Journal archives for October 2018

October 02, 2018

Welcome, Amanda!

It took a bit longer than expected, but we finally managed to hire another software engineer, so please welcome Amanda Bullington to the iNat community! Amanda will be leading us into new technological territory as we re-implement Seek in React Native, a mobile development framework that enables code sharing between Android and iPhone apps, and will allow us to reuse some of the code we use on the website as well. Hopefully she'll also be working on the many other parts of our infrastructure that rely on Javascript (website, API, etc.). In addition to being an avid hiker, Amanda is a triathlete, speaks Mandarin, and seems to be an expert in optimizing credit cards for travel bonuses, so she brings a lot to the team (I, by comparison, can run a mile, mispronounce "ni hao," and put credit cards into little boxes to get groceries, but that's about it). Anyway, we're all super excited to have Amanda onboard and are looking forward to working with her!

Posted on October 02, 2018 07:57 PM by kueda kueda | 19 comments | Leave a comment

October 03, 2018

New collection project filters

We've just finished another round of updates for collection projects. A little over a month ago we announced some changes to collection and umbrella projects related to joining and displaying these newer projects on observation details pages. The updates being released today allow further customization of collection projects through the use of new types of filters.

Since launch, collection project managers have been able to specify multiple taxon, place, and user filters to limit which observations are shown in the project. Today we are allowing managers to specify the inverse of these filters. For example in the case of taxa, you could always create a taxon filter of Lepidoptera, and now you can "exclusion filter" for the taxon Papilionoidea. That would result in a project that shows observations of all Lepidoptera (moths and butterflies) except the Papilionoidea (butterflies) - effectively a project of moths.

It was possible to achieve this same outcome without exclusion filters, but you would have needed to create 42 taxon filters - one for each subfamily of Lepidoptera except Papilionoidea. With exclusion filters you only need to create 2 taxon filters - one for including Lepidoptera and one for excluding Papilionoidea.

These exclusion filters also apply to places (e.g. observations from the United States except California, Oregon, and Washington), and to users (e.g. observations from all users except these users).

Another new filter option for collection projects is annotation terms and values. Project managers can now choose to include observations which have annotations of a particular attribute (e.g. life stage), or a particular attribute and value (e.g life stage = adult). Currently there is a limit of one annotation filter per project, but this could be expanded over time to combine multiple filters, including an exclusion filter for annotations (e.g observations with a life stage = adult annotation, without a sex annotation).

We hope these new filters make it easier and faster to customize collection projects. As always we will continue to work on more improvements based on your feedback and we'll let you know when anything noteworthy is released.

Posted on October 03, 2018 03:19 AM by pleary pleary | 14 comments | Leave a comment

October 12, 2018

A Birder's Observation Extends the Range of a Fiddler Crab by 240 km

A common theme among iNaturalist users is that they might have started out with an interest in one or two taxa (e.g. birds or plants), but once they start opening their eyes to the life around them, their interests grow and diversify. I can personally attest to this as I am now stooping over  to photograph lichens and slime molds when, not long ago, anything without scales or spinnerets was of little interest to me.

This past June, iNaturalist user @tracyk2 visited the Bolsa Chica Ecological Reserve in southern California to do some bird watching, but she also took notice of fiddler crabs scampering about on the beach. She snapped some photos and uploaded them to iNat, identifying them as Mexican Fiddler Crabs (Leptuca crenulata), a species that has been recorded in the area.

iNaturalist Co-direct Scott Loarie (@loarie) came across her observation and, drawing from Dr. Michael Rosenberg’s (@msr) comment here, believed at least some of her crabs to be Large Mexican Fiddler Crabs (Uca princeps), a species never before recorded in the United States. Scott then notified Michael about Tracy’s sighting and asked him to take a look.

“I happen to be one of the world's experts on fiddler crab systematics (a legacy of my dissertation) and have gradually become known as the go-to-guy on iNat for questions on this group,” explains Michael. After looking at Tracy’s observation, he says “I immediately realized that this was novel to California and the US. It was when I pointed this out in the thread that the excitement built and others started looking for them, leading not only to additional confirmations of the species at that particular site, but now in other sites [see photo below] in California as well.” Other scientists who study crustaceans urged Michael to write a short research note about this range extension. And so he did.

In the publication, Michael notes that while this species has been observed slowly creeping up the coast of Baja California, Tracy’s observation is approximately 240 km further north than any previous record. The cause of this expansion, according to the paper, is likely El Niño events and warming temperatures, but “it is not likely to extend much further up the coast of California without major changes to ocean temperatures and currents.”

Michael joined iNaturalist nearly eight years ago, telling me “As a biologist who occasionally falls into OCD-like efforts to track certain things, iNaturalist appealed to me as a better way of staying on top of bird lists or mammal lists, which at the time I just had in spreadsheets.” He also found it to be a good place for him to share his nature photos.

From the perspective of a researcher, Michael says that citizen science endeavors such as iNaturalist provide “ a volunteer workforce making observations (and who can even occasionally be directed to make specific types of observations) on a scale that the formal scientific endeavor simply cannot support in any manner,” with the caveat that “identifications can sometimes be sketchy and there is a limited amount of data cleaning that can be done if one wanted to truly cross-check whether the observations are accurate...To be fair, many other ‘traditional’ sources of data can be just as messy...so it's not a problem unique to citizen science…

I suspect that most scientists currently under-appreciate how much data these endeavors are creating and how useful they might be. I haven't formally tried to create a research project based on iNaturalist data (the U. princeps observation was a fortuitous accident), but it is in my mind that the data might just be waiting there to answer the right questions if we just think to pose them.


