Journal archives for March 2017

March 03, 2017

Observation of the Week, 3/2/17

This Timor Flying Dragon, seen in East Timor by @vincekessner, is our Observation of the Week!

“I consider myself to be an amateur malacologist,” says Vince Kessner, “my main interests are collecting and studying land and freshwater molluscs.” Over 45 years, his passion has taken him throughout Australia and around the world, including Indonesia, Europe and the Middle East. A recent iNaturalist member, he sees “iNaturalist as a great source of information, learning and ID tool.”

In 2006 Vince “initiated a systematic survey of non-marine molluscs in East Timor (Timor Leste - or TL), which was the first land and freshwater survey ever undertaken in that country.” On a trip there in 2011, he and his timorose friends “just arrived at Bemalai Lagoon, started getting ready for the survey when in the corner of my eye I noticed something moving. The [Timor flying dragon] just landed on the spare tire. No big drama, my camera was within my reach, so I just took a few shots. I was simply in the right place at the right time.”

“Timor flying dragon” is a bit of a misnomer, as it actually doesn’t fly but glides and, as far as we know, doesn’t breathe fire or hoard gold. However, it’s an exceptionally cool reptile, one of about forty species in the genus Draco, or gliding lizards. Extra flaps of skin and flexible, extendable ribs are how the “wings,” or patagia, are constructed, and allow to the lizards to escape from predators. Some glides have been recorded at 60 m (200 ft)! The Timor species are sexually dimorphic - patagia of the males are bright yellow, and patagia of the females varies depending on each island’s population.

Lizards are cool, but Vince’s mollusc work on East Timor has resulted in some pretty great findings:

Prior to the survey, only half a dozen species were reported from the country. Preliminary result are amazing: so far we have discovered about 140 species of land snails belonging to 45 genera and 23 families. The results are really preliminary and will change, once all the mountain peaks over 1700 m above sea level and the Oecussi District are surveyed, and all the species positively identified or named.

The East Timor project is really exciting - beautiful mountains, nice people, lot to see and discover. I wish I was 10 years younger. I am nearly 75 and climbing those hills and mountains can be quite painful experience for me…

- by Tony Iwane

- Vince is a Resarch Associate at the Australian Museum in Sydney, who is helping with the Timor project. Here’s an article about some of their findings, as well as the home page for the expedition.

- The BBC has amazing (and over-foleyed) slow motion footage of a flying dragon, of course. 

Posted on March 03, 2017 05:08 AM by tiwane tiwane | 1 comment | Leave a comment

March 10, 2017

Observation of the Week, 3/9/17

This Alitta polychaete worm, seen in California by @raulagrait, is our Observation of the Week!

Born and raised in Puerto Rico, “with iguanas climbing into in my bathtub and lizards always nearby when I played outside or in my backyard,” Raul Agrait is now a San Francisco Bay Area resident. By day he’s a software engineer (“I once fixed a bug on iNaturalist for iOS - hooray!”), but he’s also become an amateur naturalist.

“My wife introduced me to BioBlitzes and iNaturalist a few years ago, and it has completely changed the way I interact with nature,” Raul explains. “I've always enjoyed going on long hikes and being outdoors, but since I've started using iNaturalist, I've gained such a deep appreciation of the intense diversity that is around us.”

Facing a deadline at work the other week, Raul felt he needed to take a nature break during lunch, so he drove to nearby Candlestick Point State Recreation Area to photograph some birds. He continues,

After walking for a short while, I saw the Horned Grebe and noticed that it seemed to be pulling on something. From a distance, I thought it might be a piece of kelp, because I noticed that it dragged on for quite a way behind the Grebe...then I noticed that a duck started following the Grebe and grabbed ahold of the other end of the worm. At first they swam in the same direction, but after a bit they started doing a tug of war and pulling in opposite directions..After a while, about a half dozen other Scaups joined in and started gnawing at the worm as well.

Eventually several other Scaups joined in the fray, but unfortunately Raul had to return to work so he couldn’t capture the rest of the feeding frenzy. “Frankly, I had no idea what kind of worm that was, or if it even was a worm at all, and find it so amazing that it could be identified and shared with so quickly by experts in the field,” he says.

iNat user @leslieh, marine worm identifier extraordinaire, was able to get this worm to the genus Alitta. Like all polychaetes it has a body made of segments that have parapodia, or protrusions on each side. These parapodia often end in bristles called setae, and are used for locomotion as well as respiration. When immature it often lives on the seafloor, but when sexually mature it begins swimming to find mates, often in spring or summer.

