Journal archives for February 2018

February 03, 2018

Observation of the Week, 2/2/2018

Our Observation of the Week comes to us from @andriusp, and it’s this Cloudy Snail-eating snake with a (what else?) snail on its snout! Seen in French Guiana.

“I grew up in Lithuania with biologist parents and I’ve been an avid chaser of all things moving as far as I can remember,” recalls Andrius. A biologist now himself, Andrius is a research fellow at the University of Vienna (Austria), studying the behavior of Neotropical frogs. “My biggest passion remains chasing animals in the field and I’m extremely lucky that my research allow me to do just that. I spend prolonged periods of time in the field in South and Central America where I mostly study the spatial behavior of the so-called poison frogs. Actually, I just arrived in French Guiana for another 2 months of frog tracking!”

Andrius found the above snail and snake in his favorite research station in the Nouragues Nature Reserve, located in the tropical rainforest in French Guiana. Andrius recalls “we happened to find this beautiful small snake (first time for me) right on our kitchen table!” He thought the snail looked like a beret, which was fitting for a French research station, and furthermore

The scene was even more absurd and intriguing because [Cloudy Snail-eating snake]  is primarily a snail-eating snake! We kept discussing whether it was a smart trick from the snake to keep the dinner for later or whether that was a daring escape strategy of a sneaky snail. We released the two “companions” on a bush next to the kitchen where I snapped these pictures.

More commonly found in trees than on kitchen tables, Cloudy Snail-eating snakes range from Mexico into South America and even onto some islands in the Caribbean, like Trinidad and Tobago. They’re nocturnal (check out those huge eyes!) and do like to hunt snails and slugs, as well as worms and other prey.

Andrius (above, with a mantid on his face) says

iNaturalist rebooted my interest in keeping records of my observations and paying attention not only to my research subjects but to all living things around me. I realised that over time I started ignoring plants, fungi, and animals that I didn’t know much about and had no easy way to identify. I was also never good at keeping well organised notes and photo catalogues of my various travels and observations. Now I’m happy once again to snap photos other very ordinary as well as extraordinary plants, fungi, and animals! iNaturalist takes care of the rest.

- by Tony Iwane


- You can follow Andrius on Twitter and check out his photos Facebook.

- Members of Pareas, genus of gastropod-eating snakes from Asia, have more teeth on their right jaw than left jaw, allowing them to eat “right-handed” snails more easily. In areas where they occur, “left-handed” snails are found to occur more frequently. How cool is that?

- Two Cloud Snail-eating Snake vidoes, a wild one climbing, a captive individual hunting and eating a snail.

Posted on February 03, 2018 12:26 AM by tiwane tiwane | 3 comments | Leave a comment

February 10, 2018

Observation of the Week, 2/9/18

Our Observation of the Week is this Myrmecophila christinae orchid, seen in Mexico by @thibaudaronson!

“I am generally more interested in things that move, but I have long had a sweet spot for orchids,” says Thibaud Aronson. “In fact, it was my mother who first took me out to look at Ophrys species in the Mediterranean prairies when I was about five or six years old. And when I was a bit older, I traveled to a few far-flung places such as Ecuador and Borneo, and honed my tree-climbing skills to look specifically for orchids.”

Those tree-climbing skills were not needed to find and photograph the plant shown above, however. Thibaud was on a scuba diving holiday on the Mexican island of Cozumel after a spell as a research assistant in Yucatan (studying spider monkeys) when he found it.

I saw the Myrmecophila christinae at the Mayan ruins of San Gervasio. It was pretty common in the area, but mostly high up in trees. This individual was pretty low on a branch (I figure it might have fallen in a storm and then been stuck back in the tree by someone, as I have done myself on many occasions).

Thibaud points out that this genus of orchids are particularly fascinating as they are “one of the few orchid genera (off the top of my head, I can only think of Caularthron as another example) to form a mutualistic association with ants.” In fact, the genus name derives from myrmecophily, meaning “ant love.” And ants are almost always found in the hollowed-out “pseudobulbs” of these orchids, where they find shelter. The ants are able to obtain nectar from the plant’s flowers and in return fight off herbivores that might damage the orchid. Fascinatingly, researchers have documented ants residing in Myrmecophila tibicinis plants depositing detritus such as arthropod carcasses and decaying plant matter in the pseudobulbs. That decaying matter can be absorbed by the orchid, giving it crucial minerals in the often nutrient-poor substrate of the trees on which they grow.

