Journal archives for May 2018

May 03, 2018

(Belated) Observation of the Week, 5/3/18

Our Observation of the Week is this Clathrus cage fungus, seen in Colombia by @linaforero!

Lina Forero has been interested in the natural world ever since she was a child, and says that this “is why I am now a wildlife veterinarian [at Universidad de La Salle] and work in the conservation of ecosystems.”

It was while she and some friends were scouting an area for another citizen science project (eBird’s Global Big Day on May 5th) that they came across the structural wonder seen above. “We had never seen anything like it,” she says, “so we thought that in iNaturalist someone could help us identify it, in the suggestions of identification we read the characteristics of these fungi and we were amazed.”

Red cage fungi, part of the Phallaceae or “stinkhorn” family of mushrooms, are a truly wondrous group of organisms. When first emerging from the ground, they look like many other mushrooms, with an off-white volva sticking up through the substrate. However, that volva soon bursts open and the red cage structure of the mature mushroom slowly expands upward. The inside of the cage is full of a brownish goo called the gleba, which is were the spores develop. Smelling like rotting flesh, the gleba of a Red Cage fungus attracts flies, which land on it and distribute the spores that sticking to their feet. Red Cage fungi are often found on mulch and wood chips.

Lina (above) has an NGO called Fundación Camana Conservación y territorio, and uses iNaturalist for the FOTOCANEY project run by the foundation, partnering with “group of children with whom we work environmental education topics.” She says she personally uses iNat “in my trips where I record the observations of species that I do not know and from which I want to learn.”

- by Tony Iwane


- More amazing Clathrus time lapse! This one is Clathrus archeri, or “Devils Fingers.”

- iNaturalist’s partner site Naturalista Colombia helped organize Bogota’s City Nature Challenge project this year, and so far nearly 8,000 observations have been uploaded!  

Posted on May 03, 2018 11:44 PM by tiwane tiwane | 0 comments | Leave a comment

May 09, 2018

Observation of the Week, 5/9/18

Our Observation of the Week is this encounter between a wolf spider and a Tawny Mole Cricket, seen in Louisiana by @audubon23!

“A friend and I were visiting the trails in Couturie Forest in City Park, New Orleans to see which species of birds would be active in mid-April,” recalls Anna (audubon23). They stumbled into a new (to them) area of the park with two large concrete circles, which they later discovered were old model airplane courts (visible via satellite photos).

I noticed the mole cricket sitting out on one of the concrete circles in the middle of the day, [and] I didn’t notice the wolf spider until I bent down because the spider was so comparably small...The spider allowed me to get very close with my camera. There was no way would he relinquish this cricket to this camera lady. He earned it.

What happened here? Mole crickets tend to stay in their burrows during the day, so Anna thinks “that the cricket was out at night or early morning when the spider ambushed and injected its venom, and then the pair sat there together for hours until I discovered them in early afternoon...I would love to have seen the spider subdue and immobilize the cricket. It must have been quite a feat.” Spiders need to liquefy the insides of their prey before consumption, and Anna believes “the spider didn’t even make a dent in liquefying and digesting the cricket.”

One of the more bizarre-looking of the Orthoptera, mole crickets are found over much of the world and are well-adapted to a life of burrowing underground. Their forelimbs are paddle-shaped and excellent for digging, while their back legs are used to pushing dirt rather than jumping. Male mole crickets will even use the entrance of their burrow as a horn to amplify their calls at night, and females will fly to them. Some mole crickets are herbivorous, like the Tawny Mole Cricket, while others are omnivorous or even predatory. Tawny Mole Crickets are native to South America and have become agricultural pests in North America since being accidentally introduced there in 1900. 

Mole crickets face quite a few predators, with wolf spiders being an important one. Unlike many other spiders, wolf spiders do not spin webs. Rather, most amble along the ground and either chase or pounce on prey, while others make burrows underground. They are fast, often nocturnal, and have excellent eyesight. If you’re ever out in the woods in North America and are using a headlamp, look for small yet powerful green eye shine on the ground - these are likely from wolf spiders.

Anna (above) has been interested in nature since her childhood, and “began volunteering at the zoo in New Orleans at age 12 as a ‘Junior Keeper’ in the education department, and I eventually became an intern for their Louisiana wetlands education-outreach vehicle. That helped to further my passion for Gulf Coast wildlife.” She’s a recent college graduate and says she’s “still working out how I want to continue my education and career and what areas of research I want to pursue.”

And of iNaturalist, Anna writes

I use iNaturalist for documenting the wildlife I encounter, and it has really changed the way I interact with the natural world. I pay much more attention to what I see and hear than I used to. I want to identify everything now! It has also made me much more aware of my community’s biodiversity. I am more familiar with what is around me and how it all interacts.

