Journal archives for April 2020

April 04, 2020

New feature: "project members only" setting on collection projects

If you have ever wanted to create a project that only shows observations made by people who join the project, this is for you!

We just released a minor but impactful change that allows you to select "Only display observations from project members" for collection projects.

When you select this setting, the project will only show observations made by users who have joined the project (and meet the other requirements, like date, taxa, place, etc). To enable this feature, you can edit an existing collection project or create a new collection project. Note: This does not exist for umbrella projects or traditional projects.

We expect this will be especially useful for any group that wants to easily share their observations with each other, such as a botanical club that can't currently have in-person outings. Other use cases may be college classes moving to virtual labs or a project for fans of a podcast.

We don't recommend using it in combination with a specific list of usernames because in that case it will only display the observations that meet both criteria (i.e. observations from people whose usernames you added and who have also joined the project). However, you may want to exclude specific usernames, such as your own if you for some reason want your observations excluded.

Will this be useful for you? We'd love to hear how you plan to use this new setting.

Posted on April 04, 2020 03:19 AM by carrieseltzer carrieseltzer | 26 comments | Leave a comment

April 06, 2020

One of Ten Woodlouse Species in a Family's Garden Project in Belgium - Observation of the Week, 4/6/20

Our Observation of the Week is this Nosy Pill Woodlouse, seen in Belgium by @gillessanmartin!

Ah, the ubiquitous woodlouse, also sometimes known as a roly poly, sowbug, or any number of other common names (and that’s just in English!). These crustaceans (my 8 year old mind was blown when I found they’re not “bugs”) are so common that many of us disregard them, but woodlice are pretty fascinating and sometimes strikingly colored creatures, and one that many of us can commonly find in backyards and neighborhood parks during this time.

Gilles San Martin and his sons Leo and Emile were doing just that when they found the woodlouse you see on this blog post. “Because of the COVID-19 lockdown we are stuck at home with two young boys who are 11 and 7 years old, [and] we are extremely lucky to be healthy and to have a home and a garden,” says Gilles, who is a part-time professional entomologist. So he created a project for the area and encouraged his sons to start exploring and documenting its wildlife. 

We think that iNaturalist is a very beneficial way for them to use their abundant spare time. They go more willingly outside and they learn a lot of useful skills (that they would not have learned at school): the natural world and its taxonomy, of course, but also how to use a camera, how to deal with the files, how to use the computer... They also learn lots of social skills like communicating in a foreign language, using modern tools (eg DeepL) and learning the rules of a social network and online community (at the beginning, they were a little bit too confident about their taxonomic knowledge when they identified observations by other people...)

Gilles had previously found this species of woodlouse in their garden but thought it would be a good subject for his boys to shoot, “[and] in the end I couldn’t resist taking a few pictures myself,” he tells me. It’s one of ten woodlouse species they’ve found in their garden, and Gilles’ favorite is Porcellio spinicornis. He has some tips for finding wildlife in a small setting: “My wife regularly teases me because I can spend a few hours at the exact same spot laying on the ground and not moving an inch,” he says,

I even use now a camping floor mat to improve my comfort ;-) Not moving and waiting allows you to see a lot of insects moving that you would have missed otherwise and they are often easier to photograph because they are less frightened. But I suppose such a static approach is not for everyone. Having your nose at ground level and looking at the base of plants, below decaying plant material, can [also] reveal real treasures. But basically being curious and sharpening your eye to detect the small critters is probably the most important.

iNat’s open source data and philosophy, as well as its global reach, drew Gilles (above, 10 years ago but he assures me he still has the long hair) to iNaturalist last year, and he’s made over 2,000 observations since then, as well as 24,000 IDs. His passion for identifying organisms actually started with a woodlouse he found at age 13, and a naturalist friend immediately identified it. “I was completely amazed that it was even possible to put a name on such a insignificant invertebrate. The guy then showed me the book “Synopsis of the British Fauna” about woodlice and I realized that it is in fact possible to put a name on any animal if you have access to the right documentation (or the right people)...

The combination of digital photography, naturalist observations and online citizen science collaborative platforms like iNaturalist has certainly been a revolution for me. With this combination you obtain a stack of pleasure: the pleasure 1) to be outside in nature, 2) to observe new insects, 3) to take beautiful pictures if possible, 4) to learn about these insects by 5) interacting with a community and 6) last but not least to contribute to a dataset that can be useful for scientific research and nature protection.

By Tony Iwane. Some quotes have been lightly edited for clarity and flow.

- If you’re considering having your children use iNaturalist, we recommend they try out our Seek app first. And keep in mind that no one under the age of 13 can have their own iNaturalist account without obtaining a parent or guardian’s permission. Finally, please monitor their use of iNat.

- Last year, iNat user @gyrrlfalcon documented the first Venezillo microphthalmus woodlouse in the San Francisco Bay Area in decades, which was confirmed by @loarie!

