Journal archives for January 2017

January 01, 2017

BioBlitzes and Junior Bug Blitz

Part two of our conversation with @reallifecology (see part one here). He's spent much of 2016 traveling around the U.S., going to bioblitzes, and shares some of his thoughts on them in the video below. He also describes his "Junior Bug Blitz" activity for kids at 4:18.

Do you have any thoughts on what makes a successful BioBlitz? Please share in the comments!

Posted on January 01, 2017 11:16 PM by tiwane tiwane | 0 comments | Leave a comment

January 06, 2017

Observation of the Week, 1/5/17

This Marbled Swamp Eel seen in Cuba by @henicorhina is our Observation of the Week!

“I have only recently started using iNaturalist,” says Oscar Johnson, a graduate student at Louisiana State University Museum of Natural Science who’s studying the population genetics of Amazonian birds. “ [And] I am slowly going through a massive backlog of photos that I have on old hard drives and adding them in to iNaturalist.”

One of those photos is the one above, showing the remarkable Marbled Swamp Eel. Oscar encountered the fish while on a trip to Cuba in 2008, where he had been visiting a friend. “Towards the end of the trip I went to a small town on the outskirts of the La Güira National Park, which I had heard was a good area to look for the endemic Blue-headed Quail-Dove. I arrived late at night and the innkeeper told me about a small trail heading into the woods that was good for herps at night, so I set off for a few hours of wandering,” he says. “I came upon this very shallow rocky stream and was surprised to find an eel swimming around in three inch deep water! I managed to get one good photo, which I later showed to one of the curators at the Natural History Museum in Havana, who was able to identify it for me.”

Not true eels, Marbled Swamp Eels are members of Synbranchidae family of ray-finned fish. Synbranchidae are well-adapted to living in shallow water and even making long sojourns on land; the lining of their mouths, full of blood vessels, allows them to breathe air quite well. They tend to be nocturnal and are known to eat insects, spiders and both tadpoles and adult frogs. When they hatch, Swamp Eels have pectoral fins for several weeks, after which time they shed them. And even more bizarre, Swamp Eels are sequential hermaphrodites, meaning that most are born female and become males later in life.

Oscar is continuing to upload his treasure trove of photos to iNaturalist, and says he’s “found it to be an incredible resource for any group of organisms. The community is incredibly knowledgeable and helpful with even the toughest identifications...It feels good to have these photos in a place where they will be put to good use!”

- by Tony Iwane


- Here’s Oscar’s personal website, featuring his photos and research.

- Asian Swamp Eels, a common food item in Asia, have been introduced to the United States and are now considered an invasive species there.

Posted on January 06, 2017 04:36 AM by tiwane tiwane | 0 comments | Leave a comment

January 12, 2017

Observation of the Week, 1/12/17

This Sheetweb or Dwarf Weaver Spider, seen by @zanskar on the island of Corsica, is our Observation of the Week!

“As far as I can remember I always was in the field, searching for new animals to watch, mostly birds with my brother, [who was] crazy about nature too,” says David Renoult (aka zanskar). As an adult, David is a school teacher, but “[every] time I can (and it's quite often on this island dedicated to Nature) we go out as a family, with my wife and our 7 year old boy, to enjoy anything we can encounter, from orchids, to bugs, to moths.”

He found this tiny Sheetweb spider in November, and recalls spotting the small web because it was covered with dew. “It was several weeks before Christmas and this spider seemed to me arranging its Christmas balls in its sticky tree...it was wonderful!”

There are over 4,000 species in the Linyphiidae family of spiders (also called money spiders), and due to their extremely small size (many are 3 mm or less), identification and taxonomy is very difficult. Many weave a sheet-like dome web and hang upside-down in the middle. If a prey animal lands on the web, the spider will dash over and bite it through the silk. They are also famous for their mass “ballooning” behavior; young spiders will climb to the tops of plants and release a strand of silk into the air, and when the silk is caught by the wind, it will take them away to a new place, allowing the spiders to populate a wider area.

David has been using iNaturalist for about a year now, and says “I hope more and more people will share their observations on inaturalist, to have a whole and more accurate vision about the biodiversity we have a stone’s throw from home or at the other end of the world. Because I consider this is really what iNaturalist is: a way be filled with wonder before the boundless imagination of nature, and the less the human beings will be ignorant of this biodiversity, the more we will be able to preserve it for the next generations.”

- by Tony Iwane

English is not David’s first language, and I’ve done some light editing of his quotes for this piece.


- David Attenborough walks through a silken field of ballooning spiders.

