Journal archives for October 2016

October 02, 2016

Observation of the Week, 10/1/16

This Boto seen in Colombia by @eirikralexandros is our Observation of the Week!

When most people think of dolphins, I imagine they’re picturing greyish dolphins cavorting in the open ocean or at the mouths of bays. However, there are several species of freshwater dolphins who live in the large rivers of the world; the Ganges and Indus rivers are home to the endangered South Asian River dolphin, and the now functionally extinct Chinese River Dolphin lived only in the Yangtze river. The largest of the river dolphins are the Amazon river dolphins (also known as Boto), found throughout six countries in South America, and growing up to 8.2 ft (2.5m) in length and 408 lbs (185 kg) in weight. They often take on a pinkish hue as adults, and have the widest prey variety of any toothed whale, having been recorded eating at least 53 species of fish. They’ll event team up with giant otters and tucuxi (a distant relative) when hunting!

Eirick Pinilla was a field veterinarian for his university when he photographed the above Boto. “We had to catch some monkeys for genetics studies and we moved between base camps (exclusively by water transportation),” he says. “So that day I was arriving to ‘Lagos de Tarapoto’ base camp and just before disembarking and merely a few meters away from the river bank a couple of dolphins ‘grabbed the spotlight.’” A pretty spectacular sight.

Eirick says he’s always been interested in nature, which is what led him to his current career as a wildlife veterinarian and conservationist. And while he loves all animals, his favorites are “bats, owls, snakes and basically whatever thrives at night.”

“I've found iNaturalist the right tool to share my experiences and the little knowledge I've got about nature,” he says. “I must confess I'm a lot more interested in photography now (that I know iNaturalist) and in freezing those special moments so that other people can enjoy them as much as I do.”

- by Tony Iwane

- Some nice footage of Amazon river dolphins, courtesy of the BBC.

- Sonar engineers attempt to accurately survey the Ganges river dolphin, to aid in its conservation.

Posted on October 02, 2016 05:13 AM by tiwane tiwane | 0 comments | Leave a comment

October 06, 2016

Observation of the Week, 10/6/16

This Marbled Newt, seen in France by @blankplank21, is our Observation of the Week!

After hearing about iNaturalist from the story on NPR, Brian Gray says “I uninstalled Pokemon Go for [iNaturalist] and found myself going further and getting more excited about looking for creatures!” On a recent trip to visit his in-laws in France, Brian had a chance to explore their “beautiful warm home surrounded by lush greenery and some forestry,” and “Every free moment was spent on every bee, hornet or spider!...I found some other wonderful creatures that were really pleasant surprises but nothing so spectacular as this Marbled Newt!”

While exploring on a drizzly night, he found some Giant Toads and went on the prowl for more toad-friendly spots when he found several Marbled Newts. “It was my first time seeing a wild live newt...I took a couple of pictures and a short video then left them alone as they crept away, shunning the light of my phone's torch. I was really excited to take those pictures, I wanted to wake everybody in the house up! My parents-in-law are nature lovers too. That's a major bonding point with my father-in-law so I was quite keen to show him. I was also really keen to post it on iNaturalist.”

Marbled Newts are one of the largest newt species in France, with adults ranging from 5 inches (13 cm) to 6.5 inches (17 cm) in length. They range through much of western France and into parts of Spain and Portugal. Like many newts, they migrate to breeding pools during winter and spring (generally February to May), and during this time males grow impressive crests along their back and tail. During this “aquatic phase,” the warty protuberances on the backs of  both males and females smooth out as well. Even when not breeding, males will have a small ridge along their back.

While Brian’s observation was taken in France, he resides in Oxford, England and was born and raised in Nairobi, Kenya. Growing up in Nairobi, he was always fascinated by nature, saying “We still have troops of monkeys (of different types: Vervet, Colobus, Sykes', etc) that pass through neighbourhoods stirring commotion as they proceed. Or the large Marabou Storks that patrol the city dump sites which are as much a fixture of the city as the people. Nature, animals in particular are the points of association with regards to my home country.”

Looking for wildlife has long been one of his hobbies, but Brian believes that using iNaturalist has made him even more passionate and aware of life around him. “Honestly, I wouldn't have found those newts if it wasn't for the pull I felt towards contributing to iNat,” he says. “I really was excited to add that observation and I'm over the moon that iNat and others are getting excited about it as makes you appreciate the organisms you encounter and approach them with more intrigue, level of fascination skyrockets and you value every living thing in your surroundings.”

