Journal archives for January 2018

January 03, 2018

Identification Disagreements Are Now Explicit

We've made a slight change to how we handle conservative identification disagreements. Previously, if an observation was of a dog and you identified it as a mammal, iNat would assume that your ID was a disagreement, i.e. that you both thought the observation was a mammal and was not a dog. Personally, I've always thought this was a simple way to force disagreements to be constructive, but it's also caused a lot of confusion of the years. Now, if you add an ID of a taxon that contains the observation's community taxon, iNat will force you to choose whether you mean to disagree or not. It makes the identification process slightly more cumbersome, but hopefully less confusing, especially for new users.

Bonus: this also lets you add constructive identifications in situations where they would have previously been considered disagreements, e.g.

ID 1: Mammal (CID is Mammalia)
ID 2: Vulpes vulpes ssp. arabica (CID is Mammalia)
ID 3: Vulpes vulpes (CID is Vulpes vulpes)
ID 4: Vulpes vulpes ssp. arabica (CID is Vulpes vulpes ssp. arabica)

Before, that species-level ID would count as a disagreement with the subspecies ID before it, but now it can just be a "best guess" and the additional subspecies ID can shift the CID to subspecies.

Anyway, this is mostly just going to affect the hardcore identifiers out there. Hopefully it won't be too much of a problem for you folks. The apps do not yet support this behavior so IDs from there will continue to work like IDs before, i.e. IDs of taxa that contain the community taxon will count as implicit disagreements.

Posted on January 03, 2018 07:42 PM by kueda kueda | 6 comments | Leave a comment

January 12, 2018

Explicit Disagreement Update

Turns out the way we handled explicit disagreements wasn't quite meeting one of the goals we had, which was to allow people to add more conservative identifications without changing the taxon the observation was associated with, so after running things by the Google Group we made a somewhat more radical change. The Community Taxon will continue to operate as it did, but the taxon an observation is associated with should now be the most specific proposed taxon with which no one disagrees. Here are some examples:

ID 1: Homo sapiens
ID 2: Genus Homo, not a disagreement
=> CID: Genus Homo (this is what the community of 2 agree on)
=> Observation Taxon: Homo sapiens (the finest proposed taxon no one disagrees with)

So now this observation will show up as Homo sapiens in search results and such. It's still in "Needs ID" b/c there's no consensus at the species level, but the user who made ID 2 can chime in without bumping the observation back to species-level.

Here's the slightly more controversial scenario:

ID 1: Genus Homo
ID 2: Genus Homo
ID 3: Homo sapiens
=> CID: Genus Homo (this is what the community of 3 agree on)
=> Observation Taxon: Homo sapiens (the finest proposed taxon no one disagrees with)

This is a bit less conservative than we've been in the past because observations can move toward a finer taxon with less community consensus. Some people (cough*Scott*cough) like this because hey, no one's said it isn't Homo sapiens so why not go with that until there's a contradiction? Others (cough*me*cough) are probably going to feel like this just makes it easier for incautious identifiers to shift more observations toward incorrect taxa. To my fellow naysayers, this might also mean that fewer people click "Agree?" just to move the observation to species level, so maybe we'll end up with more incorrectly-identified observations in "Needs ID" but fewer in "Research Grade," which might be a good thing.

Anyway, try it out over the next few days and see how it works and feels. For a more extensive background on these changes, including illustrated examples, see

Posted on January 12, 2018 11:41 PM by kueda kueda | 15 comments | Leave a comment

Observation of the Week, 1/12/18

Our Observation of the Week is this calling Water Frog, seen in Lithuania by @ausrazilinskiene!

“As always I was looking for birds,” says Ausra Zilinskiene, recalling the day back in the spring of 2016 when she photographed the above frog. About seven or eight years ago was when she started observing animals, mainly birds. “I started to watch live web cameras of the storks nests. This was beginning of my way...I bought a camera and at the beginning sat for hours under the storks nests in the village, and later found that other birds are even more interesting than storks.”

Back to May of 2016. “In that day I had a hope to meet the Eurasian bittern,” recalls Ausra. “I could hear its voice in the reeds, but unfortunately the bittern did not give me a chance to see it.” She did, however, hear the mating calls of frogs around her. “It was May, mating time and water frogs all were "In love." :) There were a lots of frogs in the swamp. I lay down in the dirt near the swamp and started to observe them, trying to catch good moments for taking photos. The frog from photo was the largest of all frogs and its voice was the loudest.”

So why can’t we get this frog down to species? Ausra, on the advice of a more experienced herper, identified it as Pelophylax esculentus, commonly known as the “Edible Frog” (and yes, that is the frog whose legs are eaten as a delicacy). But as experienced Lithuanian natuarlist @almantas notes, “I received a note that their species are actually separated by genetic analysis, all other signs are not diagnostic.” So while we can get it down to genus from a photo, it would take genetic analysis to determine the species. AmphibiaWeb states that “genetic, ecological and behavioral studies in these frogs are in progress.”

One cool thing about P. eculentus, though, is that it is a hybrid of two species, Pelophylax lessonae and Pelophylax ridibundus, and itself reproduces hemiclonally, in a complicated process called hybridogenesis. Basically the process results in “each generation is half (or hemi-) clonal on the mother's side and has half new genetic material from the father's side.” (Wikipedia)

Right now Ausra is holed up during the winter, but says “I hope in Spring I'll continue my observations…

My purpose in iNaturalist is to show all species that I find and can identify in this small area of our planet, where I am observing nature. I think it would be nice to have the opportunity to open up the map of iNaturalist and to see what can we find in every part of Earth. But for this many naturalists must do a great job. I do hope that every day, new people will enter their observations and there will be less white areas in the map.