Thibaud (above, in Bhutan, where he’ll upload observations from soon!) researched mate choice in birds for this Master’s degree, and is currently deciding on his career path. He’s been contributing his photos of flora and fauna to Flickr and JungleDragon, and recently joined iNat on the recommendation of some friends in Mexico.

The algorithm that suggests likely IDs for photos still amazes me, and has been a tremendous help, in particular with butterflies. I am also incredibly grateful for the very involved community of experts who have helped ID many of my photos in groups I know nothing about, such as hard corals, and even correcting some of my bird identifications! Plus, I greatly appreciate the citizen science aspect of it, and the incredible wealth of information that is being accumulated. And, since I am lucky to travel to some fairly unusual places...I am now happy to do my part, and contribute observations of things that aren’t in the database yet!

- by Tony Iwane


- Several people pointed out this flower’s resemblance to cuttlefish. Do you agree?

- Check out the more than 600 orchid observations have that have been faved by iNat users!

Posted on February 10, 2018 02:08 AM by tiwane tiwane | 0 comments | Leave a comment

February 16, 2018

Citizen Science and iNaturalist at the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County

Our own Citizen Science department here at the California Academy of Sciences (led by 2017 Bay Nature Environmental Education Award Winners @kestrel and @rebeccafay) does a great job of implementing iNaturalist in their work, and so do our friends (and City Nature Challenge co-organizers and friendly rivals) at the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County (@natureinla). So last year I traveled south and interviewed members of their Citizen Science (now called Community Science) department as well as some researchers who are using iNaturalist, all of whom graciously gave up part of their day to talk with me on camera.

I made videos and blog posts about specific projects and researchers over the past few months (links at the bottom) but wanted to create one more video that sums up their overall approach to using iNaturalist as a way to build community and generate great biological data in an urban environment. They’re game to keep up engagement with the public and do so in a positive, approachable way, even making the effort to meet some iNat users in the field to gather specimens and confirm sightings. Data from their projects have been used to petition the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service for Endangered Species status, study Alligator Lizard mating behavior, and map squirrel range expansion.

If you or your institution are thinking of using iNaturalist for outreach and for gathering data, they provide a great model to start with.

Many thanks to @lhiggins, @smartrf, @gregpauly, @jannvendetti and @mordenana for speaking with me and for doing great things with iNat.

If you’re a part of NHMLA’s Community Science endeavors, or know other examples of excellent iNat use, please share in the comments!

- Tony Iwane



  • Herpetologist Dr. Greg Pauly discusses iNat use to collect urban range and behavioral data.


  • Wildlife biologist Miguel Ordeãna talks squirrels and the importance of staying engaged if you’re running a project.


  • Malacologist Dr. Jann Vendetti makes the case for the importance of mapping snails, and meeting iNat users to collect specimens.


(Photo by @alex_bairstow, depicting a rare sinistral (”left-handed”) Garden Snail with a dextral (”right-handed”) one. The sinistral one was donated to NHMLA.)

Posted on February 16, 2018 11:35 PM by tiwane tiwane | 0 comments | Leave a comment

February 18, 2018

Observation of the Week, 2/18/18

Our Observation of the Week is this Yellow Treefrog that found a perch on the back of a Lethocerus Giant Water Bug, seen in Colombia by @estebanalzate! (Oh, and don’t forget the small insect on the bug’s back as well).

Insider info: I generally look for Observation of the Day possibilities by searching through recently faved observations, and when I saw the photo shown above, I thought it was a nice photo of a beautiful frog - and then I saw the Giant Water Bug! Thanks to our amazing users there are many stunning photos on iNaturalist that immediately grab your eye, but it’s also cool to come across images that continue to reveal beyond a first glance.

Esteban Alzante teaches herpetology and ecology at CES University in Medellín, Colombia, and says he’s been interested nature ever since he was a young boy in the 1980s, “when I was living in a very small town in the middle of the jungle and I could catch lizards, snakes, frogs and turtles in the backyard of my house and my mother would let me do that.” He’s currently studying frog ecology in Colombia, especially the antibacterial molecules found in the skin exudations of some frogs.

“We are looking for new molecules in 16 different species that belong to nine different families, these species had never been evaluated before, as there are many species in Colombia,” explains Esteban. “We found antibiotic activity in nine species, but just one of them has a more powerful activity than the commercial antibiotics.” He’s working on three separate papers, and is currently looking for a grant to identify the compounds in these secretions and submit his doctoral proposal.

Esteban takes his students into field with him, and he observed the above treefrog while on one of these outings:

...we found this puddle with hundreds and hundreds of Dendropsophus microcephalus [Yellow Treefrogs] (my wife says that I tend to exaggerate, but believe me), and they were in the reproductive period, it was so loud... and I found this little guy with his vocal sac inflated but when I was going take its picture it jumped on a branch, then i took the picture and that is when I realized that it had been on a bug's back.

