Journal archives for August 2018

August 05, 2018

Parasitic Molds - Observation of the Week, 8/5/18

Our Observation of the Day is this Syzygites megalocarpus mold, seen in New York by @tbigelow!

Molds can be pretty beneficial to humans - think Penicillum for both blue cheese and antibiotics - but they can also be detrimental, causing ringworm on our skin or forcing us to throw out the remainder of that loaf of bread.  Many other organisms are affected my molds, and in the case of Syzygites megalocarpus that includes their fellow fungi.

Tom Bigelow, who is the current president of the New York Mycological Society, took the above photograph while on an NYMS walk in Harriman State Park back in the summer of 2013. “[It’s] a common parasite that attacks a variety of fungi - I most often encounter it on boletes,” says Tom. “The infected bolete [in this case] had a very long stipe, so the sporangiophores hang down like hair…”

Syzygites megalocarpus, as Tom notes, is a mold that that parasitizes other fungi, especially those we think of as “mushrooms.” When a spore lands on a suitable host, such as a mushroom, it extends hyphae into it. These hyphae use enzymes to break down the mushroom’s flesh, the components of which are absorbed by the mold. When Syzygites megalocarpus is ready to reproduce, it grows sporangiophores on the surface of the mushroom. At first they are often white or bright yellow before eventually hanging down and attaining a more grayish pallor. The spores at the ends will be picked up by the wind, in the hopes of chancing upon another host. Molds like this are integral to many ecosystems, as they contribute greatly to decomposition

“I was drawn to the NYMS the same way most people come to amateur mycology: an interest in learning how to find and identify edible wild mushrooms,” explains Tom. “It was under the influence of the NYMS’s guiding light, Gary Lincoff, author of The Audubon Guide to Mushrooms, that my interests quickly expanded. With Gary’s guidance and encouragement, the NYMS began an intensive survey, about 7 years ago, of fungi occurring in New York City. We now hold weekly walks in city parks all year round.”

The society began participating in the North American Mycoflora Project this year, which, as Tom (pictured above) explains, is

a collaboration between professional and amateur mycologists that aims to systematically document fungi in North America. Participating clubs document their collections using an online platform (our club uses iNaturalist!); collect specimens for deposit in an herbarium (in our case, the New York Botanical Garden); collect tissue samples for DNA sequencing.

iNaturalist is not only the online platform for NYMS’s contributions to the mycoflora project, he says “it is an excellent way for me to archive my photos which I have been amassing for the 10 years that I’ve been seriously interested in observing and collecting fungi.” Here’s hoping for more amazing fungal photos from Tom’s archives!

- by Tony Iwane


- If you’re interested in posting mushroom observations to iNaturalist, our Introduction to Mushrooming video has some advice and tips from @leptiona!

- Game of Molds is a great fungal take on Game of Thrones’ epic opening title sequence. 

- This blog post has some cool facts about Syzygites megalocarpus mold.

- NYMS has several iNaturalist projects, which can be found here, here, and over here.

- Is it safe to eat moldy bread? 

Posted on August 05, 2018 07:51 PM by tiwane tiwane | 11 comments | Leave a comment

August 10, 2018

“We knew this was the sighting of a lifetime.” - Observation of the Week, 8/10/18

Our Observation of the Week is this sequence of photos depicting a Black-breasted Snake Eagle scarfing down a Cape Cobra on the wing! Seen in South Africa by @happyasacupcake.

When I look through faved observations to find the Observation of the Day and see a photo capturing a cool behavior or interaction, odds are good the photo was taken by Copper, who goes by happyasacupcake on iNaturalist. And when I saw the above photo and the rest of the series, I just had to choose it.

Kgalagadi [Transfrontier Park] is one of our favourite game parks, especially for the raptors,” explains Copper.

We noticed the snake eagle with the cobra as it flew up from the ground. We were lucky beyond belief in that it didn’t fly away, but flew slow circles over a clear area close to the road. Every time it flew towards us I took more shots. When I look at the time it took to take the photographs, I can’t believe it was only three minutes. It was so exciting and so charged! We knew this was the sighting of a lifetime.

