hopes to add more of his observations from around the world to iNat.

- by Tony Iwane

- To give you an idea of what this kind oviposition looks like here’s video of a Tyriobapta torrida dragonfly in Singapore flicking her eggs onto land. Very quick!

- has a report of their tour available online here [pdf].

Posted on September 22, 2016 10:19 PM by tiwane tiwane | 2 comments | Leave a comment