Journal archives for April 2018

April 07, 2018

Observation of the Week, 4/7/18

Our Observation of the Week is this group of Pitcher Plant Mining Moths, seen in Mississippi by @misspt!

The inside of a carnivorous plant is not the first place one would think of to look for (living) insects, but that’s exactly where Pitcher Plant Mining Moths thrive, as iNat user Lillian Gibb (misspt) documented in her photo (above).

Lillian saw the flower while on an outing with the Mississippi Naturalists Facebook group. “We were fortunate to have about 15 people from 3 different states and multiple areas of interest participate in an outing to the DeSoto National Forest area called Buttercup Flats.” It’s a restored Longleaf Pine Savanna ecosystem, which Lillian says “receives the routine burning that allows the ecosystem to flourish.  

This particular area is a pitcher plant bog and we specifically were able to find and identify 7 different types of carnivorous plants. We also saw several other organisms specialized to the Longleaf Pine Savanna besides the Pitcher Plant Mining Moth, including Bachman's Sparrow, Henslow's Sparrow, and Polygala nana.

As their common name suggests, the larvae of this moth host on the leaves of pitcher plants, which are carnivorous. After hatching, the larvae consume the leaf flesh in a pattern several grooves near the top of the leaf. This causes the upper part of the leaf to stop growing, and it forms a hard cap over the top, protecting the larva from predators. The flesh of the leave below the grooves remains fresh and growing, providing them food.

As adults, these moths spend much of the day sheltering on the inside of pitcher plant leaves, their feet specially designed to not slide on the slippery, downward-facing hairs that cause other insects to meet their doom. They always face upright when in the leaf, even backing in from the top. And while most moths face away from each other when copulating, Pitcher Plant Mining Moths mate at a ninety-degree angle so they don’t fall to their deaths!

Lillian (above, looking at carnivorous plants) grew up in Kemper County, Mississippi, and was always interested in the outdoors, and says “the first time I really connected with recording and understanding nature was in sixth grade completing a wildflower project in which I brought in the largest number of species by far as compared to my classmates.  My science teachers in ongoing grades helped continue to encourage my scientific endeavors with hands on learning.”

After fifteen years of working on her career and raising her family, she says she took up birding as a hobby, and calls the Longleaf Pine Savanna (and birds) her focus.

Of iNaturalist, she says

[it] has been extremely helpful with clarifying IDs, improving my ID abilities and helping me map my certain areas of interest, particularly Pitcher Plants a threatened/near threatened species. In Mississippi, we are working on trying to interest and involve more of our naturalists. We have so many people with amazing knowledge areas, but they still need a little convincing regarding the benefit of long term online observations that become part of a larger ongoing record.

If you’re a Mississippian who’s into nature, we’d love to see more observations from your state!

- by Tony Iwane

- Moths aren’t the only arthropods that take advantage of pitcher plants!

- Some cool Pitcher Plant Mining Moth info

Posted on April 07, 2018 10:25 PM by tiwane tiwane | 0 comments | Leave a comment

April 13, 2018

Announcing Changes to Projects on iNaturalist

We’ve introduced some new functionality for projects on iNaturalist! One of the most-requested features related to projects is the ability to *automatically* include all observations in a particular place or taxon across all time and in a continuously updating manner. Unfortunately, associating observations with projects has been a computationally expensive process, so we have limited “the aggregator” to a small subset of trusted projects, or to time-bound bioblitz projects, to protect site performance.  Another common request is the ability to associate two or more projects together under an umbrella, such as all of the projects associated with a single organization.

Starting next week, users can create two new types of projects using automatic collection and umbrella projects. Here’s what the page will generally look like when you go to create a new project (some text will still change):

We can convert many existing projects to the new ‘collection’ project type, providing that its parameters match those on Observations Search, such as taxa, places, dates, and users. We are not able to convert projects that have a “Must be on list” rule. Existing projects that meet the criteria above can be converted to the new ‘collection’ project type by project administrators when you go to edit your project by contacting with the URL of the project you would like to convert (updated on 4/25/18).

Existing projects (let’s call them traditional) came in several flavors.  Most (82%) are ‘regular’ with a significant minority (12%) as ‘bioblitz’. A tiny fraction (<4%) were some experimental project types that never really worked well.

The vast majority of projects are created for one of these purposes:

  1. Run a BioBlitz (i.e. collect all observations within space and time boundaries).

  2. Collect interesting observations which couldn’t otherwise be found using Observations Search (e.g. Amazing Aberrants, Observation of the Day).

  3. Gain access to true locations of obscured/private observations and/or filter observations identified by project curators.

  4. Collect additional data using observation fields.

  5. Create a repository of all observations for a place and/or taxon that can be branded, shared, and used for outreach (e.g. to encourage participation in a park or observations of specific taxa).