While it seems kind of inconceivable, this behavior is pretty standard for black-breasted snake eagles. They do prey mainly on snakes but will take lizards and other small vertebrates. Like many other raptors, they dive swiftly and grab their prey with sharp talons, which are protected with thick scales. After crushing or tearing off the snake’s head, these eagles do often swallow the animal whole while in flight.

In this case the prey was a cape cobra, a diurnal serpent equipped with powerful venom. It hunts a variety of small vertebrates and its habit of hanging out near buildings does mean that people and Cape Cobras do run into each other. In addition to snake eagles, honey badgers, meerkats and and secretary birds will also hunt the cape cobra.

When I asked Copper how he was able get so many amazing behavioral photos (check out his most-faved observations for some examples), he told me “I’m on the lookout for them all the time, that is when I learn the most,” and advised:

  • “Patience is key. Usually the animals have to settle down from your intrusion before being themselves again.”

  • “Always being ready to take a shot. You never know when a raptor is going to do something amazing.”  

  • “[Go with] a buddy with the same interests. I don’t mean nature broadly, but birds, or snakes, or scorpions.”

He expands on that last tip by saying “I have read lots of tales of woe of plant enthusiasts trying to make observations when they are with reptile enthusiasts.”

While he was always interested in nature, Copper says it was retirement and a move which allowed him the opportunity to start exploring and photographing it.  “I spent decades with my nose pinned to a computer screen working on spreadsheets, accounts and maps,” he recalls. “When we retired, we moved to a conservancy close to Kruger National Park and found a whole new world on our doorstep just waiting for us...Birds will probably always be my first love. But I became more interested in insects and spiders when I saw the amazing observations on iNat. One day in April I decided to take a walk around the house and do my best to photograph every small creature I saw. I couldn’t believe how many different, fascinating things I saw. I am well and truly hooked.

There is no question that iNat has changed the way I interact with the natural world. I find that now instead of just assessing whether something is ‘pretty’ or not, I’m much more inclined to stop and watch. I have much more respect for the natural world...There is nothing scientific about what I do, I just have a love of nature which iNat has flamed into an obsession! I now get triple enjoyment from the things I see, firstly the sighting, then working through the photos, and finally, sharing the observation with people who are interested. I value the identifications, the information available, and the fact that in some small way I may be helping.

- by Tony Iwane


- Make sure to take a look at the entire series of snake eagle photos that Copper posted!

- A brown snake eagle confronts a snouted cobra at Kruger National Park!

- A sea eagle wrestles with a sea snake in mid-air! 

Posted on August 10, 2018 08:25 PM by tiwane tiwane | 15 comments | Leave a comment

August 17, 2018

A Sea Cucumber that’s an Apple? - Observation of the Week, 8/17/18

Our Observation of the Week is this Violet Sea Apple, seen off of Taiwan by @huang_shu_chen!

You might have noticed that the number observations from Taiwan have been growing quite a bit (see chart below), showing off the incredible biodiversity of the island and its surroundings. Much of this growth has has been spurred by a community of both researchers and citizen scientists, one of whom is Cheng-Tao Lin (@mutolisp), the current top observer in Taiwan and an Assistant Professor in the Department of Biological Resources at National Chiayi University. Prof. Lin has graciously translated the responses from this week’s observer, so I want to thank him and Shu-Chen for collaborating on this.

huang_shu_chen (whom I’ll refer to as Shu-Chen), is a diving volunteer for the National Museum of Marine Science and Technology in Keelung, Taiwan, and says “My partner and I (see below) do routine underwater work about coral reef restoration, patrol and investigation, and assist in recording species to create a marine diversity checklist. In addition to these routine tasks, I will also take photos of these beautiful marine creatures.”

The beautiful Violet Sea Apple you see above was taken by Shu-Chen during her first dive using an underwater camera with a flash, and she tells me

it is also the first time I saw such a fascinating and gorgeous sea cucumber, just the same as its name, “red apple”. It’s a pity that I did not meet its “flowering” state (when it stretches tentacles to catch plankton). If I had a chance to see its flower, I will upload it to iNat again!