- Great footage and explanation of how sheetweavers’ webs work.

Posted on January 12, 2017 11:31 PM by tiwane tiwane | 0 comments | Leave a comment

January 20, 2017

Observation of the Week, 1/20/17

This Water Clover, seen by @merav in Joshua Tree National Park, is our Observation of the Week!

“Amphibian eggs?”

This was the Merav Vonshak’s simple guess when she posted the above photo on iNaturalist last week. There are currently 29 comments and 11 IDs associated with the observation now, as it set off a flurry of wonder and puzzlement among the iNat community and beyond. It certainly looked like a nudibranch, but...a desert nudibranch? Or perhaps a copepod, centipede or fungus? Folks began posting it on Twitter and Facebook to see if anyone could figure it out.

iNaturalist user @kclarksdnhmorg came through in the clutch with the correct ID: it was the aquatic sporocarp, or spore-producing part of the Water Clover fern! As its common name suggests, this plant is actually a fern, but closely resembles a four leaf clover. It grows in moist soil or in ponds, and the sporocarps can survive in drought conditions until there is sufficient water for it to grow and split.

A postdoctoral fellow at Stanford who studies ants and other arthropods, Merav had been visiting the park with her family. It was her daughter who “showed me something interesting she found. We looked around the pool and found at least two more of these things...When we came back home I remembered that mystery creature, and decided to upload it to iNaturalist, hoping someone will have a clue. And then the fun began!...I enjoyed reading all the comments and watching it progress. And I was surprised to find out it was a plant after all, with such cool biology.”

“I love looking for creatures and sharing my observations, and iNaturalist is such a great platform for doing just that,” says Merav. “I also enjoy helping others, by helping to ID some creatures, and while doing so I learn so much! I think this is a great tool, but even more importantly, it’s a great community. People are very kind and thoughtful.”

- by Tony Iwane


- Check out Merav’s published works at ResearchGate, and her Coyote Valley San Jose project.

- Ten plants that look like animals, courtesy of Mental Floss. And yes, almost all of them are orchids.

- Even Joshua Tree National Park’s Twitter account got in on the fun!

Posted on January 20, 2017 08:55 AM by tiwane tiwane | 0 comments | Leave a comment

January 24, 2017

(Bonus) Observation of the Week 1/23/17

This Tench with a Red Swamp Crawfish in its mouth, seen in Italy by dinobiancolini and Jacopo Pagani is our (Bonus) Observation of the Week!

(Due to illness and the holidays, it took awhile to get in touch with these gentlemen, so this is belatedly published. Also, English is not Dino and Jacopo’s first language, and I’ve done some light editing of their quotes for this piece.)

Dino Biancolini and his friend Jacopo Pagani, who are both life sciences graduate students at La Sapienza University of Rome, were at Jacopo’s countryside house when Jacopo noticed the large Tench floating in the house’s artificial pond. When they recovered the dead animal, they found that big fish had a crayfish stuck in its mouth!

“Unfortunately, size matters in nature and an error in this sense can be fatal,” says Dino. “[That’s what] likely happened when this fish tried to eat a Red swamp crayfish (Procambarus clarkii) too large for its mouth and died by asphyxiation.”

Dino explains that “this decapod is a very harmful, highly invasive species in Italy that is causing the disappearance of many prey and competitor species. Fortunately some native predators have begun to exploit this new trophic resource, unfortunately with a sad outcome in this case. We thought that the observation was very important for this reasons as well as very odd, so we decided to upload it to iNaturalist.”

Red swamp crayfish are the famed native “crawfish” of Louisiana in the United States, where they are an important culinary item. In fact, they are often raised in rice paddies, a practice that has spread to Asia. These crayfish have been introduced to many areas of the world, including Asia and Europe, where can become quite invasive. They are a vector for Crayfish plague, a mold that has caused serious decline in Atlantic Stream Crayfish, a native European decapod.

Both Dino (above) and Jacopo (below) became fascinated with nature when they were growing up in the country, and that love for nature has led them to pursue to degrees in the natural sciences. Dino currently is a PhD in the Global Mammal Assessment research group, and says “my project aims to predict the future range expansion and invasion of introduced mammals of the world in view of climate and land-use change, to understand their possible impacts on native species.”

And Jacopo says he is “currently a Master’s Degree student in Ecobiology. My thesis is focused on the study of the phenotypic trajectories in Diplodus ssp. associated with ontogeny and diet.”