- by Tony Iwane

- All newts are salamanders, but not all salamanders are newts. Here’s an explainer.

- Here’s some video showing two Marbled Newts courting. You can definitely see the huge sexual dimorphism.

Posted on October 06, 2016 10:44 PM by tiwane tiwane | 1 comment | Leave a comment

October 11, 2016

Bonus Observation of the Week, 10/10/16

This Crystallopsis hunteri snail, seen in the Solomon Islands by @vespadelus, is our bonus Observation of the Week!

There are so many great observations posted to iNat everyday that it’s an embarrassment of riches and tough for me to pick one for Observation of the Week. I contacted Michael Pennay about his amazing snail find but only recently was able to get a reply, as he was out in field.

“The field,” of course, is the Solomon Islands, where he’s been working two and a half years. Originally from Australia, Michael has also worked in Papua New Guinea and says “[I] love the Pacific Islands, there are so many cool things to see and many people have an exceptional intimate understanding of their environment.”

His current work in the Solomon Islands recently involved a biodiversity survey in the highlands of  Makira island, “a three day hike from the coast uphill and a hard slog carrying survey equipment.” Michael says “In the highlands are beautiful moss forests [see below] that are constantly wet. There are mythical creatures called kakamora that Makira legend has it lives in the forests, and seeing these places you could believe it. Being almost constantly wet the forest had an amazing array of orchids and snails.”

The Crystallopsis hunteri snail that Michael found is one of the many cool gastropods he found there (check out this semi-slug). It’s beautiful, of course, but if you look closely you’ll see that its shell is actually translucent! Many juveniles are green, but only some adults are (here are some other photos for comparison), so there is quite a bit of easily noticeable variation in comparison to some other snail species. This is also  the first observation of this species posted on iNat.

Michael continues his field work, using iNat to keep track of some of his finds. “I mainly use iNaturalist as a personal field notebook to record my observations from particular places so I can look back on them...I really love the community ID side of it and appreciate the assistance of other users in identifying species I’m unfamiliar with. There are some amazingly talented and knowledgeable members of the iNaturalist community. I try to reciprocate this as much as possible by providing IDs for species that I'm familiar with.”

- by Tony Iwane

Posted on October 11, 2016 05:01 AM by tiwane tiwane | 1 comment | Leave a comment

October 14, 2016

Observation of the Week , 10/13/16

This Thyreus cuckoo bee seen in South Korea by @whaichi is our Observation of the Week!

An American who’s been teaching English in South Korea since 2007, Paul Bailey has been using iNat to document the organisms he sees on along a river during his walk to and from work. And after nearly  a year of using iNat he’s recently met up with Kim Hyun-tae (@pintail) a few times to look for frogs, salamanders (including the endemic species Karsenia koreana), snakes, and other animals, and says that on their first trip, Mr. Kim “heard about my interest in insects he gave me one of his old macro lenses which I used to take that photo of the Thyreus. so without his help that photo may not have been possible!”

Armed with this lens, he says “I walked further south than usual along the river one afternoon and noticed a large cluster of fleabanes that I wanted to check out for pollinators. As I drew closer I noticed a moving patch of blue, but it was too far away to see clearly and it eventually disappeared into the nearby vegetation...I noticed the patch of blue coming back and it turned out to be a bright blue bee that landed quite close to me on one of the fleabanes.

[With the new lens] I was...worried that I wouldn't end up with any decent pictures so I snapped more than 80 photos while I had the opportunity. And honestly, I did also enjoy watching it buzz around the flowers so it wasn't really a bad way to pass the time.”

Bees in the genus Thyreus are some of the several thousand species of bees known as “cuckoo bees,” which are brood parasites - named after the famous Cuckoo birds. Like other brood parasites, female cuckoo bees don’t actually care for or provision for their young - they instead make other animals do it. In most solitary bee species, a female leaves a provision of nectar and pollen with their egg (or eggs). Once the egg hatches, the larva will eat the provisioned food then pupate into its adult form. A female cuckoo bee, however, lays its egg in the nest of other bee species, and when the cuckoo bee egg hatches the larva eats the provisioned food and will often kill and eat the host larva as well! Due to this fascinating life cycle, a female cuckoo bee doesn’t have scopa, or anatomical structures for collecting pollen, on her body.