Not only does Raul go on solo nature jaunts (“[iNaturalist] makes my brief walks in the middle of the city mini adventures where I can now identify House Sparrows, Bushtits, Anna's Hummingbirds, and Red Admirals.”), nature and iNaturalist have become a family affair:

Our whole family enjoys browsing through observations on iNaturalist together, we use it to plan our family outings ("What species are nearby here?", "What's the closest place we can see this bird?"), and will share observations with each other as readily as news articles. My daughter, who also uses iNaturalist, went away to college out of state this past year, and one of my favorite things in the world is when she shares her observations with me ("Look at this different Phoebe!", "I finally saw a Belted Kingfisher!").

- by Tony Iwane

- Of course there’s a video of an Alitta brandti (here known by a synonym, Nereis brandti), this one found off the coast of Oregon. A great look at its parapodia at work.

- And more wormy wonders of the ocean. 

- July 1st is International Polychaete Day, and the Smithsonian posted a great article listing 14 facts about polychaetes!

Update, July 1, 2020: this post originally called the worm Alitta brandti, but @leslieh's comment below tells us that species is not on North America's Pacific coast, so I've updated the text to reflect that.

Posted on March 10, 2017 06:32 AM by tiwane tiwane | 3 comments | Leave a comment

March 17, 2017

Observation of the Week, 3/16/17

This busy Mason bee mother, seen in Bulgaria by @exonie, is our Observation of the Week!

“My deeper interest in biodiversity started when I turned nature photography into a hobby,” says Dimitǎr Boevski (@exonie). “Searching for subjects to photograph I started noticing creatures I hadn't noticed before. Upon getting home, I would check my books and the Internet for an ID and read more about the animals that I photographed. Gradually I built up my knowledge and learnt more about their ‘hiding places.’ I was amazed how many different and interesting species were living in my immediate surroundings.”

It’s Dimitǎr’s eye for detail and his endless curiosity that led him to the beautiful series of shots you see above. “At some time in the past I noticed that some of the holes in the wall have been sealed with mud and it was a mystery for a while how that came to be. One spring I found them open and not long after, I saw a bee getting inside. I stood there quite some time watching her buzzing around and going out for pollen. And, naturally, i took some photos.”

He didn’t stop there, though. “As usual, I wanted to learn more about what i have witnessed and found lots of interesting info - including,” he says, “that some people make artificial nests for solitary bees. This inspired me to make such a nest myself.” His artificial nest has one wall made of transparent plastic, so “you can see the internal structure of the nest with the chambers separated by mud walls. And lots of pollen.” So cool.

While they do nest in tunnels, often tunnels in wood, Mason bees (Genus Osmia) do not make their own tunnels (however their relatives, the Carpenter bees, do). As their name suggests, Mason bees find tunnels then use mud, clay, or similar substances to block-off sections of their nest tunnel into cells for individual eggs. A mother Mason bee will collect a large provision of nectar and pollen, then lay her egg on it and seal off the cell. She’ll soon start a new cell after that. When the eggs hatch, the larvae eat up the nutritious provisions and pupate overwinter in the tunnel before emerging the next year. Some farmers put artificial nests in their orchards and gardens to the attract the bees, who are quite good pollinators.

Dimitǎr continues to explore nature and hunt for species (“much more interesting than pokemons!”), and finds that iNaturalist is a great place for him to organize and share his observations. “The data is very well structured which makes it possible to search it and view it in many different ways,” he says. “It is also very open, allowing other projects to use it. Being an editor in the Bulgarian Wikipedia, I always believed that information should be made as widely accessible as possible.”

- by Tony Iwane

- More Mason bee amazingness from Dimitǎr. This one is covered in pollen-eating mites that hitch rides on bees and gorge themselves on their pollen provisions.

- There are over 2,000 observations from Bulgaria on iNat. Explore them here!

- Check out some Mason bee action in this video.

Posted on March 17, 2017 05:56 AM by tiwane tiwane | 2 comments | Leave a comment

March 24, 2017

Observation of the Week, 3/23/17

This Cyerce nigricans sea slug, seen on Lord Howe Island by @ianhutton, is our Observation of the Week!

Ian Hutton grew up in Sydney, Australia and came to know the outdoors through Boy Scouts, but it is on Lord Howe Island, a remote speck of land 370 miles (600 km) east of the Australian continent, where he’s lived most of his life. “After school I joined the Australian Weather Bureau as a way of getting out of Sydney and exploring Australia by working in some remote areas,” he recalls. “I’d done a little bit of travelling up the East Coast with the Weather Bureau and in 1980 I came to Lord Howe Island on a Bureau posting and have been here since.”