It is wonderful how it connects people of different locations and levels of expertise and experience. I really love the concept of crowd-sourced data collection on wildlife. It really makes me feel like I am contributing to something much bigger than myself. It engages people and actually helps real science. It doesn’t get much cooler than that.

- by Tony Iwane


- Female wolf spiders famously carry around both their egg sacs and their new hatchlings with them as they walk. 

- Meet Steinernema scapterisci, a nematode worm that kills mole crickets (and other hosts) by infecting them!

Posted on May 09, 2018 09:06 PM by tiwane tiwane | 0 comments | Leave a comment

May 15, 2018

Observation of the Week, 5/15/18

Our (City Nature Challenge) Observation of the Week is this Orobanche plant, seen in Italy by @finrod!

From April 27th - 30th of this year, sixty-nine cities took part in a worldwide friendly competition to get outside and document the wildlife around them - the City Nature Challenge! Rome was one of those cities, the World Wildlife Fund organized a bioblitz of the Parco di Centocelle, site of the first airport in Italy. While it had long been an area in disrepair and is still struggling with some environmental issues, iNat user (and bioblitz participant) Stefano Doglio - aka finrod - says “it's an important green area for the crowded, working class neighborhoods around it.”

While participating in this bioblitz, Stefano photographed the very cool plant you see above (and below). While there’s some disagreement over exactly which species it is, the plant is a member of Orobanche, a genus of about 200 completely parasitic plants. When not in bloom, these plants are entirely underground, slurping water and nutrients from the roots of other plants. The flowers and their stalks do break the surface of the soil and are often colored yellow, white, or blue-purple. Leaves are tiny and lack chlorophyll, so there is no green at all on these plants. Which is kind of awesome. Some species are only able to parasitize certain plants while other are generalists, and Orobanche ramosa is even considered to be an agricultural pest.

In English, Orobanches have the unfortunate common name of “broomrapes,” but the blog In Defense of Plants tells us:

in this context, rape stems from the Latin word “rapum,” which roughly translates to “tuber” or “turnip.” Broom is an English word that, in this context, refers to a shrubby plant related to vetch, which is often parasitized by broomrapes. So, the literal meaning of broomrape is something akin to “broom tuber.”

Whatever you call them, these are glorious, bizarre plants.

While he now lives in Rome, Stefano is from a small village in the Cottian Alps, near Italy’s border with France and says he he has “always” been interested in nature and the outdoors. “My current interests and research are ecology and biogeography of the Mediterranean region (to Central Asia),” he says. “Amphibians, and to a lesser extent orchids are my main interests taxonomy wise.”

Interestingly, Stefano says that he long ago made his own natural history observations database application, which

had been missing it until I found iNat (I first heard of it at the Mediterranean herpetology congress in Marrakech back in 2011, I think), [which is] even better because this way all this info doesn't just sit idly in a hard disk (or gather dust in a forgotten notebook) but can be shared and possibly be useful for others, for our collective knowledge... I gather and upload more observations that I wouldn't have collected if they had then just stayed in my hd/notebook.

- by Tony Iwane


- You can check out Stefano’s ResearchGate page as well some of his other photos on CalPhotos.

-  Stefano also worked on a free book - Jbel Sarhro – Maroc Projet d'établissement d'un Parc National - which you can download in French and Italian here. It stems from a project that is “trying to set up a new national park in Morocco's Anti-Atlas.” 

- Over 1,700 Orobanche sp. plants have been posted to iNaturalist - check them out here

Posted on May 15, 2018 04:55 PM by tiwane tiwane | 0 comments | Leave a comment

May 18, 2018

Observation of the Week, 5/18/18

Our Observation of the Week is the first Red Handfish (and only handfish of any kind) posted to iNaturalist! It was seen off of Tasmania by @acanthaster.

“Learning to dive was without a doubt one of the best decisions of my life and has taken my love for the natural world to a whole new level underwater,” says Phil Malin (@acanthaster). “The incredible interactions that you can have with a multitude of species on every dive never gets old for me.” And part of Phil’s diving experience has been searching for and photographing the rare handfish.

Handfish - members of the family Brachionichthyidae - are actually a type of anglerfish, the deep sea versions of which have become justifiably famous for their strange appearance and for the “lures” they use to attract prey. You can clearly see this structure in Phil’s photo, but the organs that give handfish their names - both common and scientific - are of course the amazing hand-like pectoral fins. While a handfish can use its tail to swim in short bursts, it relies on the pectoral fins to “walk” along the seafloor where it lives. Because these fish are mainly sedentary and don’t move very far, they usually live in small population clusters. In fact, a new population of Red Handfish were recently discovered off of Tasmania, doubling the known world population to a total of around eighty individuals. Handfishes live exclusively in the Australian region.

