Journal archives for May 2017

May 05, 2017

Observation of the Week, 5/4/17

This Hestiasula mantis, seen by @muir in Indonesia, is our Observation of the Day!

“My work takes me to a lot of interesting nature these days,” says Matt Muir. “I'm proud to be a biologist for the US Fish and Wildlife Service in our international program. We help partners in other countries conserve and recover their wildlife populations, and have a huge network of field projects trying to accomplish the near-impossible in some very difficult settings. Although I usually work in central Africa, this project was a threats assessment for two national parks in Sumatra that are important refuges for Sumatran tigers and rhinos.” On his journey, Matt was also able to meet up with iNatters @dewichristina “(who is awesome), and was traveling with the amazing @stsang.”

While the megafauna may have brought him to Indonesia, Matt is also fascinated by smaller organisms, especially after having moved from Alaska, where he was born and raised, to the east coast of North America. “I had to recalibrate my enjoyment of nature from wilderness to appreciating the small things,” he explains. “So it's funny that one of the most charismatic critters I found [on this trip] was on my first morning in Indonesia in the hotel garden. Lesson is keep your eyes open everywhere!”

At first, Matt couldn’t figure out what he was looking at, thinking at first it was a pair of beetles. “I was looking through my macro lens, trying to figure out what the heck I was looking at, when it ‘boxed’ me [above], displaying one dark forearm, then the other. My friend Mini [pictured below, with Matt] fell in love, and had me show the mantid to people across southern Sumatra. Glad to see now that it's getting some global attention!”

With their large eyes, articulated neck, and “arm-like” forelimbs, mantids often come off as more personable to us humans than other insects, but all three of those features are fantastic adaptations for a predator. Mantids are visual hunters, so their large eyes help them spot prey, whereas their flexible necks - rare in the insect world - help them look around while not moving their bodies and betraying their camouflage. And of course those famous raptorial forelegs allow mantids to catch prey then hold it while they dine.

As an avid iNat user (over 14,000 observations and over 3,000 identifications), Matt says that not only has iNat caused him to get more field guides and camera equipment, it’s changed how he sees nature: 

When I travel, I think I look for more opportunities to find wildlife that's new to me. And post-trip, iNat extends my enjoyment of being outside. In addition to tapping into the identification expertise of the iNat community, I love to search through the observations page to see where else I saw a species, how my observation compares to the overall distribution, and use the species page to check seasonality etc. I sort of think of iNat as steroids for natural curiosity.

I think a lot about how iNat can be a more useful tool for wildlife conservation in the future, so I also try to record both common and uncommon wildlife. Our great species conservation challenge is keeping common things common, and alleviating human pressure on rare stuff, and I hope iNat will contribute to that goal one day.

- by Tony Iwane

- If you were thinking Hestiasula mantids are just as cute in motion as they are in photos, well, you were right.

- Here’s some information about Sumatran tigers and rhinos from the IUCN.

Posted on May 05, 2017 04:14 AM by tiwane tiwane | 0 comments | Leave a comment

May 06, 2017

#IAmiNaturalist: What does iNaturalist mean to you? Share a video and tell everyone!


There are over 100,000 iNaturalist users, and every one of them has a story to tell - we want to hear yours! Here’s how to do it:

  1. Make a short video (or post a cool photo) telling and/or showing us how and why you use iNaturalist - be creative!
  2. Make sure to to introduce yourself, tell us where you are, and say “I am a Naturalist” somewhere in the video.
  3. Post it on Twitter, Facebook, or Instagram and tag it #IAmiNaturalist; or email it to us at by May 30th.

We’ll put them together in a compilation video and show off the incredible iNaturalist community!

Posted on May 06, 2017 02:15 PM by tiwane tiwane | 3 comments | Leave a comment

May 15, 2017

Observation of the Week, 5/14/17

This Green Bee-eater, seen in India by @saurabh_chinkara, is our Observation of the Week!

It’s funny how the search for one organism can be unsuccessful but nevertheless lead to a great observation out in the field. That’s the case with Saurabh Agrawal’s beautiful Green Bee-eater shot above. A tour guide for his own company Chinkara Journeys, Saurabh had heard about a butterfly that had been spotted in a park close to his home, one which has not been recorded in central India.

