Journal archives for May 2019

May 03, 2019

An Ovipositing Wasp in Russia - Observation of the Week, 5/3/19

Our Observation of the Week is this ovipositing Atanycolus wasp, seen in Russia by ropro!

In my experience, most people associate the word “wasp” with members of the Vespid family, such as hornets and paper wasps. And for good reason, as many of them are large, colorful, often found around humans, and can deliver a painful sting. But the world of wasps is endlessly fascinating, and that includes parasitoid ones such as the Atanycolus wasp seen above.

The photographer, Roman, tells me he came across this individual during mid-August, and it was one of several braconids he found on a fallen birch tree. Fallen birches, he says, are often great places to find wasps, “from Giant ichneumon wasps (Megarhyssa) to such small ones (the one in the picture, about five millimeters). Therefore, if I see a fallen birch, then I will definitely look at it.”

Why so many wasps around an old tree? Well, that’s where they can find food and a home for their young. Many other insects, such as long-horned beetles and some species of lepidoptera, lay their eggs here, and their larvae bore through the wood. Wasps like the Atanycolus photographed by Roman take advantage of this by using their long ovipositors to “drill” into the wood and lay their eggs on these larvae. The wasp larvae then parasitize the larvae of the other insects, either internally or from the outside, and usually wind up killing their hosts. This mother wasp, in fact, was so focused on her work, that Roman explains “it was easy to photograph, because the braconids did not react to my close presence and were inactive. The only difficulty was their small size.”

Always interested in nature, Roman says that ten years ago he bought a digital camera and, “after moving to a new place of residence, where was a large park nearby, I began to photograph insects, plants and birds there.

I have recently started to upload my own observations [to iNaturalist] and I [have] became interested in butterflies and moth of Central and South America here. They are very unusual there [and I am] trying to identify them.

- by Tony Iwane.

- PBS’s Deep Look has a nice video explaining Megarhyssa oviposition.

Posted on May 03, 2019 08:43 PM by tiwane tiwane | 15 comments | Leave a comment

May 13, 2019

A Common Hoopoe forages in Prague - Observation of the Week, 5/12/19

Our Observation of the Week is this Common Hoopoe, seen in the Czech Republic by @lioneska!

“A few years ago, I became seriously interested in birds thanks to one of my friends,” says Gabi Lioneska Uhrova. It took me a long time though to get to know them…[but] I can say that I’ve become a loony (crazy) in observing them and I started to take pictures of them too. I’ve also become a member of the Czech Society for Ornithology.”

After hearing about a Common Hoopoe sighting in Prague, Gabi decided to check out the area after work the next day and started scanning for the bird with her binoculars. After some time she stumbled across it on the path in front of her, no more than twenty meters away, and watched it pick up an insect.

My heart jumped with joy. “Ohh, you are so beautiful, little bird,” I thought to myself. The advantage was that it was quite tame, and its escape distance was short. When disturbed it would fly to a tree and then continue to forage for food again.

Later on a friend of mine, Tereza, joined me to take picture of it. My goal was to lie down and take a picture of it in its natural habitat, grass, which I managed to do thanks to its tame behaviour. After that we just sat there and watched this amazing bird using its long thin beak as tweezers. We were simply so lucky. This is one of my most precious bird observations because I had not seen one in a long time and it is a rare species for me. I was really grateful for this opportunity.

The Common Hoopoe ranges through much of Europe, Asia, and into southern Africa, and as Gabi described, it likes to forage for insects in flat grassy areas. Much of the foraging is done with its long thin beak, with which it probes the ground for insects, and it will raise the crest on its head when excited. Hoopoes nest in tree cavities, or really any cavity on a vertical surface.

In addition to birds, Gabi (above, on the right) loves to photograph and observe butterflies. “During spring and summer season I often make trips to different types of habitats to watch them,” she says. “It isn’t easy to take a good picture of them; it’s always a challenge but I love it, I take my time and enjoy it.”