As Shu-Chen says, these creatures are sea cucumbers, although we use a different vegetative term to describe them (apple) due to their more round shape than your standard sea cucumber. The “flowering” behavior she describes is how the creature catches plankton, by extending its frilly tentacles into the water. And like many other sea cucumbers, violet sea apples can expel parts of their sticky innards into the water when threatened, allowing a predator to concentrate on its entrails rather than the rest of its body. If that doesn’t work, they also have two tricks up their sleeves: they can release a toxin known as holothurin (a type of saponin) into the water, and they can also ingest water, allowing them to double in size and use currents and gravity to sweep them to a new home.

Shu-Chen (above) has recently joined iNaturalist, and says

my photos of nature were just silently stored in my own computer disks in the past, but since I learned about iNaturalist platform, and that observation data uploaded to iNaturalist would become part of GBIF data, I’m so glad that they could be used and studied by other people around the world...I also use iNaturalist to create species checklist at the place where I care and concern. It is really convenient to have iNaturalist to record nature observations, and it motivates me to collect more data.

- by Tony Iwane. 


- Why not take a gander at some of the great observations being made in Taiwan? Here are the faved ones

- Some Pearlfish will use the anus of a sea cucumber as a home and/or eat their gonads. This is true

- Sea cucumbers demonstrate some astonishing diversity, check out observations of them here!

Posted on August 17, 2018 08:49 PM by tiwane tiwane | 6 comments | Leave a comment

August 22, 2018

Updates to collection and umbrella projects

Today we are releasing a couple updates to the newest types of projects - collection and umbrella projects. We first launched these new project types in April, shortly before the City Nature Challenge, to address a few common feature requests for traditional projects.

The most significant difference of collection and umbrella projects compared to traditional projects is the new types do not require observations to be added to a project, rather they automatically feature observations matching the criteria of the project. One downside of the automatic nature of these projects is there is nothing stored in our database saying which projects an observation belongs to. So, since launch, observation details pages have not shown which collection or umbrella projects include an observation. This has been one of the most requested features since the launch of these projects, and starting today you will now be able to see collection and umbrella projects that include an observation from the observation detail page.

Another difference in collection and umbrella projects is they were only able to be “followed” and not “joined” like traditional projects. There were a few reasons for this - mainly that membership to traditional projects only provides a few benefits, most of which don’t apply to collections and umbrellas. For example there is no observation submission for new projects, so obviously the membership-based submission rule of traditional projects does not apply. New projects also do not allow access to private and obscured coordinates, which traditional projects allow via settings on a users’ membership settings.

The second change we are making is a move from the “following” model to a “membership” model just like traditional projects. Membership to new projects still does not allow for the same features as traditional projects (no rules for observation submission, and no access to private or obscured coordinates). But membership sets us up to enable new features in the future, and makes new projects more consistent with traditional projects. One feature consistent across all projects is members can choose to receive updates from the project or not. Essentially a user can now be a “member” of a new project without “following” the project.

These two changes (observation pages show new projects, and projects have members not just followers) are complementary. Since anyone can create a collection project to include any observations they want, it's possible a user’s observations are included in a project they aren’t involved with. So we are limiting the new projects shown on the observation details page to only the projects the observer has joined. This makes the project shown more relevant to the observer, and prevents the observation details page from being “spammed” by undesirable or mis-configured projects.

These changes came out of user feedback on the new project types released in April. We are continuing to improve projects based on your feedback, and will notify you as changes are released. Thanks for your patience and please let us know if you encounter any bugs (of the software kind).

Posted on August 22, 2018 11:16 PM by pleary pleary | 14 comments | Leave a comment

August 24, 2018

Want your area to be in the 2019 City Nature Challenge? Read on!

In April this year, 64 cities across the globe used iNaturalist to compete in the 3rd annual City Nature Challenge. As a result, more than 425,000 observations were made in those places alone in a four-day period.

In 2019, the City Nature Challenge will take place April 26-29. Do you want to be involved? If so, please join a call for onboarding new organizers happening at several different times on Monday, August 27 (call 1, call 2, call 3). Please add your name to this document and note the time and call in information.
Updated: please see the comment below for more info on how to become an organizer.

