Journal archives for November 2016

November 08, 2016

Observation of the Week, 11/7/2016

Our Observation of the Week is this rare Patch-nosed Salamander, seen in the southeastern United States by @saundersdrukker!

A herpetology student at Sewanne: The University of the South in Tennessee, Saunders Drukker is in the midst of prepping four papers for publication, which is why there’s a bit of a delay for this Observation of the Week. We’ll give him a pass this time. :-P 

Saunders is currently conducting research on salamanders of the Cumberland Plateau, focusing on the Cumberland Dusky Salamander. “For the past two years I have been going out into the field to find these salamanders, and then map their distribution and habitat using GIS,” he says. “I’ve also done body condition studies, movement, population dynamics and even genetic work on these salamanders.” At the time of this writing, all ten iNat observations of this species are by Saunders.

The southeastern part of North America is a hotbed of salamander diversity, and the Plethodontidae, or lungless salamanders, are believed to have originated in this area. Yet even in a region that has drawn a good amount of salamander research over the years, new species like the Patch-nosed salamander are being discovered. Described in 2009, this species is the only member of the genus Urspelerpes (say that ten times fast), the first new North American amphibian genus since 1961! Not much is known about this tiny (26mm long) salamander, and according to the IUCN it’s only been found in ten streams in Georgia and South Carolina. Unlike most small salamanders, it has five toes on its rear feet (not four), and is the only eastern plethodontid to exhibit sexually dimorphic coloration. 

Saunders came upon the above specimen while on a vacation with his Herp Lab. He recalls, “it was a fantastic moment to see this minuscule animal moving across some moist leaf litter. The animal was photographed quickly and released shortly after.” It’s now the only research grade of its species on iNat.

And of iNaturalist, Saunders says “I’ve always used [iNaturalist] to give people a better understanding of the places I love. From here in Sewanee, to the Hill Country in Central Texas where I grew up I love sharing everything I can about these places. The idea of giving people an in-depth view of the ecology of these places has always been very attractive to me, couple this with getting to see what other people have found there makes iNaturalist a fantastic tool.”

- by Tony Iwane

- Saunders is an accomplished photographer and videographer, so definitely check out his Flickr page and YouTube channel

- Like many salamanders, Patch-nosed salamanders capture their food with a projectile tongue, and that tongue is fast. Here it is in slow motion.

- The original paper describing the Patch-nosed Salamander, by Camp, et al. (PDF)

Posted on November 08, 2016 07:29 AM by tiwane tiwane | 0 comments | Leave a comment

November 13, 2016

Observation of the Week, 11/12/16

This Nyridela chalciope moth, seen by @lljohnson in the Dominican Republic, is our Observation of the Week!

Lisa Johnson has led quite a life. “I am a retired chemist, turned sailor, turned teacher, turned amateur naturalist,” she says. “After leaving Florida in 2001 on our sailboat, seeing a bit of the western Caribbean and teaching math and science in a couple of middle schools along the way;  we have settled here in the DR on about 7 acres on the side of a mountain growing food stuffs to eat and share with our neighbors.”

As an amateur naturalist, Lisa’s current interests are documenting the nearby butterflies, moths and birds in the Dominican Republic, and says she really enjoys “sharing my ‘finds’ with the local schoolchildren.”

The incredible Nyridela chalciope moth she photographed was one of dozens of moths that Lisa found one foggy morning while walking her dog. On a wall near one of the village’s three streetlights, she found many moths resting. “I went home, traded my dog for my camera and got back to the ‘moth wall’ before the sun burned off the cloud over and the moths dispersed,” she says. “That morning I took close to 200 photos of moths (one or 2 shots per moth), some in natural light. What a fun morning! What's needed for another moth photo session at the “moth wall”? Street power overnight, foggy conditions at sunrise, and a hot cup of coffee to get me out the door early before the birds and chickens enjoy the moth buffet.”

Nyridela chalciope is a member of the large Arctiinae subfamily of moths, which consists of about 11,000 species. Members of this family are often brightly colored as adults, and many of their caterpillars are covered in setae (“hairs”), giving them the nickname “wooly bears.” What’s really cool is that the adults have a tympal organ at the rear of their thorax, which can make ultrasonic sounds. The moths use these sounds both for mating and defense - they can deter and sometimes even “jam” the echolocation of bats! And some, like the Nyridela chalciope, are mimics of more dangerous animals, such as wasps - note the clear wings on this species. Some will even have yellow and black banding. If you think you see a wasp, look closely and see if it has moth-like antennae and lacks the narrow waist of a true wasp - you could be looking at a wasp mimic!