Gabi first discovered iNaturalist during the 2018 City Nature Challenge, and tells me “Now I upload most of my observations of nature [to iNaturalist]. Sometimes there is no time to do it all at once. I love the application because it is so simple to use, and I have overview of all my observations at one place...If I see a beetle or other interesting insect or a flower, I take picture of them too and post it to iNaturalist or Facebook groups that we have in my country for determination.”

- by Tony Iwane. Some quotes were lightly edited for flow.

- An adult hoopoe feeds its young - in slow motion!

- Some nice footage of foraging hoopoes.

Posted on May 13, 2019 12:39 AM by tiwane tiwane | 20 comments | Leave a comment

May 16, 2019

New Requirements to Sending Messages, Making Projects, and Making Places

We've just made the following changes

1) To send a message you must have 3 verifiable observations or 3 identifications added for others. New users who haven't met this requirement will still be able to reply to messages.
2) To make a traditional project or a place you must have 50 verifiable observations. New users who haven't met this requirement can still make new collection and umbrella projects.

A verifiable observation is an observation that has a date, a location, media evidence (image or sound), and has not been voted captive/cultivated.

There are a few reasons we're doing this, but first and foremost is to emphasize that iNat is about observations and identifications. Everything else is secondary, if not tertiary, and folks who want to use iNat's other features should always understand the iNat experience from the perspective of an observer and/or an identifier. We see a lot of people signing up for iNat and trying to make a project right off the bat, which often leads to some confusion on the project creator's part about the behavior of their participants or what all the various settings mean. I would have preferred to apply this restriction to collection and umbrella projects as well, but that seemed to get a lot of pushback. Places have similar problems, largely because of people creating place records for places that already exist.

There are also some technical reasons for doing this, particularly regarding places. Making new places that encompass lots of observations kicks off automated background jobs that can take a really, really long time, and sometimes that affects site performance for everyone. One could argue that no one should have the ability to do this, but we feel pretty strongly that new users definitely should not be able to do this.

Regarding messages, recent phishing campaigns have convinced us that we need to make it a little harder for new users to send messages. We don't think three observations or three identifications is a very high bar, but hopefully it will dissuade some bad actors.

As with everything else on the site, this is all subject to change, so if we need to raise these barriers higher, or remove them again, we'll reconsider.

Posted on May 16, 2019 07:11 PM by kueda kueda | 75 comments | Leave a comment

May 21, 2019

A Helmeted Iguana Hangs Out in Colombia - Observation of the Week, 5/21/19

Our Observation of the Week is this helmeted iguana, seen in Colombia by @khristimantis!

“I was in a field trip accompanying a herpetology course in a natural reserve called Hacienda San Pedro,” recalls Khristian Venegas Valencia, a biology student at the University of Antioquia in Medellín, Colombia. The reserve is located in the Magdalena Medio, which Khristian says “is today one of the regions most affected by livestock in Colombia [and] a large part of the forests and ecosystems of the region have been reduced or almost completely disappeared. However, thanks to the initiative of some people it is possible to find some relicts of forests that function as sanctuaries and natural reserves that allow the conservation and care of nature.”

During their time in the reserve, Khristian, who is interested in the ecology, conservation, systematics and taxonomy of neotropical amphibians, and his colleagues made some great finds, such as glass frogs and a terciopelo viper. Then,

coincidentally, following the advertising call of a frog of the genus Pristimantis, I came across the [helmted iguana] perched on a branch. It was a fascinating encounter since these organisms are quite difficult to observe and I had not had the opportunity to register one before.

Usually found in trees (when they are found), helmeted iguanas - also called casque headed lizards - rely on the sit-and-wait method of predation, often staying in one place for extended periods of time until suitable prey such as insects, spiders, or other lizards approach. Their lack of motion, in addition to their camouflage, allows these lizards to go unnoticed by both their prey and their predators. Both males and females have a “helmet”, but the male’s is slightly larger.  