This is a great opportunity for organizations and motivated individuals to build community and iNaturalist activity in your area, and there are plenty of experienced organizers to learn from during the planning process.

The map below shows cities that participated last year (green) along with the largest city in each country (yellow cities >0.5M population, grey cities <0.5M population). There are plenty of large cities outside of North America that could join! (We didn't add all of the cities where someone has expressed interest for 2019, but you can see here who's already planning to join the August 27/28 calls.

The iNaturalist staff want to acknowledge our gratitude for the massive international organizing effort led by @kestrel (California Academy of Sciences), @lhiggins & @amyjaeckerjones (both at the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County). We just try to provide the infrastructure to enable friendly biodiversity competition!

Posted on August 24, 2018 12:41 AM by carrieseltzer carrieseltzer | 12 comments | Leave a comment

August 27, 2018

Pink Antler Fungus in Brazil - Observation of the Week, 8/26/18

This Clavaria fungus, seen in Brazil by @thiago_mouzinho, is our Observation of the Week!

“During my childhood I really loved leafing through science books to see pictures that showed different forms of life,” recalls Thiago Mouzinho. “At the same time I remember feeling really sad every time a book mentioned Amazon deforestation. This feeling made me want to do something about it.”

Thiago’s desire to help the Amazon rainforest has led him to earn a Bachelor’s degree in Biology at the University of Manaus (Amazonas) and has done several internships with the Institute of Amazonian Research (INPA), focusing on botany. “My aim is contributing to the conservation of the Amazon, that's why I'm interested in doing research focused on restoration and recovery of forest land.”

Looking at Thiago’s observations, however, you’ll see a whole lot of fungi and very few plants. This is due to his passion for fungi, and he says “the lack of studies regarding these organisms in the Amazon make me feel sad…

At the moment, I'm working on a checklist of fungus species of a forest fragment located in Manaus...After that, I will be working on a checklist of fungus species of the Jamari National Forest in Rondônia. I think this work will be very important for the enrichment of fungus species in the Amazon, since in only two months I was able, with the help of my colleagues, to register more than 200 fungi.

Thiago came across the pink Clavaria fungus pictured above while attending a fungus workshop at the Adolpho Ducke Forest Reserve, explaining “one of the objectives of the workshop was to make records and collections of fungi…[the Clavaria’s] pink coloration and coral shape resulted in a really attractive fungus and immediately caught our eyes. The collection of this individual was deposited in the INPA Fungi Collection (No. 277724. Col: MOUZINHO, TM 02), for future studies of the genus.”

Also known as “antler” or “club” fungi, species in the genus Clavaria are often found in woodlands in the Americas and in grasslands in Europe. They are thought to be decomposers of dead organic material and come in several colors, including white, cream, black, purple, and of course pink.

Thiago (above, in the Jamari National Forest), recently joined iNaturalist and says

[iNaturalist] represented to me an incredible finding: sharing records of biodiversity with the community is absolutely interesting and I am learning a lot about several species of fungi thanks to it...I decided to send my photos because I wanted people to know the diverse species of fungi that exist in the Amazon. As soon as I'm free, I'm happy to share my records with this community.

- by Tony Iwane. Photo of Thiago by Valeria Scura. Some quotes have been lightly edited for clarity.


- There many other great Clavaria observations on iNat!

- Interested in making observations of mushrooms? Check out our Introduction to Mushrooming video!

- Manaus, Brazil also popped up in an Observation of the Week last month!

Posted on August 27, 2018 03:54 AM by tiwane tiwane | 2 comments | Leave a comment

August 29, 2018

So a Bunch of iNatters Meetup in Texas...

While people often refer to iNaturalist as an “app,” it really is also of a community, and that becomes obvious when you hang out with other iNaturalist users in the “real world” and explore nature together.

@sambiology and other Texans planned an iNaturalist meetup in the southwestern part of the state this past April and I was lucky enough to be able to attend. It really was incredible to be among 20+ other folks who will stop a car (safely!) to get a bird ID or revel in chasing down and photographing a new-to-them leaf-footed bug (see footage in the video below). While many of us on iNaturalist might prefer the company of bivalves, mosses, and slime molds to our fellow humans, it can be a lot of fun to bond over our shared interested in wildlife.

