Journal archives for October 2017

October 05, 2017

Observation of the Week, 10/4/17

This owlfly larva, seen in Hong Kong’s Sha Tin district by @portioid, is our Observation of the Week!

“I was hiking up a monastery here in HK with my girlfriend, with my camera in my backpack, when she pointed to a small animal on the side of the track,” recalls portioid, describing the moment when he found the beast seen above. “I was only half-joking when I told her she discovered an alien, as I had absolutely no idea what it could be (normally I at least roughly know). At home, I guessed antlion, and later learned that something called an owlfly exists :)”

Owlflies and antlions are both families in the order Neuroptera, which also includes other cool families like lacewings and mantidflies, so portioid was pretty close to the mark here. And like the larvae of those families, owlfly larvae are predatory, possessing large mandibles, as you can clearly see from the photo! Adults are predatory as well, and look somewhat akin to dragonflies in what is believed to be a form of batesian mimicry. Big eyes and crepuscular habits are what garnered owlflies their common name.

portiod has recently rekindled his hobby of photographing small animals, telling me that he noticed some “cool wasps catching grasshoppers” while at the beach with some friends. “I accidentally discovered iNaturalist when looking for an ID,” he says, “and have been hooked ever since! This website is a long-hedged dream come true, and I'm convinced this is only the beginning. Fed up with having to use my phone camera, I invested in some semi-professional camera equipment.” He uses Canon’s MP-E65 at times, but says his Sigma 150mm “hits the sweet spot of catching small animals from 20cm to several meters away.” portioid also posts his photos under a Creative Commons license, explaining that “[photos locked up behind copyright] greatly harm science, art, and culture in general. I want everyone to be able to create new works, such as nature guides, without having to run after every single picture.”

“I'm kind of addicted to iNaturalist!” he admits. “It's a perfect place to organize observations; great people will help with identifications; I can revisit observations, getting a feeling for the species in the area, and learning the taxa. It gives me the feeling I'm part of something big: mapping Life on this planet. Also, I'm feeding the AI algorithm, I can't wait for it to grow up!”

- by Tony Iwane

- Check out portioid’s spectacular macro work on his Flickr photostream.

- Here are the top owlfly observations on iNat!

- Like the larvae of lacewings and antlions, some owlfly larvae attach detritus (like dead bodies) to themselves as a form of camouflage. Apparently, this strategy can be traced back to the Cretaceous period.

Posted on October 05, 2017 04:50 AM by tiwane tiwane | 1 comment | Leave a comment

October 07, 2017

Observation of the Week, 10/7/17

Our Observation of the Week is a tiny dot-seed plantain, seen in California by @silversea_starsong!

After writing this blog for about two years now, I’ve read a lot of iNat users fondly recalling that nature books or David Attenborough documentaries were what got them into nature, but James Bailey is the first one to credit his passion for nature to a video game!

“My first introduction to nature was through a video game called Animal Crossing,” he tells me, “when I was around 6 years old.”

One feature was that you could catch fish and bugs which appeared randomly throughout the world. There was a field guide to fill in, and you could donate them to a museum where they became living exhibits, similar to those tropical butterfly houses...Looking back, it is interesting how eerily similar some events in the game were to what I face today as a naturalist. Nonetheless, this interest quickly translated to real life, except for one big difference: in Animal Crossing, there were only 48 types of bugs. In real life, there were plants, birds, not to mention all the other thousands of bugs in the world. This was my first exposure to "listing", something that has probably founded my hobby more than I'd like to admit.

James tried various ways to visualize his natural history data over the years, but couldn’t find a satisfactory solution. He explains, “this problem made it hard for me to appreciate what I was really doing, and my interest actually fell, and I spent way more time indoors.” He eventually discovered iNaturalist in 2015, however. “It was a slow start, but my interest in the hobby was eventually rekindled. Now that the data side was taken care of automatically, I could actually open my eyes and appreciate the natural world...The hobby started out as mere recreation of sorts, but it now became a real, invested journey. Not to mention that iNat opened my eyes to a lot of groups that I had previously overlooked, like snails and mosses.”