Lisa submits her findings to iNaturalist, as well as the Butterfly and Moth Association of North America, and has used iNat to also “meet” a few other nature photographers in the Dominican Republic. She says, “I'm encouraged that some of the abundance of nature here, will be better documented. I'm not a biologist and I depend on others with more knowledge to verify my proposed identifications on many of my photos, especially the moths. I'm hopeful that through iNat I will continue to meet the experts!”

- by Tony Iwane

- Check out this insane Wasp Moth in Texas.

Posted on November 13, 2016 05:28 AM by tiwane tiwane | 0 comments | Leave a comment

November 17, 2016

Observation of the Week, 11/17/16

This Sternotomis bohemani beetle, seen in Tanzania by @joachim, is our Observation of the Week!

When most people think of Africa, they’re picturing the charismatic megafauna - lions, giraffes, lions hunting giraffes (can’t wait to see Planet Earth II!), wildebeests and the like. Joachim Louis and his wife Annette, however, prepared for a seven month safari by taking a four week course covering “the plants and smaller animals that are not in the main focus of tourists coming to Africa.”

With an eye for these less heralded yet equally stunning fauna, Joachim has provided iNat with some great observations, like this Long-winged Kite spider dining on an insect. He found the above Sternotomis bohemani beetle while “hiking with a group in a river valley near Matema. One of the group [accidentally] kicked it with his foot and it landed with the dorsum was dead before, but with the abdomen up it was invisible between the leaves. So it was a lot of luck.”

Beetles are an evolutionary wonder. Their basic design (hard shell and a pair of hard front wings called elytra) have been adapted to a multitude of habitats, food sources, and behaviors. About 400,000 beetle species have been described, making up 25% of all known species on earth! Ranging throughout tropical and southern Africa, Sternotomis bohemani belongs to the Cerambycidae family, known commonly as the Long-horned beetles, as many sport quite lengthy antennae. One member of the family is the titan beetle, which is like the longest insect in the world, it’s body length reaching 6.6 in (16.7 cm)!

“My main focus changes from year to year,” says Joachim. “Last year it was primates this year i tried to get all the flowering plants that we saw. Insects, spiders, reptiles, birds and amphibians are always on the list. The problems of conservation, which means the problems of farmers in the remote areas with wildlife keep me busy all the time.”

He and Annette are hoping to get others interested in Africa “and to show them also the small things that are always around when you are on a camping safari.” He came across iNaturalist as he wanted help with identifying many of these smaller species, and “to share my pictures with more people that are also interested in these beauties. It is a good side effect that all observations can help scientists to get better data about distribution of species.”

- by Tony Iwane

- Check out Joachim and Annette’s website, Africa Wildtours

- Right now iNat has verifiable observations of 5,934 beetle species - about 1.5% of all known beetle species. Here are the most popular beetle observations on iNat. Let the diversity wash over you.

- David Attenborough holds a Titan beetle.

Posted on November 17, 2016 03:22 PM by tiwane tiwane | 1 comment | Leave a comment

November 24, 2016

Observation of the Week, 11/24/16

Our Observation of the Week is this Zenithoptera dragonfly, seen in Peru by @cullen!

Cullen Hanks’ involvement with nature “started when I was a kid, and never stopped,” he says, and he’s now part of the Texas Nature Tracker program, which is “a citizen-science monitoring effort designed to engage the naturalist community and contribute data on species of concern in Texas.”

This stunning dragonfly, however, was found far south of Texas. Cullens says he was visiting Peru and was in a dugout canoe with his father, “in an oxbow off the Madre de Dios river. We were going for Sunbitterns, but not successfully. We heard them but never saw them. While out I saw the Dragonflies, so I switched taxa and focused on them. They were brilliant.”

Zenithoptera is a genus of skimmer dragonflies (Family Libellulidae) known for the bluish-purple upper surfaces of their wings. Like many other skimmers, they perch often keep their bodies in a horizontal position. iNat user @jimjohnson wrote a blog post about his encounter with members of this genus, and he also notes they’re the only New World genus of dragonflies that sometimes perch with their wings folded together and pointed upright, showing off the dark underside of the wings. He even witnessed a female raising only her hindwings!

Cullen says he’s always been “more of a general naturalist,” even though he’s had many mentors in the birding community, and credits iNaturalist for expanding “the diversity of taxa that I can engage with personally, and the contribution or our citizen science program. We used to focus on just a handful of species, not we collect data on over 1,000 species.”

- by Tony Iwane

- Over 31,000 observations have been added via the Texas Nature Trackers app! You can find them here

- National Geographic has a 15 minute short about dragonflies with some great footage.

- BBC Nature shows you how dragonflies use those magnificent eyes.

Posted on November 24, 2016 04:49 PM by tiwane tiwane | 0 comments | Leave a comment