Ian has explored the island thoroughly throughout his many years there, studying birds, plants (he discovered about 12 new species), and intertidal creatures, as well helping researchers (“It was a great time for me. I enjoyed their company and learned a lot by being with them,” he says), and publishing a dozen books.

“I have photographed every plant of Lord Howe Island with flowers, fruits, bark, and seedling, all the birds in various stages and behaviors, and many insects,” says Ian.

"But perhaps I am most fascinated by the intertidal marine life. The seashore is the place I can go and lose myself for a few hours, wandering around rock pools at low tide, and always see something I haven’t seen before – animals, a behavior, and endless fascination. The sea slugs are a particularly beautiful group of marine animals and I love finding these and photographing them, over and over. …… and….. my favourite is of course the Black and gold cyerce or Cyerce nigricans shown in this image –  quite rare and I [see] only maybe 6 a year, and always take photographs."

While it resembles a nudibranch, the Black and gold cyerce is not in the nudibranch order but is instead a sacoglossan, or “sap-sucking” slug that eats algae. Some sacoglossans are even able to keep chloroplasts from the algae in their bodies and use them for photosynthesis (kleptoplasty!), but that is an ability the Black cyerce lacks. Unlike other slugs in its genus it is vibrantly colored and patterned, which warns predators of its foul taste.

“Living here is like living in a David Attenborough documentary,” says Ian, when describing his island home. “It has rainforest clad mountains 2,850 feet high with many plants found nowhere else in the world, thronging seabird colonies with fourteen different species breeding, the world’s most southerly coral reef with its myriad of tropical marine creatures.” He also notes that it’s a leader in conservation, having eradicated invasive animals such as cats and goats, and they are hoping to eradicate rodents by 2018. Ian himself has initiated a weeding ecotour program of the island, which has run 81 times since 1995 and contributed over 25,000 volunteer hours, and for which he was awarded the Order of Australia Medal.

Ian heard about several recent projects involving the Australian Museum, and says “so I thought I would plug a few photos in and introduce iNaturalist to Lord Howe Island and see where it goes from here. It seems a very professional operation with huge potential for sharing knowledge – and that hopefully will encourage conservation of our amazing planet. I will certainly enjoy being part of it, sharing photos not only on Lord Howe Island but wherever I travel.”

by Tony Iwane

- Check out the Lord Howe Island Nature Tours page for more info about Ian, the island, and tours.

- There are over 800 observations from Lord Howe Island on iNaturalist, you can see them here. Amazing stuff!

- If you want to learn more about sea slugs, Sea Slug Forum is where it’s at.

Posted on March 24, 2017 06:59 AM by tiwane tiwane | 0 comments | Leave a comment

March 31, 2017

The Spring Bump and Overall iNat Growth

Numbers! Sure, they don’t have feathers, fangs, or pseudopodia, but they can be pretty cool. Taking a look at our Stats page, you can see that iNat is experiencing our yearly “spring bump,” coinciding with spring in the northern hemisphere (which came early this year) and the explosion of flowers, insects, reptiles, etc. But you can also see an overall trend in total growth of about 100%. In fact, March 27th was our biggest day of overall traffic ever, and right now we’re recording over twice as many observations compared to the same dates last year (e.g. 29,172 on March 27th (A), 2016 vs 71,005 on March 27th, 2016 (B)). 

With twice the amount of observations, you’d expect to see a similar change in active user numbers, and comparing March 27th, 2016 (A) and March 27th, 2017 (B), that’s almost exactly what’s happened - 7,387 vs 14,440, and climbing steadily this year. Even the slowest day in the doldrums of winter has doubled, from 4,024 to 8,064. Users are also increasingly turning to mobile platforms - iOS observations are up 250% over this time last year, and Android observations are up 600%!

What’s cool is that the quality of observations and community engagement has also been increasing, along with quantity; research grade observations now make up a higher percentage of overall observations. Right now we have about 4.8 million verifiable observations, about 2.4 million of which are research grade. A year ago, of the 2.3 million verifiable observations, 1.1 million were research grade, so the ratio of research grade to total observations is becoming more favorable. Keep on using the Identify page to ID more observations!

All told, iNaturalist should be hitting 4 million verifiable observations (and 5 million total) in the next few weeks and, if trends continue, it’s possible we’ll be at 10 million total observations in about another year.

A big thank you to everyone for making iNat a vibrant, growing community, we’re looking to see more big numbers in the upcoming City Nature Challenge!

- Tony Iwane (with lots of data help from Patrick Leary)

Posted on March 31, 2017 05:08 AM by tiwane tiwane | 1 comment | Leave a comment