- Have you ever seen a purple woodlouse? It’s likely ailing from the Isopod Iridescent Virus, which causes the exoskeleton to take on a blue or purple hue. 

What have you found in your yard or neighborhood recently?

Posted on April 06, 2020 08:54 PM by tiwane tiwane | 13 comments | Leave a comment

April 10, 2020

Welcome, iNaturalist Israel!

!ברוכים הבאים לאיי-נטורליסט ישראל

Today we officially announce the launch of iNaturalist Israel as the newest member of the iNaturalist Network. iNaturalistil is a collaboration with the University of Haifa which builds on a longstanding use of iNaturalist for various ecological monitoring projects in Israel.

היום אנחנו מכריזים על הצטרפותו של משתתף נחדש ברשת של נציגים מקומיים באיי-נטורליסט: איי-נטורליסט ישראל . הסניף הישראלי של איי-נטורליסט מופעל ע"י המרכז למדע אזרחי באוניברסיטת חיפה. כל התצפיות שמועלות לאתר זה נכנסות באופן אוטומטי למאגר העולמי של איי-נטורליסט. כשאתם מדווחים על תצפיות, המדענים יכולים לעשות שימוש במידע בכדי ללמוד על מצב הטבע ולקדם את שמירת מגוון המינים הייחודי של ארצנו

Israel's location in the Middle East, a heartland of genetically diverse agricultural crops, coupled with its remarkable geographical and climatic diversity, has helped create a particularly rich collection of habitats and corresponding local varieties. Despite its small size, Israel hosts over 2000 plant species, roughly 100 mammal species and approximately 450 species of birds.

The logo for iNaturalistil is a hoopoe, which is the national bird.

ישראל התברכה בטבע עשיר וייחודי ובמגוון רחב של מערכות אקולוגיות. למרות שטחה המצומצם, ישראל תורמת למגוון הביולוגי העולמי . ​בישראל חיים ומתרבים מכל 2000 מיני צמחים, כ- 100 מיני יונקים וכ- 450 מיני עופות
הסמל של איי-נטורליסט ישראל הוא הדוכיפת, הציפור הלאומית של ישראל

iNaturalistil has a special challenge with the primary language as Hebrew, which is a language read from right-to-left instead of left-to-right. iNaturalist isn’t thoroughly configured to accommodate right-to-left languages yet, but we appreciate their willingness to be the first member of the network with a right-to-left language.

התרגום לעברית של האתר והאפליקציה עדיין לא הושלם. אנחנו עובדים על הנושא ומקווים להמשיך ולתרגם את האתר בחודשים הבאים
אין למערכת תמיכה מלאה בעימוד שמימין לשמאל. אנו מתנצלים על כך, ומקווים שיימצא פתרון בעתיד

We encourage anyone from Israel to affiliate your account with iNaturalistil in your account settings. By affiliating with your local network site, you can receive updates about relevant iNaturalist-related news and events. Affiliation also gives iNaturalistil periodic access to the true coordinates of observations that you have chosen to make obscured or private. For observations with open (user) geoprivacy in Israel, iNaturalistil has periodic access to the true coordinates of observations obscured or made private by taxon geoprivacy for all observations for research and conservation purposes.

אנו מזמינים אותך לשייך את חשבונך עם איי-נורליסט ישראל. כל הפונקציונליות הרגילה של איי-נטורליסט עדיין תעמוד לרשותך. אבל בנוסף, תהיו חשופים לתכנים ייעודיים של הקהילה הישראלית באיי-נטורליסט
ע"י השיוך לסניף הישראלי, אתם מאפשרים לחוקרים לעשות שימוש במידע (למשל ע"י גישה למיקום המדויק של תצפיות שלגביהן הוסתר המיקום), כאשר אנו מבטיחים את פרטיות המידע ומחויבים להגנה על הטבע

The iNaturalist Network now has ten nationally-focused sites that are fully connected and interoperable with the global iNaturalist site. The sites are: Naturalista Mexico, iNaturalist Canada, iNaturalist New Zealand, Naturalista Colombia, BioDiversity4All (Portugal), iNaturalist Panama, iNaturalist Ecuador, iNaturalist Australia, ArgentiNat, and now iNaturalist Israel. Any iNaturalist user can log in on any of the sites using their same credentials and will see the same notifications.

