Journal archives for July 2018

July 06, 2018

Identify Suggestions on Obs Detail Page

We're running a test of using the Suggestions from the Identify tool on the observation detail pages on the web instead of the Identotron (click the button at the bottom of any obs detail page). On the plus side, you don't have to leave the page, you can look at options from observations and vision in addition to just checklists, and you get a little more info about each taxon. On the minus side, no more quirky name, can't peruse a lot of maps at once, no color filtering (not that that was really working). Mostly just posting here as a way to solicit bug reports.

Anyway, if nothing really bad turns up in a few days we'll make this the default. Holler if you find any problems.

Posted on July 06, 2018 11:38 PM by kueda kueda | 31 comments | Leave a comment

July 10, 2018

“My break time is the time for iNat! ;-)”: Observation of the Week, July 10, 2018

Our Observation of the Week is this Clown Stink Bug, seen in South Korea by @wongun!

Sometimes iNaturalist users ask us, or members of our Google Group, if they should take down observations which no one has identified to a family, or genus, or species level. I always tell them you never know who might come along and be able to identify their observation at a later date, and the reason I say this is because of users like wongun.

The insect order Heteroptera, also known as “true bugs,” contains tens of thousands of species and, for a long time on iNaturalist, it would be tough to get IDs on many observations of Heteropterans. Then one day last year I saw that all of a sudden a new user named wongun had started adding identifications, at least to family and genus level and sometimes to species, to many of my languishing bug observations. Others were experiencing the same thing, and it was a great feeling to see some of your older observations get some attention. It’s kind of magical when a stranger halfway across the world helps you learn just a little bit more about what you had observed. And we almost missed having him as an iNaturalist member.

“I accidentally found iNat [while] searching for something,” recalls WonGun Kim.

I used to upload my photos to a local site, but once or at most a few times for each species. Recently, I needed data on when and where I found the species, and I thought iNat was a suitable place...After beginning iNat, I have been studying Heteroptera from over the world for identifying other observations, and such activity in iNat made my knowledge on the Heteroptera broader and more systematic.

In just over a year, WonGun has become an invaluable member of the iNaturalist community, adding nearly thirty thousand identifications to other users’ observations - an incredible number for a difficult taxonomic group. It’s this kind of dedication and generosity that makes iNaturalist run.

And how does he find time to make all of these IDs? Simple: “My break time is the time for iNat! ;-)”

In what has become a common theme among Observation of the Week users, WonGun says he was interested in nature as a child, but that interest until he procured a camera.

Although I was born and grown in the city, I often went to and stayed with my grandparents in the outlands. I learned the names of the plants from my grandfather, a farmer. But I lost my interest in nature after my family lived together in the city. My interest in nature began again about ten years ago due to the development of the digital camera. I began to take photos of flowers and plants, and then my interest moved to the insects. Now, I am mainly interested in true bugs, particularly in the plant bugs.

He was in the field with a colleague and it was his colleague who caught the stunning Clown Stink Bug at the top of the page. “[This] beautiful species has two color forms and is very common in Korea,” he says.

The Clown Stink Bug belongs to the family Scutelleridae, which are also known as “jewel bugs”. While not true Stink Bugs (family Pentatomidae), they can emit an unpleasant odor when threatened, much like their relatives. And like other true bugs they have tubular mouthparts, which they use for feeding on the saps and juices of plants. The Clown Stink Bug’s remarkable iridescence is caused by structures in its exoskeleton which refract and scatter the light. Awesome.

Not only a photographer, WonGun has also written some papers on Korean Heteroptera and is the second author of an illustrated guide to terrestrial Heteroptera of Korea, containing around 490 species. It will be published in a few days.

- by Tony Iwane

- Check out more Clown Stink Bug observations on iNaturalist, which show off both color forms of this species as well as the quite different-looking nymphs!

Sweet footage of a Clown Stink Bug walking around and doing its thing.

Posted on July 10, 2018 11:26 PM by tiwane tiwane | 21 comments | Leave a comment

July 13, 2018

An Interview with @greglasley

If you have posted a bird, dragonfly, or damselfly observation to iNaturalist, odds are that former law enforcement officer and lifelong nature enthusiast Greg Lasley (@greglasley) has added an identification to it. With over 262,000 IDs made for over 13,000 users, Greg is iNaturalist’s current top identifier (@aguilita is a close second) and he has shared a lifetime of knowledge and experience with our with iNaturalist community. The humility and generosity of many in the iNaturalist community really is wonderful.