His hobby brought him to the Valido Badlands of southern California this summer, where he was mapping plant populations and stumbled up on the puny plant in the above photo. It wasn’t even his favorite find of the day.

“I had knelt down, hesitantly, since the white sand was boiling in the summer heat, to photograph a colony of pincushion plant (Navarretia hamata). Before standing, I had a quick look around for ants, and noticed some odd "blobs" out in the sand. To my surprise, it was not just another piece of dirt, but Plantago! I spend a lot of time on the ground looking for things like springtails and liverworts, so I guess I have an eye for the little guys. I remember that outing most for the leucistic roadrunner!

Currently James calls himself “the epitome of a generalist.” But like the plantain, he says he finds beauty in the small and the not often noticed. “My main focus though is looking for micro-habitats and studying small-scale ecology. There are many tiny little communities that you can't appreciate from standing up, and they often have the most interesting species.”

- by Tony Iwane

- James specializes in North American ladybugs and even created an iOS app about them!

- In case you wanted to watch someone playing Animal Crossing for 50 minutes...

- James started a fantastic Amazing Aberrants project, check it out!

Posted on October 07, 2017 10:59 PM by tiwane tiwane | 0 comments | Leave a comment

October 10, 2017

iNaturalist Community Guidelines

Hello all. As I'm sure you're aware, iNat is growing. As you may not be aware, the bigger we get, the more unpleasant behavior we see. Site admins like me deal with more of it than most because we get asked to step in and mediate. It's not a huge problem yet, but it does get more prevalent as we attract more people. To help keep iNat the fun and friendly place it has been for years, we'd like to adopt a set of community guidelines like most other social media platforms do. These are guidelines for how we all expect each other to behave on iNaturalist and on iNat-related forums like the Google Group. However, we, the site admins, don't want to simply impose them on everyone by fiat. Instead, we're publishing them here as a draft for you to review and comment on:

Please let us know what you think! You should be able to comment on that Google doc (I'm not sure that's the best way to solicit a lot of feedback, but let's see) and you can also comment on this blog post. I've written this original draft with input from the admin team, but I definitely want to hear about other ideas. Also, please note that the Guidelines refer to some functionality that hasn't been released yet, like Blocking and Muting. These proved to be somewhat controversial when we broached the subject in the Google Group, so we wanted to release them with these guidelines so everyone knows how to use (and not abuse) them.

Posted on October 10, 2017 12:55 AM by kueda kueda | 128 comments | Leave a comment

October 13, 2017

Observation of the Week, 10/13/17

It’s a three-fer Observation of the Week, with a lingcod whose stomach contained both a yelloweye rockfish and an octopus! Seen in Alaska by @rolandwirth.

“The lingcod is known to be a voracious feeder and local fisherman are always curious to see what its most recent meal might have been,” explains Roland Wirth. He and his partner Michele have lived on Sitka for 27 years now, and says “we have enjoyed intertwining our love of outdoor adventure with the local subsistence traditions in gathering food from the surrounding pristine land and ocean environments...Each season brings with it, our eager anticipation for collection of some wild food to fill our freezers and share with friends.” 

Roland had set up up a subsistence halibut line, which is what snagged the lingcod. “In this case, one could conjecture that the lingcod had consumed an octopus and then the “yelloweye”, as they are locally named (turkey-red rockfish), with the yelloweye perhaps trying to get in one last bite of octopus while residing in the lingcod’s stomach. But the sequence of events will remain a mystery… What is amazing is that the lingcod was still hungry enough at this point to bite a baited hook.”

As Roland said up front, lingcod are known as voracious eaters and will pretty much snag anything they can fit in their mouths, including rockfish and octopus, two of their favorites. A good sized lingcod can reach lengths of 120 cm and 32 kg, so it’s a mighty beast whose main non-human predators are pinnipeds such as seals and sea lions. And while not a ling or a cod, it gets its common name due to its outer appearance resembling the former and its white, flakey flesh resembling that of the latter. Interestingly, its flesh is a blue-green color before it’s cooked.