  6. For educators to assemble observations made by students.

The status quo for projects has been especially difficult for the last two purposes. The limits on the aggregator have been frustrating for people who want all observations from a given place and/or taxon continuously updated. As a result, project owners, managers, and/or curators have had to manually add observations or rely on users to add their observations themselves. Educators have had to rely on students adding their observations to a specific project, which is laborious for the students and/or the educators. New ‘collection’ projects should be an improvement for both of these purposes because you can use standard search parameters to automatically include observations by date added or observed, place, or user (and more).

For example, a professor could add the usernames of all of her students to a project that will automatically capture all observations made and added to iNaturalist during the semester. Then all student observations from the entire semester will be easily visible for her review, enabling her to ensure that the observations are appropriate and identified.

These changes were made in advance of the upcoming City Nature Challenge (organized by the citizen science teams at the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County and the California Academy of Sciences), which is a perfect use case for an umbrella project. Sixty-four different metropolitan areas around the world will submit observations to iNaturalist made during April 27-30. The umbrella project allows you to easily compare the numbers of observations, species, and participants across several projects at once. For an immediate sense of what it will look like since the event has not started yet, we also created an umbrella project for last year’s City Nature Challenge.

In the near future we plan to include the ability to use observation annotations as additional project parameters, e.g. to only pull in observations from a particular insect life stage. We plan to combine this feature with improvements to the observation search filters tool.

As with any new features, there are always trade offs, and we know that these new projects will not work for all projects and needs.  Here are some major differences with new, collection projects (compared to traditional projects):

  • Collection projects do not provide access to private and obscured coordinates for project admins.

  • No links on individual observations to the collection projects in which they are included.

  • No ability to associate additional observation fields with collection projects (fields can still be added to individual observations).

Once we open the new project creation tool, everyone who goes to create a project will be offered a choice between creating a ‘collection’ or ‘umbrella’ style project. If you want to create a traditional project because you need one of the features lacking in the new collection projects, there will be a link to the old project creation page. The aggregator will also be disabled for new ‘traditional’ projects. Eventually we hope to phase out the creation of new ‘traditional’ projects, but we are aware that the aforementioned needs must be addressed (especially access to private and obscured coordinates). We are exploring other approaches to those needs.

The iNaturalist staff have created (or converted from existing) a few projects for you to explore. Please let us know if you encounter any problems with these as we prepare to fully release the functionality.


City Nature Challenge 2018 (umbrella with 64 projects)

City Nature Challenge 2017 (umbrella with 16 projects)

Southwest Texas iNat-a-thon (collection with 23 users over 4 days)

Below you can see the design of the project creation page for new ‘collection’ projects (note: the text below will be updated for consistency with the descriptions above).

Posted on April 13, 2018 01:41 PM by carrieseltzer carrieseltzer | 121 comments | Leave a comment

April 21, 2018

Observation of the Week, 4/21/18

Our Observation of the Week is this Conops thick-headed fly, seen in Belgium by @henkwallays2!

A naturalist who was first interested in amphibians (especially salamanders), Henk Wallays has been photographing wildlife for a long time now - “Most [amphibian] from before the digital age (like me ;-) and are on slide,” he says - and has recently become interested in macro photography. “I have also started to appreciate the nature from my neighbourhood  and took up the idea of going for photographic inventories…mainly on the smaller animals. I am very keen on photographing solitary bees for the last 5 years now , but I tend to make shots of almost anything that passes in front of my lens. The purpose being to make sharp images depicting the animals with as much detail as possible.” Describing his macro photography as a “hobby that kind of went out of hand,” Henk always brings his camera and twin flash gear with him wherever he goes.

One place he tries to visit every year is the Viroin region of Belgium, “which is known for its rich biodiversity...There are so many different insect and plant species in the various nature reserves out there which I can not find elsewhere.” It was on a visit there in 2009 when he found the awesome Conops fly pictured above. “During this trip we actually found some new solitary bee species which I had not seen before and then there was this Conops,” he recalls. “Although we do from time to find Conops where I live, this animal just posed so nice that I had to make the shot.”

The beautiful, nectar-sipping adult form of the Conops fly belies its somewhat savage life cycle. Female Conops flies will often attack bees, especially bumblebees, in mid-air and spread open the segments of the bee’s abdomen, where they will deposit an egg. Once the egg hatches, the larva will feed on the hemolymph (blood) of the host before slowly devouring its internal organs and eventually killing the host. It will then pupate inside the dead bee and emerge in the spring.

Henk (who wanted to share his photo of a rare Epeoloides coecutiens bee rather than one of himself) found out about iNaturalist just over a week ago and is “currently busy uploading some of the older material.” He says that “although my experience with iNaturalist is short I kind of appreciate this platform a lot. Especially the fact that you are supported in having the right name tag on the animals or plants; either by (great) automated support (working well for plants specifically) and not the least also by other people helping out in those areas where I am not that familiar about (thanks for all of them who so far helped me out).”

“For now my image library is really too big and needs some clean up, it counts well over 150,000 shots on more than 3,000 species of animals, plants, [etc.],” says Henk. “And I hope to continue expanding it with more and better shots along the way.”