I had the opportunity to interview Greg this past April during the “Southwest Texas iNat-a-thon” and we discussed his experience with nature photography, how iNaturalist has changed the way he photographs wildlife, and about his ID contributions. A humble man, Greg didn’t have too much to say about that last topic but it was great to hear how he has found a home for decades worth of photographic slides and how documenting species for iNaturalist has changed his habits and objectives when out in the field. Check out the interview below, and look for @briangooding, iNat’s top Odonata identifier, in a brief cameo.

An Interview with @greglasley from iNaturalist on Vimeo.


And here are some related links:

- Greg’s professional nature photography page.

-  An Observation of the Week post we wrote about Greg in 2016.

- A Texas Parks and Wildlife video that features Greg at about 3:30.

Posted on July 13, 2018 10:10 PM by tiwane tiwane | 47 comments | Leave a comment

July 17, 2018

A Snail with a "Bubble Raft" - Observation of the Week, 7/16/18

Our Observation of the Week is this Violet Sea Snail, seen in Brazil by @deboas!

Ben Phalan (deboas) is currently residing in the Brazil, where he is a visiting professor at the Federal University of Bahia, but he’s taken quite a route to get there. Originally from rural Ireland, Ben says “I’ve been a naturalist for as long as I can remember...I was free to spend the entire day out exploring woods, fields, ponds and a large garden. My parents were very supportive, and were unfazed when I filled my bedroom with fungi, ferns, jars housing tadpoles and caterpillars, old skulls, discarded fragments of birds’ eggshells, and whatever else captured my interest.”

While his interests covered nearly all taxa, Ben says he “found it most satisfying when I could put a name to what I had found...and I think I ended up focusing most on birds because of the satisfaction of being able to identify them to species level.” He joined what is now BirdWatch Ireland and eventually learned to band birds, even venturing to Bird Island off of South Georgia to band albatrosses. Ben thanks his many mentors over the years, including John Marsh, the late Oscar Merne, and Alyn Walsh.

Switching gears to study “the effects of agricultural expansion and intensification on biodiversity in Ghana, West Africa” for his PhD, Ben has travelled to West Africa several times, “recently to lead an expedition in search of the enigmatic Liberian Greenbul (a species that was described in the early 1980s, but which – partly thanks to blood samples I collected in Liberia – we now know was never a valid species).”

And after stints in Cambridge, England and Corvallis, Oregon, Ben has found himself in Salvador, Brazil, where he says “the incredible biodiversity of the Brazilian Atlantic Forest and Caatinga is sure to keep me occupied for years!” And that biodiversity includes, of course pelagic snails that might wash up on the beach:

I was walking with my wife and dog along a beach in Salvador and started to notice beautiful little blue sea snails (Janthina) washed up along the tideline. I’d left my smartphone at home for safety, but luckily my wife had hers and I was able to document a few of the snails. I had heard about these ocean wanderers, but this was the first time I was lucky enough to see one...There were also some small Portuguese Men o’ War washed up, which is one of the prey species of Janthina, and some shells which I took to be from a gastropod. In fact, the shells were from a deep-water, bioluminescing squid-like creature called Spirula, which is the only member of its Order.

Look closely at Ben’s snail photos and you will notice a mass of bubblies by the shell’s opening - this is its “bubble raft,” which the animal uses to stay afloat in the open ocean. It “collects” the bubbles in transparent layers of chiton and, as Ben notes, “incredibly, for a species that spends its life on the open sea, the adults can’t swim. If they get detached from their bubble raft, they’ll sink and die.” The snails do feed on hydrozoans like the Portuguese Man o’ War and By-the-wind Sailor and like many other marine life are countershaded - one side of the shell is dark purple, the other whitish.

“The feeling of contributing to something bigger is the main thing that attracted me to [iNaturalist],” says Ben (above, checking out some large fungi in Oregon). “I like being able to learn more about the species I encounter, and it makes me especially happy to know that my observations become part of GBIF and can be used by researchers worldwide.” He’s also begun adding old observations from his time in Africa and admits “I spend probably more time than I should adding identifications. I tend to focus on birds in Brazil, but occasionally dabble in other taxa and regions as well. It’s especially satisfying to find and correct misidentifications. I have definitely learned a lot through doing this.”

- by Tony Iwane. Photo of Ben Phalan by Luciana Leite.

- You can find Ben’s publications here

- You want to watch a Janthina snail make a bubble raft, right?

- Ben still manages BioBlitz projects in Corvallis, Oregon from Brazil, like this one

Posted on July 17, 2018 01:43 AM by tiwane tiwane | 1 comment | Leave a comment

July 18, 2018

Join Our Team!