-Male Fiddler crabs use their enormous major claw for gestures, both in combat with other males and when courting females. Here is a video, shot in San Diego, of the latter behavior.

Photo credits - Top, @tracyk2; Bottom, @thumbwave.

Posted on October 12, 2018 11:06 PM by tiwane tiwane | 8 comments | Leave a comment

October 16, 2018

How does iNaturalist Count Taxa?

A common question to both help@inaturalist.org and the iNaturalist Google Group is why the species counts on Your Observations are different from species counts elsewhere on the site such as your Life List.

Unfortunately, counting species has some subtle complexities that make this trickier to explain that we'd like. On top of that, Life List functionality on iNaturalist works quite a bit differently than the Your Observation functionality which complicates things further.

We wrote a tutorial to try to explain some of these complexities about how iNaturalist counts taxa. We also provide some steps for how to sync up your Life List count with the count displayed on Your Observations. Read more

Posted on October 16, 2018 07:21 PM by loarie loarie | 23 comments | Leave a comment

October 26, 2018

A Western Brown Snake is Removed from Behind a TV - Observation of the Week, 10/26/18

Our Observation of the Week is this Western Brown Snake, beautifully photographed by @outstar79 in Australia!

“The glorious thing about being a snake catcher and having friends that are also snake catchers [is that] we not only get to come across our more misunderstood and maligned reptiles, we also get to witness their true behavioural traits and some of the more unusual circumstances we may find them in,” says Australian Adam Brice (@outstar79), when telling the story behind the above photo.

This fella was caught up behind a homeowner's television set that was wall mounted 1.5m high. By using a low cabinet it was able to then reach up and find a safe place to retreat to (albeit unusually high safe place!). The photo itself was taken just before being released away from any potential further human-snake interaction.

Although its common name lacks the standard words we might associate with venomous snake - cobra, viper, rattlesnake, adder, etc. - the Western Brown Snake actually “belongs to a family of snakes responsible for the most snake bite related deaths in Australia,” explains Adam. “However despite this, they are an extremely shy and skittish snake that (like all snakes) just prefer to be left alone.”

Western Brown Snakes are highly variable in color and pattern, and are similar to the Eastern Brown Snake, but have a blue/purple mouth lining rather than the Eastern Brown’s pink one (we don’t encourage you to get close in order to get an ID, however). They can be found in many different dry habitats and enjoy hiding under rocks, logs, human detritus, and apparently behind televisions. Members of the Elapidae family, brown snakes are related to cobras, sea snakes, and coral snakes, and are considered to have the most potent venom of any land snakes aside from Australia’s own Inland Taipan. Unlike vipers, elapids have fixed, rather than hinged, front fangs.

Adam (above, photographing this South-western Carpet Python) was raised in rural Western Australia and says “part of growing up in the country really is you certainly get to experience more of nature as they are literally at your doorstep. Spent many hours hiking through the bushland growing up finding all sorts of critters!” He plans on furthering his education at university and hopes to find something in the wildlife/conservation field that will mesh well with his professional and family life.

Regarding his outstanding reptile and amphibian photography, Adam tells me that he likes to capture some of the animal’s environment in his photos, and that it’s important for him to get down to the same level as the creature. Also, “for many of the subjects I photograph the eyes are just so unique that they need showcasing themselves!”

“iNaturalist has been a great resource so far in seeing the contributions from other ‘iNaturalists’ [and] being able to help with identifications and see reptiles (and other animals) in habitat throughout the varying regions,” says Adam. “I personally use it now to log my observations as it's a great way of keeping track of those species I've ticked off the list (that we all have really) :)”

- by Tony Iwane


- You can see more of Adam’s photos and read his blog here!

- While Australia is home to many of the most venomous snakes on Earth, very few humans actually die from snakebites there. Here’s an article about regions of the world where snakebites are a very significant medical issue, due often to more agrarian lifestyles and reduced access to medical care.  

Posted on October 26, 2018 10:41 PM by tiwane tiwane | 7 comments | Leave a comment

October 30, 2018

Welcome, Abhas!

Remember how we said we were hiring a developer and a designer? Well, we finally hired Abhas Misraraj as our new visual / UX / product designer, so please welcome him to our ever-expanding community! Abhas has that rare combination of design chops and a background in wildlife biology, plus he has Bay Area roots at UC Berkeley, just like iNaturalist itself. He's also an avid gamer like Alex, a Harry Potter fan like Ken-ichi (and also Alex), and really wants to talk to you about everything like Scott. Did I mention he has the same credit card as Amanda? He's either a great fit with the team or a very, very thorough researcher, or, of course, both. Regardless, we're impressed. Abhas will initially be working on new developments with Seek, but we'll be relying on him for almost all work that has visuals, which basically means everything on iNat we all use every day. No pressure! We're all psyched to be working with him and looking forward making stuff together!

Posted on October 30, 2018 11:44 PM by kueda kueda | 5 comments | Leave a comment