He’s passionate about contributing his sightings to different databases such as iNaturalist, AmphibiaWeb (where his old salamander photos have been uploaded), and Belgium’s own database. “So now in the field,” he explains, “you actually see me enter the observations twice on the cell phone, once for iNaturalist & once for Belgium.”

- by Tony Iwane

- Check out Henk’s photo gallery!

- Here are two videos of adult Conops at rest. Great looks at their halteres, which enable flies to be such awesome aerial acrobats.

Posted on April 21, 2018 06:39 PM by tiwane tiwane | 1 comment | Leave a comment

April 27, 2018

City Nature Challenge 2018 begins!

Guest post by City Nature Challenge co-organizer Lila Higgins (@lhiggins) from the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County .

We’re excited to launch the third City Nature Challenge, which involves thousands of participants from 69 metropolitan areas around the world. And 64 of these areas will be using iNaturalist to document biodiversity.

Over the next four days, each city is in friendly competition to see who can get the most people involved to record the most observations of the most species. All 64 projects using iNaturalist are in the umbrella project for City Nature Challenge 2018 so you can see how the cities stack up in real time as the observations come in.

If you’re in one of these metropolitan areas, get outside and start observing biodiversity (preferably the wild stuff)!

Even if you aren’t, you can still help. We expect half a million observations from 10,000 people, so there will be plenty of new observations to identify and new people to welcome. If you’re logged in to your iNaturalist account, check out all of the City Nature Challenge observations that still need IDs. You can filter from there based on your interest and expertise. Here’s a short tutorial video for the Identify page to get you started.

Observations must be made by April 30th but can still be uploaded and identified during May 1-3. The final tally from each project will be recorded at 9 AM local time on Friday, May 4, with the results announced after the 9 AM in Maui tally is made. More detailed results will be shared on Monday, May 7.

How It All Started: Los Angeles Versus San Francisco

In 2016, Alison Young (@kestrel) from the California Academy of Sciences and I came up with an idea to celebrate the first ever national Citizen Science Day at our museums. We decided to turn the documentation of nature in our respective cities, Los Angeles and San Francisco, into a competition. We capitalized on our cities’ long-standing rivalry -- the Dodgers versus the Giants (debatable), which city has the best burritos (clearly L.A.), and which city has the highest rents (not funny) -- and encouraged Angelenos and San Franciscans to get outside and document nature.

In just 7 days, over 1,000 people submitted almost 20,000 observations to the challenge! Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti got involved and sent in his own picture of a common garden snail to the project. Other, more rare species were also documented. In Los Angeles, our famous yet elusive mountain lion, P-22, showed up on a camera trap in Griffith Park to be counted for the challenge. In San Francisco, two iconic endangered species were documented including the Mission blue butterfly and San Francisco Garter Snake. But, it wasn’t just L.A. and San Francisco residents paying attention, urban nature lovers all over the United States were following the challenge too. Many wanted to join in the fun.

(P.S.: Los Angeles won!)

And So It Grew

Capitalizing on the buzz, we expanded the challenge to cover the entire United States. In 2017, 16 cities across the country took part. From Miami to New York, from Dallas to Seattle, 14 new cities joined in, all trying to take Los Angeles down. In just 5 short days, around 4,000 people submitted over 125,000 observations of wildlife living in U.S. urban areas. Orcas were spotted off the coast of Seattle, a critically imperiled Bartram’s scrub-hairstreak butterfly was documented in Miami, and once again, mountain lion P-22 showed up for Los Angeles. A total of 8,629 species were documented, including 393 rare, endangered, or threatened species. There was one species seen in every single city -- that tenacious urban dweller, the pigeon! And in the end Dallas, Texas won for the most number of observations, with almost 25,000!

From the very beginning, we both said we were starting off with L.A and San Francisco, but that we’d go national in 2017, and international in 2018. Setting goals is something we’re pretty good at, but we didn’t necessarily believe it would expand as rapidly as it has.

This year the City Nature Challenge involves 69 cities, from 17 countries, on 5 continents, and organizers in each city have developed partnerships with over 300 organizations. Although we can’t be certain that we’ll meet this year’s projected 10,000 participants and 500,000 observations, we’ve been pretty good at predicting results in past years. What nature will we find in our cities this year? Will participants in Mumbai document the charismatic leopards that live in their city? How many rare, endangered, and threatened species will we document? Will kids in both Tokyo and London submit pictures of honeybees? Will pigeons be found in every city, just like they were in 2017? With people all over the world taking part in the City Nature Challenge this year, being curious and observant and documenting the nature that is local to them, we’re bound to find some surprises!

Join the challenge, help your city win, and most importantly help us better understand nature in our cities.

You can read more by Lila Higgins at the Nature in L.A. Blog.

Posted on April 27, 2018 02:20 AM by carrieseltzer carrieseltzer | 17 comments | Leave a comment