“I have always been interested in scientific divulgation and the transmission of information to the community in general,” says Khristian (above, with a helmeted iguana). “I use iNaturalist as a documentation tool and as a source of learning about biodiversity in my country.”

- Helmeted iguanas have been found with plants and fungi growing on them, likely due to their proclivity for remaining motionless for extended periods.

- Slime mold sporangia have also been found on a helmeted iguana! [PDF] 

- If you have always dreamed of seeing a helmeted iguana remain motionless while ants crawled on it and epic choral music swelled in the background, you’re in luck

Posted on May 21, 2019 08:52 PM by tiwane tiwane | 5 comments | Leave a comment

May 27, 2019

A Birder Spots an Orchid in Algeria - Observation of the Week, 5/27/19

Our Observation of the Day is this sawfly orchid, seen in Algeria by @karimhaddad!

Karim Haddad was born in the Algerian city of Constantine but pursued his graduate studies in Odessa, Ukraine, where he earned a PhD in Agribusiness. After being “very touched and inspired by the museums” at Ukraine educational institutions, Karim began to collect “some skins, horns, wood, sperm whale teeth, mollusk shells, old nests, unfertilized eggs, bird feathers, [and] butterflies,” and also got into bird photography.

He now splits his time between the two countries, and has been leading excursions for birders and other naturalists in Algeria since 2016, becoming Algeria’s representative for the African Bird Club in 2018.  

And while birds and bird excursions are a specialty of his, Karim is interested in many other taxa, including orchids like the sawfly orchid he photographed above, which he says are “very exciting, their shapes, colors and sizes attract every naturalist. And that's why I never miss them...the world is so vast and interesting that it can be appreciated all together.”

Sawfly orchids are members of the genus Ophrys, which are also known as “bee orchids.” Members of this genus mimic the pheromones and appearance of female insects, attracting males of those species to the flower. While the male tries to mate with the flower (an act called pseudocopulation), its body picks up pollen which it then brings the next flower, pollinating it. Supposedly the sawfly orchid resembles a female sawfly, which are members of the hymenopteran suborder Symphyta. This orchid is found throughout much of the Mediterranean.

Karim (above, in Constantine c. 2015) is also part of the AquaCirta NGO in Algeria, which chose iNaturalist as a recording platform last year on the recommendation of Dr. Mehdi Chetibi. Since joining last July, Karim has contributed over 4,000 observations and 60,000 IDs to iNaturalist (with archives from his computer still waiting to be uploaded), and he says the direct contact with amateur and professional naturalists from all over the world has “changed my way of interacting and seeing the natural world...

With iNaturalist, you share, you learn, you get to know people and you can rejoice with discoveries. So, I propose this site for all amateurs and specialists without exception in the world of nature.

- The Natural History Museum has a nice video describing pseudocopulation in Ophrys orchids here.

- Here are Eucera nigrilabris bees pseudocopulating with a sawfly orchid.

- Finally, a more poetic and philosophical take on pseudocopulation from the film Adaptation.

- This chart of observations per week in Algeria shows the large impact AquaCirta’s use of iNat has had. Thank you so much!

Posted on May 27, 2019 08:15 PM by tiwane tiwane | 9 comments | Leave a comment

May 31, 2019

Seek - new functionality lets users post to iNaturalist

Ever since the first version of Seek was released in March 2018, people have been asking if their observations will contribute to citizen science or be used to improve the computer vision model. Now, they can!

As of today, Seek users can post to iNaturalist. To make this happen, in Seek you can:

  • Create an iNaturalist account or log in with an existing iNaturalist account
  • Create an account for a child under the age of 13 (with a parent or guardian’s permission)
  • Optionally post to iNaturalist at the time of making an observation. This is a simple, one-way method to get it to iNaturalist, with limited functionality.

Observations that have been created from Seek can be found here:

You will need to update Seek to access this this new functionality.

Follow Seek on Twitter and Instagram!

Posted on May 31, 2019 11:18 PM by tiwane tiwane | 27 comments | Leave a comment