Roland and Michele are using iNat to “[fulfill] our dream of cataloging the inventory of species observed on the one-acre island where we have built our home,” as well as joining in the Sitka Island Big Year project and their further travels. “iNaturalist has become a great tool for me to learn more about my surroundings, encouraging me to make more careful observations, and by gaining new insights through the postings of other naturalists,” says Roland. “I view my contributions as a lifelong endeavor which will continue to enhance my appreciation of our natural world.”

- by Tony Iwane

- Check out this lingcod trying to swallow a very large rockfish!

- A chef at the Monterey Bay Aquarium prepares pan-seared lingcod. Most lingcod is listed as “Best Choice” on their Seafood Watch sustainability guide.

Posted on October 13, 2017 10:25 PM by tiwane tiwane | 1 comment | Leave a comment

October 21, 2017

Observation of the Week, 10/20/17

Our Observation of the Week is this snow leopard, seen in India by pfaucher!

Famous for being one the most elusive of the big cats, a photograph of a living, breathing snow leopard has not been posted to iNaturalist until last week, when Peggy Faucher added the above image (taken by her husband Marc) from their trip to Hemis National Park, in the Indian state of Jammu and Kashmir.

No strangers to travel, Peggy says “we have spent the last 31 years exploring the world’s wild places and incredible diversity of life. My passion for wildlife and Marc’s expertise in photography are the perfect combination allowing us to not only view animals but to capture images to share with others.” The couple are now retired allowing them to expand the scope of their travels and maintain a blog of their adventures.

This trip started out at an elevation of 11,562 feet (for acclimatization) before they set out to Hemis National Park (home to about 200 snow leopards) with their guides Dorje Skiu and Dorje Tsewang. After two days of scanning the ridges (at 15,000 feet!) to no avail, “we decided to head up the Rumbak Valley in search of the hard-to-find felines. Suddenly our assistant local guide shouts ‘Snow Leopard!’  Somehow he had spotted a Snow Leopard sitting on the top of a ridge about a mile and a half away!”

Through our binoculars and a spotting scope we could get a good view of the cat. Marc was able to get a reasonably good photo with his new 500mm lens with an 1.4x teleconverter. Hauling all this heavy camera equipment finally paid off.

We watched the leopard for about 15 minutes before he disappeared behind the ridge...and an hour and 40 minutes later he made a second appearance! He walked along the ridge, stretched and began stalking [it’s favorite prey], blue sheep. We watched in anticipation as two groups of blue sheep moved closer to his location. Surely we would witness a kill... The snow leopard was in the perfect position and the blue sheep were unaware.  

Suddenly, all the blue sheep ran over the ridge and disappeared. Had they detected the cat? Had the cat made a kill on the other side of the ridge out of our view? The guides went down valley and briefly saw the leopard again so apparently he hadn't made a kill. Oh well, it was a thrilling encounter just the same!

Ranging through the mountains of South and Central Asia, snow leopards are well adapted to their cold habitat. A thick grey coat, large snowshoe-like feet, and a large tail used for balance and fat storage help them survive in the frigid mountains. Because of its secretive nature and rugged home terrain, researchers have had difficulty accurately determining the snow leopard’s world population, but an estimate from 2016 “proposed a population of 4,700 to 8,700 individuals across only 32 percent of the species' range, suggesting that the total number of snow leopards was larger than previously thought.” (Wikipedia) That number, however, is in dispute. It’s thought that climate change, human retaliation to (rare) leopard attacks on livestock, and poaching are the main factors contributing to the cat’s population decline. It’s currently listed as Vulnerable by the IUCN.

“iNaturalist has provided us a platform to catalog many of our observations of wildlife and to share our findings with the scientific community,” explains Peggy. Ecuador is their next destination (“Stay tuned for more observations,” she says) and they’re currently delving into their past photos and adding them to iNat as well. “We have a big project in front of us as we have seen many amazing creatures over the past 31 years!”

- by Tony Iwane

- Here’s Peggy and Mark’s blog post about the snow leopard sighting!

- The BBC has fantastic footage of a snow leopard on the hunt. 

- The Faucher's trip was arranged by Indian naturalist Avijit Sarkhel, who runs Vana Safaris.

Posted on October 21, 2017 02:13 AM by tiwane tiwane | 3 comments | Leave a comment