הרשת העולמית של איי-נטורליסט כוללת כעשרה סניפים לאומיים, אשר נמצאים בקשר הדוק בינהם, כמו גם עם המרכז הראשי של איי-נטורליסט. הסניפים הלאומיים הקיימים הם: מקסיקו, קנדה, ניו-זילנד, קולומביה, פורטוגל, פנמה, אקוודור, אוסטרליה, ארגנטינה, וכעת גם ישראל מצטרפת לרשת. משתמש יכול להתחבר לכל אחד מהסניפים הלאומיים עם אותו שם משתמש וסיסמה כמו למערכת הרגילה של איי-נטורליסט

The iNaturalist Network model allows for localizing the iNaturalist experience to better support communities on a national scale and local leadership in the movement, without splitting the community into isolated, national sites. The iNaturalist team is grateful to the outreach, training, translations, and user support carried out through the efforts of the iNaturalist Network member institutions.

היתרון שבהפעלת סניפים מקומיים הוא שניתן להתאים את חווית המשתמש לאיזור והשפה של כל מדינה וליצור קהילה איזורית, אך עם זאת לשמור על מערכת עולמית אחידה. צוות איי-נטורליסט העולמי עובד בשיתוף פעולה עם הסניפים המקומיים, ורואה אותם ככלי חשוב לשימור הטבע ברחבי העולם

We look forward to welcoming many new members of the iNaturalist community from Israel!

נשמח מאוד לראותכם מצטרפים לקהילה של הישראלית של איי-נטורליסט

Posted on April 10, 2020 04:15 PM by carrieseltzer carrieseltzer | 13 comments | Leave a comment

April 13, 2020

This Plant Was Found Hundreds of Kilometers from its Known Range - Observation of the Week, 4/12/20

Our Observation of the Week is this Tiputinia foetida plant, seen by @pbertner in Peru - hundreds of kilometers outside its previously known range!

In addition to sweet photos of a decidedly odd plant, this observation represents the power of iNaturalist’s global community, where a Canadian photographer posted the first record in Peru of a plant previously known only in Ecuador, that was identified by a botany enthusiast in Germany.  

“I knew it [was Tiputinia foetida] right away,” Kai-Philipp Schablewski (@kai_schablewski, iNat’s top identifer of plant observations in South America) told me. Kai had read the original description of this plant from 2007, and until the photo you see above, it had only been found in northeastern Ecuador. “This observation from Peru is a record of a Tiputinia plant that was found nearly 2000 km south of the [known] distribution area in Ecuador,” Kai says. “The question now is if this is a disjunct distribution or if the plant has been overlooked in some parts in between.”

Kai, who resides in Marburg, Germany and studied botany for a time in college, has “always loved plants with special survival strategies such as cacti, alpine plants, parasitic plants, mycoheterotrophic plants, ant plants, or bromeliads.” While he hasn’t visited South America, he finds its flora amazing and does what he can to help identify observations there. And as a curator, he has added distribution maps, new taxa and more in an effort to keep iNat’s taxonomy up to date. 

I did this because I want iNaturalist to become a more powerful global tool for nature conservation and science...I hope I am able to make a small contribution to nature conservation with my help on iNaturalist so that more species can be saved through this difficult time of environmental destruction in that we are in.

If you think Tiputinia foetida (the only known member of its genus) looks a little strange for a plant, you’re right - it’s parasitic, which means it does not photosynthesize and thus lacks chlorophyll. Yet unlike many familiar parasitic plants (eg most species in the Orobanchaceae family), its host is not another plant, but a fungus! That’s right, it’s a myco-heterotroph and the only part of it you’ll see above ground is its flower and related structures.

As you might suspect from its name, this plant’s flower emits a “foul, rotten fish-like odor” to which many insects are attracted, “including flies, beetles, ants, and small wasps.” (Woodward, et al. 2007) It’s not known which if they are pollinators, but it does seem likely. There are even a few insects in Paul Bertner’s photos of it here on iNaturalist.

For his part, Paul (who came across the Tiputinia foetida while photographing army ants) says “I'm rather terrible at taxonomy. 

However, I spend a large amount of time in the field, both day and night...Despite having difficulties with discerning closely related species, I have a good overall idea of rainforest composition such that when I come across something new or different, I can generally recognize its importance, if not actually identify it...I only learned of [this plant’s] importance after posting here to iNat.

In addition to getting ID help (“I have a large number of insect photos from the tropics which could serve as a valuable database online, however, they are only as good as peoples' ability to find and then subsequently to find useful.”), Paul says iNat has helped him network with amateur and professional biologists more broadly. 

And although he has studied cell biology and genetics, Paul (above, placing a camera trap above a peccary wallow) tells me that his current interest is tropical rainforest photography, “especially [that of] insect behaviour.” It’s brought him to tropical areas of the Americas, Africa, and Asia, and remarkably Paul is a Stage IV testicular cancer survivor, having had both hip and shoulder replacement surgeries. As he writes in his Smugmug bio,

I live life now, as only one who has known hopeless hospital wards, and mortal sufferings may. I see beauty in the mosquitoes’ exquisitely crafted stylets. I feel a kinship with the cockroach,  a resilient survivor, and beggary, basking in nature’s majesty. To offer but a keyhole’s view onto this world is to share my life’s story, from plagues to polliwogs, imprinted onto every pixel of every picture I take.