Folks, we are hiring, not one, but two positions on our team of nature nerds, and we'd definitely like to see some applicants from our own community.

UX Designer

Alas, Joelle decided to move on to greener pastures this summer, so we are looking for someone to fill her shoes. Our designer works with our team on a variety of tasks, including visual design, interaction design, user research, and visual asset development (e.g. icons, logos, promotional material). In the past, our designer has worked closely with engineers to develop and refine new features, and, like all members of the team, our designer participates in new product development discussions. Ideally, we're looking for someone with at least a few years of professional experience, and we'd prefer someone based in the San Francisco Bay Area (but will consider folks from elsewhere). Experience with visual and interaction design for software is a must, strength in information visualization and iconography a big plus.

Apply to be an iNaturalist UX designer

Software Engineer

We're looking for a coder with Javascript experience, particularly with React and React Native. This person would be pioneering the use of React Native for new mobile projects (particularly Seek), and most likely working on front-end React applications on the website. Knowledge of native iOS and Android development environments would very useful too, as would basic web development experience. Again, our preference is for candidates in the Bay Area, but we'll certainly consider folks from elsewhere (we all work from home most of the time, two of our staff are in the eastern US, and @budowski is an international man of mystery, so we're pretty comfortable with remotes).

Apply to be an iNaturalist software engineer

Anyway, if this sounds like you, please apply, and if it sounds like someone you know, please tell them to apply! And of course, please share on social media!

Also, the elephant seals barely visible in the background of the photo are not on the team. You don't get to work with elephant seals, sorry.

Posted on July 18, 2018 08:12 PM by kueda kueda | 29 comments | Leave a comment

July 19, 2018

National Moth Week, July 21-29, 2018

Their relatives the butterflies usually get all the attention, but moths make up the vast majority (about 90%) of species of the insect order Lepidoptera and their abundance, diversity, and beauty are pretty staggering.

Even cooler is that many moths are famously attracted to lights (although nobody really knows why), which makes “mothing” - yes, mothing - an easy and fun way to see a bunch of cool insects and make some iNat observations. And now is a great time to do it because National Moth Week is coming up from July 21st - 29th and there are mothing events all over the world, so see if there’s one near you. If you can’t find one in your area, here are some tips for finding them, and iNat users @finatic and @damontighe have also shared their own DIY moth light set-ups here and here.

All moths observed during National Moth Week will be added to the main National Moth Week project and any relevant regional project. Big shout out to @jacobgorneau for taking the time and effort to set these all up!

And as if you needed more motivation, the iNat team always sets up moth lights during our retreats and we saw a beautiful Ceanothus Silk Moth this past March, a lifer for nearly all of us! Above is footage of @kueda taking some photos of it as well as a close-up of the moth the next morning.

If anyone has any mothing tips or stories, please write them in the comments below!

Posted on July 19, 2018 05:55 PM by tiwane tiwane | 2 comments | Leave a comment

July 20, 2018

(Belated) Observation of the Week, 6/1/18

Our (Belated) Observation of the Week is this group of Phallus luteus mushrooms, seen in Thailand by dawanofmemories!

iNat users have busy lives so sometimes it can take awhile for them to respond for Observation of the Week - and sometimes it can take awhile for me to post it - so here are some cool fungi from Dawan in Thailand!

While we often imagine cool nature finds occurring in exotic, pristine nature preserves, one thing that iNaturalist has proven, which the above photo illustrates, is that you can come across amazing organisms anywhere, even during our decidedly non-nature-centric jobs.

Dawan Kraithong (@dawanofmemories), who found these mushrooms, tells me that her interest in nature stems from her childhood, taught to her mainly by her father. “I am interested in the names...of everything that lives and grows,” she says. A receptionist for a swimming pool in Bangkok, Dawan noticed the Phallus luteus mushrooms “sprouting from the ground” near a patch of bamboo her employer had planted.

The genus name Phallus is, of course, derived from the phallic-looking fruiting bodies of these remarkable fungi, which belong to the family Phallaceae - commonly known as stinkhorns. Unlike most of the mushrooms we are familiar with, which release their spores into the air, stinkhorns instead have a sticky gleba, or spore-producing mass, on the cap. No airborne spores here. Instead, they rely on insects such as flies and ants to land or amble on the gleba and transport the spores which have now stuck to their feet. And one of the best ways to attract flies is to smell like putrefying flesh. Thus, their common name.