Although he spent several hours looking for it, Saurabh was unsuccessful in his search. However, he had spotted a Green Bee-eater flitting about, catching flies. Unlike many of us (myself included) who would have been happy to snap a photo and move on, Saurabh used patience and attention to detail to get the perfect shot. “After observing it for some time I found that bird was using 2-3 branches of Ipomea plant as a perch to look out for another fly,” he recalls. “I crawled as quietly as possible and focused my camera on one branch which was receiving good light and had no obstacle in the background and hoped the bird would come. After waiting for 15-20 minutes I got this bird sitting exactly where I wanted it.”

As its name suggests, the Green Bee-eater is an insectivore, and often specializes in consuming beetles, wasps, and bees, flying out and catching them from a low perch. Once it catches an insect, the bird will thrash it against a branch or other hard surface, breaking the exoskeleton and/or removing any stingers, before swallowing it. Its many subspecies range from Sub-Saharan Africa north and east through Vietnam.

Befitting someone with such patience, Saurabh is

currently compiling information and photographs of the birds found in central India. My aim is to include as many photographic records for reference for others. This will include birds in flight, stationery, the difference in sex, plumage, morphs etc. My main area of study is [the] Bastar region which is the southern part of Chhattisgarh. The area has never been studied properly. It is one of the last pockets of almost virgin forests still left in the peninsular region. Many birds and amphibian species found here cannot be seen elsewhere in central India.

He also takes school and college students into the field to teach them about bird identification and conservation. “As a result,” he says, “we have now over 100 people who go out in the field on a volunteer basis and report sightings and look out for threats to local wildlife and if required necessary action can be taken with the help of local government body.”

Professor Michael Hogan, one of Saurabh’s clients, introduced him to iNaturalist. “I am still in learning stage but have found it very useful in creating a database of species that I have seen and photograph. It is a great platform for a person like me share their sightings with the rest of the world,” he says.

- by Tony Iwane

- You know you wanted to see a Green Bee-eater smashing an insect. It’s a thorough process!

- iNaturalist users have taken many great shots of Bee-eaters. Check them out.

- Little African birds called Honeyguides often parasitize the nests of Bee-eaters. Their eggs often look like Bee-eater eggs, but that’s not to fool the host...

Posted on May 15, 2017 04:21 AM by tiwane tiwane | 1 comment | Leave a comment

May 29, 2017

Observation of the Week, 5/28/17

Our Observation of the Week is this Algodones Sand Treader Cricket, seen in California by @alice_abela!

“As long as I can remember, I’ve had a consuming interest in nature. Some of my earliest memories are when I was four in Wyoming and catching grasshoppers and asking my mom for help identifying them,” recalls Alice Abela. “ I didn’t know what it was called at the time, but I decided I wanted to be a wildlife biologist when I was five and that’s what I did. I currently work as a wildlife biologist doing surveys for federally threatened and endangered species, special-status species monitoring, and drafting environmental documents.”

On a recent trip to the Algodones Dunes, one of Alice’s target species was the Algodones Sand Treader Cricket (Macrobaenetes algodonensis). “Orthopterans have always been a favorite and I knew Ammobaenetes sp. fluoresced under blacklight so I was curious if Macrobaenetes did too... I went prepared with a lot of oatmeal to lure them out, a 365nm blacklight, tripod, camera and flash set up. The 365nm blacklight and a weak flash allow me to get a more natural color to the background while still capturing the glow of the insect. Interestingly, it was only the adult sand treaders that fluoresced.” Oh, and the glowing purple dots around it are the oatmeal pieces.

The largest sand dunes system in North America, the Algodones Dunes (and its surrounding area) are home to many endemic species, and that, of course, includes the sand treader that Alice photographed so beautifully. Like many desert animals, it hides during the day (by burrowing in the sand) and comes out at night to feed. It eats detritus and various vegetative matter, so oatmeal is a real treat! And if there is any evolutionary purpose for the fluorescence in sand treaders and other arthropods, scientists simply haven’t found a good answer. Regardless, it’s super cool.

In addition to her amazing photos, Alice has contributed many identifications (she’s definitely helped me with orthopterans) and loves the mapping capabilities of iNaturalist. “It’s really neat being able to pull up species distributions and the like. I’m also a big fan of anything that gets more people to take an interest in the natural world.”

- by Tony Iwane

- More of Alice’s photos can be found on Flickr

- Here’s a popular Wired article about fluorescent arthropods with a link to more cool fluorescing animals.

-  Follow a Sand Treader cricket at Great Sand Dunes National Park.

Posted on May 29, 2017 04:13 AM by tiwane tiwane | 2 comments | Leave a comment