- by Tony Iwane. (Some of Ausra’s quotes have been lightly edited, as English is not her first language) 

- Ausra humbly claims that “my photos aren't very good, because I am not a good photographer, but the camera helps me to focus and to find new interesting things. The camera helps me to see.” But I beg to differ, check out her observations here!

- You want to know what Edible Frog calls sound like, right? Of course you do - and you won’t be disappointed.

- Lithuanian iNatter @almantas was the subject of Observation of the Week this past June

Posted on January 12, 2018 11:48 PM by tiwane tiwane | 0 comments | Leave a comment

January 20, 2018

Observation of the Week, 1/19/18

Our Observation of the Week is this hoarfrost-encrusted Gray-headed Coneflower, seen in Illinois by @bouteloua!

“I started undergrad wanting to be a human doctor, but now I’m sort of a prairie doctor,” says field botanist cassi saari. “I work in the field of ecological restoration where I design and monitor habitat restoration projects and help people inventory and manage their natural lands, from ponds to woods, streams, dunes, marshes, prairies, or savannas.”

Lucky for iNat, when cassi isn’t tending to the prairie’s needs, she’s taking care of things on iNaturalist as one of our most active Curators. She’s enjoyed “stepping up my...curator activities on iNaturalist: maintaining the taxonomic database, helping new users, resolving issues, and improving the quality of the data.” Keeping up with taxonomy and our community is a huge job, and our noble Curators, like cassi, are people who spend some of their free time helping out in the many ways cassi mentioned. They’re a vital part of iNat.

Now back to that frosty flower. cassi spotted it on

a foggy but very cold morning drive to the office [above]. The drive is quite dull - all city, then suburbs, then long, flat stretches of harvested fields of corn and soy…[it’s] always a stark reminder that 99.9% of the prairie lands in Illinois have been destroyed by farming, grazing, and development.

But the land around cassi’s office (pictured above) is “a little oasis of wetland and prairie with hundreds of species of native plants...part remnant, part restored.” When she pulled up in her car, she says “I saw the hoarfrost clinging to plant stems and couldn’t help but stop and make some observations.” One of which, of course, was the Gray-headed Coneflower you see at the top of the page. “Working year-round as a field botanist is a fun challenge in winter botanizing. One of my favorite things about iNaturalist is adding to the growing database of plant photos when they’re not flowering (which is usually when I need to be able to identify them),” she explains.

When describing Gray-headed Coneflowers, cassi first mentions their distinctive shape, calling them “one of several prairie sentinels that forms a charismatic silhouette at dawn and dusk at any time of the year.” Like other member sof the Asteraceae or “sunflower” family of plants, their “flowers” are actually inflorescences made up of many tiny  florets, with about 15 of them on the outside growing the large petals we recognize. “The flowers and fruits are easily recognized and its frequent use in prairie restorations makes it one of the first native wildflowers that people learn around here,” says cassi.

An iNat user since 2012, cassi has mainly focused on plants, but says “this year I’m aiming to be a 100% naturalist by observing more animals, fungi, and other creatures, since sometimes I seem to have the opposite of plant blindness…”

- by Tony Iwane

- You can check out cassi’s personal website here.

- In 2017 the Illinois Native Plant Society held its second annual Illinois Botanists Big Year and cassi came in at number one, contributing over 900 species.

Posted on January 20, 2018 12:11 AM by tiwane tiwane | 1 comment | Leave a comment

January 26, 2018

Observation of the Week, 1/26/18

Our Observation of the Week is this Celaenia excavata spider, seen in Tasmania, Australia, by @simongrove!

Simon Grove is all about sharing. As the Senior Curator of Invertebrate Zoology at the Tasmanian Museum and Art Gallery (TMAG), Simon’s main duty is to care for the museum’s collections, but he says “I'm also interested in outreach, which is one reason I take photos of living insects and spiders.” Not only does he post them on Flickr (and is currently importing his Flickr photos to iNat), he shares them on two Facebook Groups and his own Facebook page as well as on the TMAG’s A Field Guide to the Fauna of Tasmania mobile app. “It's also one reason I signed up to iNaturalist, in that I can help identify or validate others' Tasmanian nature observations,” he explains.

Oh, and

My 'research-grade' observations on iNaturalist, and the accompanying photos, will also find their way onto our national recording platform, the Atlas of Living Australia, where the photos will help others identify their own observations while the observations will augment museums' specimen-based records in helping us better understand what lives where around Australia.

The Celaenia excavata spider you see above is one of Simon’s older photos that he recently imported from Flickr. He found in April of 2015, sitting on a ripening almond at a community garden in Taroona. “It's a common species in suburban Hobart and elsewhere in Tasmania and southeast Australia,” says Simon, “but seldom spotted because of its close resemblance to a dollop of bird poo.” During the day, this spider rests and hides, utilizing its camouflage as protection, but at night it preys on moths, especially those commonly found in orchards.

But how does this tree-climbing but non-web-spinning spider capture its prey? Well, Simon says “[they] waft chemicals into the air which mimic the pheromones of female moths. When a male moth comes to investigate the source of the smell, the spider has a chance of grabbing it.” You can see another iNaturalist observation showing a Celaenia excavata eating a moth here. The myriad ways in which spiders have evolved to capture prey is astounding.

Here’s to more amazing observations from Simon’s archive!

- by Tony Iwane

- Bolas spiders also look like bird droppings (or snails) and use pheremones to draw in moths. However they use a “bolas” made of silk and glue to catch their prey. Check it out!

Posted on January 26, 2018 09:31 PM by tiwane tiwane | 0 comments | Leave a comment