So it’s about five months late, but I wanted to share a little video montage I made of this “Southwest Texas iNat-a-Thon” and encourage you to organize meetups of your own. And if you have any stories of making new friends through iNat, definitely share them in the comments!

Southwest Texas iNat-a-thon 2018 from iNaturalist on Vimeo.


- Check out blog posts and interviews with gcwarbler and greglasley which were filmed during this meetup, and also take a gander at in interview with sambiology when he stopped by the California Academy of Sciences.

- Here’s a Collection project of our observations from the iNat-a-thon!

- @kueda wrote an eloquent Observation of the Week post about a previous Texas meetup back in 2016!

Posted on August 29, 2018 04:29 AM by tiwane tiwane | 19 comments | Leave a comment

August 30, 2018

Gecko ID Discussion on iNaturalist Leads to Collaboration and Publication

Because iNaturalist is a global community, we see how naturalists and biologists from around the world have made connections through sharing and discussing observations (sometimes passionately!). Here’s a cool story of how two herpetologists, one in Australia and the other in Colombia, met via iNaturalist and collaborated on a paper together.

It started here:

Yingyod Lapwong (@charliev) disagreed with Juan Daniel Vásquez-Restrepo’s (@juanda037) identification of a Hemidactylus gecko (also known as “house geckos”), which Daniel had found in his home country of Colombia. Yingyod has been using iNaturalist to study the distribution of the widespread Hemidactylus frenatus and was also familiar with another widely distributed Hemidactylus, Hemidactylus garnotii. “After I noticed that [the gecko] should be H. garnotii, I browsed through all observations of Hemidactylus in Colombia and I found several of them had characters of H. garnotii. Then I asked Daniel to capture some geckos to check the chin shields, which is the key character, and it came up in here.”

After some more discussion, Daniel says “since identifications based on photographs are often not reliable we decided to look for evidence in a biological collection. I've worked as assistant in the Museo de Herpetología Universidad de Antioquia (MHUA in Spanish), one of the most important herpetological museums in Colombia, so it was our starting point.”

Daniel examined the collection’s 38 Hemidactylus specimens while Yingyod (pictured above) verified his findings and the two found that five specimens were indeed of H. garnotii; one of them a previously published specimen which had been misidentified and the other four were unpublished records. Furthermore, these specimens date the species’ introduction to Colombia back to at least 2004. The two herpetologists collaborated on a paper, Confirming the presence of a fourth species of non-native house gecko of the genus Hemidactylus Oken, 1817 (Squamata, Gekkonidae) in Colombia, which was published in Check List in August of 2018. You can find a PDF of the article here.

“iNaturalist is very useful for invasive species detection and monitoring,” says Yingyod. “As local biologists might not have experience with newly introduced species, they could easily misidentify them. However, it will be effective if only the numbers of observers and observations are large enough, so the bias of observation efforts is reduced.”  Yingyod has another publication which uses data from iNaturalist coming out this month and explains “I used photographs in iNaturalist to determine clonal composition of a parthenogenetic species in a particular region. Clones of this species can be identified by coloration patterns so that iNaturalist is useful.”

Daniel (above) believes that “collaborative platforms can help monitor biodiversity because it is like having eyes everywhere...Obviously, the amount of data is very large and won’t always have the best quality, for this reason it is necessary first to teach the people of how take the data.” He is collaborating with Instituto Alexander von Humboldt (iNaturalist’s network partner in Colombia) to educate observers and says

The project is named Participative Inventories, and we are working with farmers and people from rural areas to teach them how to monitoring the biodiversity of their forests by themselves. We provide them some cameras and they take the records, then a group of experts in different areas (e.g. plants, mammals, reptiles, birds) help them to identify the records and to upload it to iNat. It is the most beautiful way to do science for the people and with the people.

- by Tony Iwane. Some quotes have been lightly edited for clarity.


- Daniel was featured in an Observation of the Week post from last summer.

- The science behind gecko foot adhesion is pretty amazing.

Posted on August 30, 2018 07:24 PM by tiwane tiwane | 8 comments | Leave a comment