The distinctive lacy, net-like structure hanging from the cap of the mushroom is called the indusium. No one is quite sure exactly what its evolutionary purpose is, but one hypothesis posits that it helps crawling insects like beetles and ants find their way to the sticky cap and cover themselves in spores.

Although a recent member of iNaturalist, Dawan (above) has contributed some pretty great finds, like this Blue Crested Lizard. “I use i Naturalist to improve my own interest and learn more about what I see in nature,” she says. “It is my hobby.”

- by Tony Iwane

- Here’s some cool footage of flies and other insects walking all over the glea of a Phallus duplicatus mushroom.

- Before they attain their distinctive shape, young fruiting bodies of Phallus fungi look like little eggs, and if cut open the jelly-like glea can be seen. There’s a nice photo of it here.

Posted on July 20, 2018 10:59 PM by tiwane tiwane | 0 comments | Leave a comment

July 24, 2018

“A duty became a pleasure and passion and I found myself going outdoors more often than ever before.” - Observation of the Week, 7/23/18

This Violet Carpenter Bee, seen in the Czech Republic by @boromir, is our Observation of the Week!

“I think I have always liked taking photos of wildlife when on holiday, but the photos just ended up on the computer disk not - shared with anyone and soon forgotten by me too,” says Miroslava Borovcová - Mirka for short - a secondary school English teacher in the small town of Vysoke Mýto in the east of Bohemia, the Czech Republic.

That changed, however, in 2016 when she started working on Plugging into Nature with New Technologies, an Erasmus+ and eTwinning project. “The idea of the project,” she says, “is ‘let’s accept that the teens can’t imagine their lives without new technologies so why don’t we encourage them to go outdoors with their smartphones and cameras, observe and capture the wildlife and determine the observations using mobile applications.’” She found iNaturalist through this program and decided to try it out with her classes.

As I wanted to set an example to my students, I became an iNaturalist [user] myself and started taking photos of wildlife whenever I went outdoors. Originally a duty became a pleasure and passion and I found myself going outdoors more often than ever before. It is amazing to watch how many different species live close to us and determining them using iNaturalist is quite easy even for me, a complete amateur. I started noticing and admiring all possible tiny flowers that I just did not see before.

In 2017, Mirka planted some levanda (lavender) plants by her house and has been amazed by the number of insects they attract.  

I like observing them, I love the noise they make and of course I love the levanda smell probably as much as they do. When I saw the violet carpenter bee, I was absolutely fascinated. I took lots of photos of it - since it was moving all the time and I have just a common automatic digital camera, I was not very optimistic about the results. Later that day, when I had downloaded the snaps on the computer, I was looking at one photo after another and deleting them as not satisfactory ones, when finally the good one was on the screen - pretty good one in fact. I was overjoyed and uploaded it immediately on iNaturalist. When I checked iNaturalist in the evening and found out it was chosen as the observation of the day, I was surprised and really happy.

Ranging through continental Europe and Asia, the Violet Carpenter Bee gets its name from the purple sheen of its wings and is a large insect that averages about 22mm in length. Like nearly all other Carpenter Bees, pregnant females chew tunnels into dead wood where they create cells for their young. In each cell is an egg as well as a pollen ball - a protein-rich feast for the larva which emerges. Once it’s eaten its fill, the larva will go through complete metamorphosis. Despite their intimidating size, these bees are not aggressive.

Mirka (above, in Portugal, where she is enjoying a holiday) explains “I just love iNaturalist as a great way of sharing. It is great to be a part of the giant team and the interactions are fantastic - sometimes even before uploading the last of the day' s catches, there are the first determinations and responses from the other inaturalists.” She and her students have contributed several hundred observations to iNaturalist and you can see their projects here. Although it’s summer break now, Mirka says “I believe that in September when we are all back at school and when they learn about the violet carpenter bee from me, they will become more enthusiastic about iNaturalist and more involved.”

- by Tony Iwane. Some of Mirka’s quotes have been lightly edited for clarity.

- Watch a Violet Carpenter Bee get at some wood!

- Mirka and her students are monitoring the biodiversity of a bike path in their town!

- Some Carpenter Bees, as well as other nectar eaters, engage in a practice known as nectar robbing - avoiding the reproductive parts of the flower to get straight at the nectar!

- Violet Carpenter Bees are slowly expanding northward and started to show up in the British Isles just over a decade ago

- Check out a previous bee-related Observation of the Week from @exonie last March, which includes a side-view of a Mason Bee’s nest - similar to that of a Carpenter Bee. 

Posted on July 24, 2018 04:29 AM by tiwane tiwane | 0 comments | Leave a comment