Giant Water Bugs, members of the family Belostomatidae, are “true bugs,” meaning they’re part of the order Hemiptera, and have tube-like mouths for piercing and sucking. Often called “toe-biters” in the US, Giant Water Bugs are known to inflict a painful bite in self-defense (due to the injection of digestive enzymes), but the bite is not medically significant. In most genera, the female lays her eggs on the back of her male partner, and he will guard them, but in the genus Lethocerus, the female lays her eggs on vegetation near the water, which the male then guards. Lethocerus bugs are the largest of all true bugs, with some species growing to 12 cm (4.75 in) in length!

To give you a sense of scale, most Yellow Treefrogs reach about 25-31 mm (.98-1.2 in) in length, so this is a mighty large insect. The frogs range from Central America into the norther part of South America and onto some islands in the Caribbean, and are commonly seen. They are nocturnal, and come together at pools to breed. Eggs are laid on leaves overhanging the water, and tadpoles will drop from them when they hatch.

As Esteban (above, with a snake) continues his studies and field ventures, he’ll use iNaturalist to “share the biodiversity, mainly here in Colombia; we have hundreds of species that nobody knows, and my idea is do something for the people can identify them and to know as many species as I can.”

- by Tony Iwane (As English is not his first language, some of Esteban’s quotes have been lightly edited.)


- You wanted to hear what these frogs sound like, yes? They’re pretty loud.

- A Giant Water Bug takes down a garter snake in Arizona. Video here!

- Frog slime might be antiviral as well.

- Does the frog’s choice of perch remind anyone else of Han Solo’s similar maneuver with a Star Destroyer

Posted on February 18, 2018 11:59 PM by tiwane tiwane | 5 comments | Leave a comment

February 24, 2018

Observation of the Week, 2/23/18

Our Observation of the Week is this multi-colored wonder, an Anoplodactylus evansi sea spider! Seen in Australia by @sascha_shulz.

“I was snorkeling with the Shelly Beach Swim group (many of whom also contribute to iNat), and was photographing a Sand-diver species [See if you can spot it! -Tony]...when I noticed something crawling on my hand,” recalls Australian freediver Sascha Shulz. “And it turned out to be the first sea spider I have ever seen in 24 years of diving in Australia and other locations around the world!”

The sea spider Sascha found, Anoplodactylus evansi, is more colorful than any I’d personally seen (here in California they’re usually pretty drab), and the colors along with its spindly pretty-much-legs-only construction make it a striking organism. In fact, the lack of a “body” means that internal organs like those of the digestive system reside partially in the legs of the beast, and the high surface-area to volume ratio allows respiration to occur directly through the exoskeleton. While sea spider taxonomy is somewhat in flux, they are currently in the subphylum Chelicerata, which also contains arachnids and horseshoe crabs.

Like most arachnids, sea-spiders can only eat liquids, and a long proboscis allows them to pierce and suck out the insides of soft-tissued animals like sponges, gastropods, and hydroids. According to Sea Slug Forum, one of Anoplodactylus evansi’s favorite prey items are juvenile Sea Hares (among other Opisthobranchs), which are young enough to not have accumulated an amount of diet-derived compounds to deter predators. They’ll also eat around an organ where these compounds are kept, like the digestive gland of Aplysia parvula.

Sascha grew up partly in Germany, and says he was “heavily influenced by the German TV series Expeditionen ins Tierreich.” He moved to Australia when he was still a child, and started freediving when he attended the University of Wollongong, where he received a Marine Biology degree. He’s worked for the Australian Museum and still collects specimens for its fish section when he can.

“The amount of valuable data and knowledge that is accumulating due to the people who contribute to iNaturalist is truly stunning,” says Sascha, but “to avoid iNat becoming a ‘problem’” he uses it to record mostly marine species, explaining “I have found myself interrupting conversations to get a photo of a bug crawling past!...’I can stop anytime I want’ I tell myself!”

- by Tony Iwane


- Most sea spiders are tiny, but at the Earth’s poles, there be giants.

- Sascha, among many other iNatters, contributes to the Australasian Fishes and Seaslugs of the World projects, which are amazing.

- Over 150 sea spider observations have been upload to iNaturalist, seeing them all together is pretty amazing.

- Sea spiders don’t just walk, some of them swim!

Posted on February 24, 2018 12:35 AM by tiwane tiwane | 2 comments | Leave a comment