“I use iNaturalist to help scientific research and enrich my knowledge,” says Dino. “In fact, since I participate in this wonderful project, I learned a lot. Thanks to the community’s help, I can now recognize many more species, both animal and plants, than before, and my vision of biodiversity has been greatly expanded, thanks to the constant flow of observations from around the world that I get.

“I believe that citizen science is a powerful tool for conservation biology because it enhances both data collection and the awareness of general public, two key factors in biodiversity protection.”


- Here’s an informative video from EOL about the Red Swamp Crawfish and its spread around the world.

- And an older New York Times article about Red Swamp Crayfish in Italy.

Posted on January 24, 2017 12:18 AM by tiwane tiwane | 0 comments | Leave a comment

January 27, 2017

Observation of the Week, 1/26/17

This Siamese Peninsula Pitviper, seen in Malaysia by @rharris70, is our Observation of the Week!

“I'm out in the field every opportunity I get and have over 40 years experience now,” says Roger Harris, who lives in Somerset, England. “I became interested in nature as a child at around the age of 8 and was immediately hooked. I live in the UK and started with birds but by my teens had  become interested in reptiles, insects and plants too. I still consider myself a fairly 'rounded' naturalist but my loves are definitely birding and herping, particularly snakes with a strong interest in venomous species.”

Well, it’s Roger’s beautiful shot of a venomous snake, the Siamese Peninsula Pitviper, that’s our Observation of the Week. It’s one of several he found while on a trip to Malaysia near the end of 2016, which he went on with his friend, TV naturalist Nigel Marven. He also ran into Oriental Whipsnakes (here’s one) and found some incredible birds and other animals.

The Siamese Peninusla Pitviper, Trimeresurus fucatus, is part of the Asian Lancehead genus, which has a complicated taxonomic history. This species was once considered a variant of the Pope’s Pitviper but is is now considered its own species. It ranges through southeast Asia, from Thailand and into the peninsular part of Malaysia, which is where Roger spotted it. Note the beautiful dual stripes on this male, which go down its flanks (giving it a red tail), and the large heat-sensing pits near its eyes. This is an arboreal snake that preys mainly on rats and squirrels, and its bite is considered medically significant to humans. Richard also saw this larger female nearby, who was still shedding her skin.

“I've only recently discovered iNaturalist so still finding my way around it but I immediately thought what a great resource it is,” says Richard. “What could be better than having people with an interest in all types of natural history getting together in one place to share resources, knowledge and information - it's a fantastic community of like-minded people.”

- by Tony Iwane

- Nigel keeps a great nature blog, and you can read his Malaysia trip post here - tons of great photos and stories!

- Niiiice footage of a Trimeresurus pitviper adjusting its jaws.

Posted on January 27, 2017 06:38 AM by tiwane tiwane | 2 comments | Leave a comment

January 31, 2017

An iNat Introduction to Tidepooling

One thing that I (and I’m betting many other iNaturalist users) notice is that once we start iNatting, we begin to get curious about everything - not just whatever taxa or habitat we were originally into. Several years ago, if it wasn’t a herp, spider, or nudibranch, I generally walked past it. But the more I went out, especially with other naturalists who had different interests than myself, the more I noticed and photographed many types of wildlife I’d previously disregarded, such as birds, butterflies, plants, and even lichens.

So in that spirit, I’m planning on making a series of iNat Introductions to different types of naturalizing throughout the year. For each one I’ll interview and follow a naturalist or two who’s experienced in the field and make a short video that includes their advice and goes over equipment, techniques, ethics and safety - just enough to get beginners off the ground and making observations.

With Northern California’s best tides coming in December and January, I set out with Rebecca Johnson (@rebeccafay) and Alison Young (@kestrel), the California Academy of Science’s Citizen Science leaders, for an introduction to tidepooling. Rebecca and Alison are experienced marine intertidal explorers and their enthusiasm and educational background were perfect for this. They run the Intertidal Biodversity Survey at Pillar Point project (nearly 11,500 observations!) among other programs and are all about iNat. Liam O’Brien (@robberfly), Jonathan “JC” Carpenter (@reallifeecology), and Josie Iselin (@josieiselin) also make cameos.

I hope this video encourages you to get out and explore the intertidal zone wherever you live, it’s an easy way to discover a plethora of organisms that we normally don’t get a close look at.

Up next will be an intro to mushrooming with Christian Schwarz (@leptonia), and I’m also planning intros to birding, dock fouling, mothing, and more. If there’s a type of naturalizing you’d like to see, or if you have any tidepooling tips of your own, write them them in the comments!

- Tony

Posted on January 31, 2017 06:05 AM by tiwane tiwane | 9 comments | Leave a comment