Being such a rare type of fish, handfish have been a sought after species for Phil to photograph. In 2008, he and a friend “spent an uncomfortable 80 mins diving in a cold, dirty river and I actually managed to photograph [a Spotted Handfish]. At the time, there were almost no photos of this species, so this was quite a find for me to photograph.”

He was able to photograph a Red Handfish in 2010 (see below) with the help of a friend and a woman who works with the fish, and  

Since then, I have followed the usual progression as a semi-serious underwater photographer to upgrade my equipment to something with a much higher resolution and have been keen to head back and shoot the Red Handfish again. A few weeks ago I finally managed to find some time down in Tasmania to go for my Handfish hunt. Thankfully I managed to find one about 15 minutes into the dive, when I was still warm and functional.  The conditions were very good, so this shot is substantially better than my last effort. Once you manage to hit them with enough light, their eyes glow a beautiful gem blue colour, which I think looks incredible. My next challenge is to re-shoot the Spotted Handfish in a higher resolution too.

Phil began to upload some of his fantastic fish photos to iNaturalist after Mark McGrouther (@markmcg), who runs the Australasian Fishes project on iNat, suggested he do so.

I am a regular diver on a part of the Australian coastline that doesn’t really have a lot of good observational data in the last decade, so I felt that I should start putting some of my photos to good use. iNaturalist has certainly made me more focussed on certain dives where I am attempting to shoot one of everything for a local species list. It is amazing how some common species that I usually don’t attempt to photograph are actually incredibly hard to shoot well. The Eastern Wirrah is a classic example of this. Challenges like this now inspire me to try and shoot good ID profile shots of these species as cleanly as possible.

I think citizen science projects such as iNaturalist will play an important role heading forward as climate change really starts to make a significant impact on species distribution.  I am hoping I can continue to make a contribution in this space for many years to come.

- by Tony Iwane


- Check out this short video about the discovery of this new Red Handfish population.

- The Australasian Fishes project has been a great boon for iNat participation in Australia. Look at the growth of Australian observations after it got started in 2016! If you’re an underwater photographer, we’d love to have more fish photos!

Posted on May 18, 2018 09:26 PM by tiwane tiwane | 3 comments | Leave a comment

May 30, 2018

Mountain Goat Molts, iNat Photos, and Climate Change

iNat is a great resource for collecting occurrence data, and some are even using it to collect behavioral data, but what about...goat molting data?

That’s exactly what Dr. Katarzyna “Kate” Nowak (@katzyna), a Fellow at The Safina Center, and Dr. Joel Berger,  a Professor at Colorado State University, are attempting with their Mountain Goat Molting Project, on both iNaturalist and CitSci.org. “What we are planning is to explore the relationship between climatic warming and coat shedding in mountain goats across their range and over as many decades as possible,” says Dr. Nowak.

Our project will rely on citizen photography. We are after goat photos that are time and location stamped and clearly show shed phase (can be pre- or post-molt so not limited to molt phase). Ideally, but not required, photo resolution is high (300 dpi), and scanned images from film are of course welcome.

Using software, they will then map the goat’s fur (see above) and determine how much of its winter coat is left. By referencing the dates and locations of each photo, Nowak and Berger can begin to understand the effects of climate change on the mountains’ denizens.  

Kate has already found about eighty usable photos on iNaturalist and will be searching archives at Glacier and Denali National Parks as well as Yukon College more images. And throughout the summer she’ll travel in the Yukon to photograph goats, as citizen science photos from that part of the animal’s range are scarce (see below).

“Behind the project - which I should say we are only just starting - is a transdisciplinary team of people,” explains Dr. Nowak. They are working with Greg Newman from CitSci.org, Kate’s sister Joanna who is a professional photographer, and Shane Richards, an ecological modeler who works for both the Australian government (CSIRO) and the University of Tasmania.

While this project has just begun, and might seem a bit niche at first glance, Kate says it’s just the first step towards a goal of “[engaging] people on the topic of climate change in a new way and [to] also evaluate if we can track change over time using citizen photography.”

It’s awesome to see everyone out there finding new and innovative uses of iNaturalist, so if you would like to support this project, please submit your photos of Mountain Goats (Oreamnos americanus) to iNaturalist and license them for Creative Commons usage, and they will show up in the Mountain Goat Molt Project.  

- by Tony Iwane


- The Mountain Goat Molt project is supported by the Wildlife Conservation Society and the Yellowstone to Yukon Conservation Initiative.

- Top photo by Steve Wagner, CC BY-NC. https://www.inaturalist.org/observations/8803799.

- If you or someone you know is utilizing iNaturalist in a creative way, definitely share in the comments below!

Posted on May 30, 2018 05:52 PM by tiwane tiwane | 2 comments | Leave a comment