Paul’s current interest in nature traces back to an introductory entomology course he took in college, where he “ended up with a pet tobacco hornworm (Manduca sexta), a pair of Madagascar hissing cockroaches (Gromphadorhina portentosa), and a collection of silkworms (Bombyx mori) that I raised on behalf of the entomology department.” So it’s not a surprise he’s found some fantastic insects while in South Korea.

Using iNaturalist “[has] been a great way for me to learn more about the more detailed differences between members of the same Order or Family,” says Paul. “I no longer lump all butterflies together, for example, and now start thinking of them as 'Blues', 'Skippers', 'Brushfoots', etc.” And in addition to documenting the wildlife around his residence, Paul says “I've found myself looking for something to record every time I take a trip to another part of Korea, sort of as a 'wildlife souvenir' of the journey...I haven't made any travel plans based on someone else's observations yet, but it might happen before too long!”

- by Tony Iwane

- Here’s some footage of a Thyreus bee getting some nectar. Check out the colors!

- @pintail started a Korean Nature project on iNat, you can find it here. There are more than 13,000 observations in it.

- Blue is not a common color in nature, one reason being that many animals can’t make blue pigments. Instead, many blue animals get their color by creating materials whose structure reflects blue light. NPR has a nice article about this phenomenon.

Posted on October 14, 2016 01:24 AM by tiwane tiwane | 0 comments | Leave a comment

October 19, 2016

Citizen Scientist by Mary Ellen Hannibal

San Francisco science and culture writer Mary Ellen Hannibal has recently come out with a new book titled Citizen Science: Searching for Heroes and Hope in an Age of Extinction and part her research entailed covering California Academy of Sciences’ Citizen Science program. 

Not only does Mary Ellen participate in the Intertidal Biodiversity Survey at Pillar Point project (run by @kestrel and @rebeccafay), she also interviewed iNaturalist Co-directors @kueda and @loarie for her book.

I recently had an opportunity to talk with Mary Ellen about the past, present and future of citizen science and the importance of iNaturalist and other projects in crowdsourcing data and engaging the public. You can watch a video (a big thank you to @dpom, @kestrel, and Richard Morgenstein for their photos and footage) of our chat below, and be sure to check out her book!

A talk with author Mary Ellen Hannibal about citizen science and iNaturalist from iNaturalist on Vimeo.

Posted on October 19, 2016 04:07 AM by tiwane tiwane | 2 comments | Leave a comment

October 24, 2016

Observation of the Week, 10/23/16

Marine invertebrates seen by @dougperrine off of Hawaii are our Observations of the Week!

Noted underwater photographer Doug Perrine recently posted quite a few pictures taken during a “blackwater dive” off the Kona coast of Hawaii this month, and they are absolutely stunning, so I thought I’d feature all of them this week.

“These dives date back to a National Geographic magazine assignment given to staff photographer Bill Curtsinger to document the vertical migration of plankton off of Kona, Hawaii, where volcanic mountains plunge deeply into the sea, resulting in water depths of thousands of meters just a few kilometers offshore,” Doug tells me. “Curtsinger hired a local diver / budding underwater photographer named Christopher Newbert as his assistant, and the two of them spent countless hours offshore, initially using a plexiglass cage photographing the myriad bizarre creatures that migrate to the surface at night.”

Soon, most of the dive companies in Hawaii began to offer these dives, and for experienced divers they’ve become quite popular, since divers almost always see animals they’ve never come across before. “People often compare doing one of these dives to taking a trip to outer space. (Or innerspace. One guide says, "it’s like the ‘60s, but without the hangover"),” says Doug. “I love seeing and photographing bizarre animals that I’ve never seen before (or, in some cases, that nobody has ever seen before).” For instance, the Tremoctopus gracilis pictured above is carrying the broken-off tentacles of a Portuguese Man o’ War, which it uses for defense. And, well, I’ll let The Oatmeal tell you about the amazingness of Mantis shrimps, like the larval one below, which Doug photographed.

“Since very few people are able to see marine wildlife in person, my job is to expose them to the beauty of these animals, help them to understand some of the science surrounding them (i.e. act as a translator for the scientists doing the actual research) and hopefully get them to care about, and want to protect, marine wildlife,” says Doug. “I use iNaturalist as a way to share my photographs with scientists researching those subjects, and to enlist their help in getting my subjects identified. Most of my professional experience is with charismatic megafauna, so I know my marine mammals, sharks, and sea turtles pretty well, but plankton is way outside my realm of means so much more to me if I can find out what they are, and what they’re doing.”

- by Tony Iwane

- Doug’s photos are represented by, and you can also check out his photoshelter gallery.

- Sweet, sweet blackwater dive footage off of Kona.

- Doug wrote an article about blackwater diving for CNN, and here it is.

- More about amazing Mantis shrimps.

Posted on October 24, 2016 12:02 AM by tiwane tiwane | 1 comment | Leave a comment

October 28, 2016

Observation of the Week, 10/27/16

Our Observation of the Week is a pair dueling Great White Sharks seen by @serpophaga off of the Farallon Islands!

Located about thirty miles west of San Francisco, the Farallon Islands are small spurs of rock jutting up from the Pacific Ocean and famous for their bird, seal, whale, and shark denizens. Throughout the years, the islands’ wildlife was decimated by seal hunters, egg collectors (500,000 eggs per month were collected in the mid-nineteenth century), and others, but the site is now a protected wildlife refuge. Researchers from Point Blue Conservation Science and the U.S. Department of Fish and Wildlife have studied the plants and animals there for decades, and recently iNat user Adam Searcy (@serpophaga) spent some time on the islands to help with surveys.

“Much of the fall work on the Farallones involves censusing and banding migrant birds,” says Adam. “We attempt to find and identify every bird that arrives on the island every day (and every butterfly, dragonfly, etc.) In addition to this work, there are pinniped censuses and tag re-sighting, cetacean surveys, and shark monitoring. Weather permitting, a sentry is on 'shark watch' for most daylight hours every day for most of the fall season (= shark season).”

This shark attack was spotted by the biologist who was on shark watch and radioed to the others that a “close and large attack” was occurring off the East Landing. Adam says “many attacks we observe are too distant to allow for good photographic opportunities--that was not the case with this attack.” He and others rushed to the site and by the time they got there the shark was “well into feeding on the carcass.” The large amount of blood and the oil slick indicated that the prey was a Northern Elephant Seal, males of which can reach sizes of 14 ft (4 m) in length and 5,000 lbs (2,300 kg) in weight (the females are quite a bit smaller). Adam goes on to say, “as we watched, a second shark appeared and began powering into the carcass alongside the first animal. This quickly turned into what appeared to be a scuffle between the two sharks, with tails flailing above the water. After about ten minutes, the carcass was finished, the blood pool dissipated and the sharks went on their way.”

The Great White Shark population of the Farallones is considered to be genetically distinct from other members of their species, and sharks tagged there have been tracked to Hawaii and Guadalupe Island, which is off of Baja California. Males tend to return every year, females every other year, and many have been identified by researchers who use scars and other markings to distinguish them.

Adam has now returned to the mainland, but contributed nearly ninety observations to iNat during his stint on the Farallones. He says he uses it as “a digital companion to my regular field notes. The community of amateur enthusiasts and experts are also most useful when I branch out into groups that I'm unfamiliar with, e.g., lichens. I posted a bunch of lichen observations from the Farallones and I've been happy to receive assistance in identification from the iNat community.”

Adam is also encouraged by iNat’s large community: “One aspect of iNaturalist that has encouraged me to upload more and more observations (and I've only just begun in the last 8 months or so) is its ability to generate detailed biodiversity data on a scale that was previously unimaginable,” he says. “Having a global army of enthusiastic contributors will lead to more refined understandings of where organisms currently are, where they are expanding, and where they are contracting. Even uploading observations of common organisms across their range may lead to documentation of changes in status and distribution. Citizen science at work!”

- by Tony Iwane

- Adam’s kept a blog of some of his adventures, definitely worth a read!

- In 1997, whalewatchers witnessed an Orca and a Great White Shark battle off of the Farallones. National Geographic made a video about it.

- San Francisco PBS station KQED made two short videos about the Farallones, one more about the ecosystem, the other focusing on the life of researchers there. 

Posted on October 28, 2016 12:47 AM by tiwane tiwane | 0 comments | Leave a comment