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

- In addition to his SmugMug page, Paul is also on Flickr.

- Take a look at our blog post about a fiddler crab observation which also represented a large range extension.

Correction: this blog post originally said the plant was found "thousands" of kilometers from its known range, but it's more in the neighborhood of 1,500 kilometers, so I've changed it to "hundreds of kilometers". Thanks for double-checking, @muir!

Posted on April 13, 2020 03:49 AM by tiwane tiwane | 23 comments | Leave a comment

April 16, 2020

Temporary freeze on large places, life list updates, and taxon changes during April 22 - May 4

In preparation for increased iNaturalist activity during the upcoming City Nature Challenge, iNaturalist will implement a few temporary changes. Starting on April 22, we will temporarily pause any changes to a few lesser-used types of content on iNaturalist that are more intensive. Most users will not notice these changes because they do not directly impact observations, identifications, comments, or projects. However, for anyone planning to use the features below, we want to give advance notice so you can plan and prepare accordingly.

Large places cannot be created or edited
Creating or editing large places that contain many observations can slow down the site. Normally, if you have more than 50 verifiable observations, you can create a new place as long as it’s smaller than the size of Texas and the kml file used to create it is under 1 MB (curators can add places up to 5 MB). Starting on April 22, places must be smaller than roughly the size of West Virginia (~24,000 square miles or 62,361 square km). New places must also contain fewer than 50,000 observations (the threshold has been 500,000 observations). If you try to do this, it will give you a warning message like it currently does with the larger thresholds.

Life Lists will not be updated
Every iNaturalist account has a Life List that is updated asynchronously as your observations change (with variable speed). We're also aware the Life List updating isn't perfect and doesn't do a good job of cleaning up older data as observations are removed or taxa change. This approach has not been scalable as iNaturalist grows, so we’ve been working on a new Life List feature. Stay tuned for more on that. In the meantime, we’ll be temporarily suspending the updates to Life Lists as they currently exist.

Taxon changes paused (applicable for curators only)
No taxon changes or edits to taxon ancestry (including grafting taxa) can be implemented starting April 22. If you try to do this, you’ll get a message that such changes are temporarily unavailable. You can still draft taxon changes and save them to be committed after the restriction.

These temporary limitations will be in place through May 4, which includes the observation period of the City Nature Challenge as well as the upload/identification period. During the 2019 City Nature Challenge (which generated nearly a million observations made over just four days in the participating cities alone), notifications (e.g. about identifications and comments) were delayed up to several days due to high activity. The site, mobile apps, and API remained functional, but some aspects of iNaturalist (especially notifications) were slow. Limiting the features above will reduce the delays.

With much of the world under a variety of stay at home, shelter in place, social distancing, or quarantine orders, we are not sure what this year’s City Nature Challenge will look like. However, based on last year’s event, we want to be prepared. This is a set of tools that we could also implement in the event of a similar spike in activity, even if without advance warning.

Other things we don’t recommend during this anticipated “peak time”:
-csv uploads: If you are uploading a csv of observations, expect considerable delays.
-csv data downloads: If you are trying to download a csv of observations, expect considerable delays.

We’re grateful for everyone who is able to make iNaturalist a part of their life during these unusual times. Please stay safe!

Posted on April 16, 2020 06:40 PM by carrieseltzer carrieseltzer | 47 comments | Leave a comment

April 19, 2020

A See-Through Triplefin Blenny on the Coast of India - Observation of the Week, 4/19/20

Our Observation of the Week is this see-through Triplefin Blenny, observed in India by @g_patil!

Gaurav Patil fell in love with nature as a youngster, inspired by the books of Jim Corbett. He decided on marine biology as the focus for his post-graduate research and, after working with sea snakes, he now works with coastal marine mammals and fishes. “But,” he tells me, “there is something else as well which lured more than anything, the intertidal zone

I got introduced to the intertidal zone exploratory walk in my college curriculum, but sadly I never took it seriously, until 3 years ago when I ended up being a part of ‘Marine Life of Mumbai’ (MLOM). Through MLOM, I got a chance to explore different shores around Mumbai, doing outreach activities like shore walks, talks, workshops etc., which helped me learn and express the intertidal habitat to a larger audience in a much better way.

Gaurav has been exploring the intertidal areas of Mumbai since 2017, and while he’s observed quite a few fish communities, he has never seen a triplefin blenny there, despite it’s “being one of the most common intertidal fish.” Nope, it was on a research trip down to the coast to Maharashtra where he photographed the fish you see above. Much of his time was spent at sea studying dolphin acoustics, but whenever he had the chance, Gaurav would explore the intertidal zone at low tide.

While I was focusing on photographing nudibranchs in the tidepool when some sudden movement happened in the neighbouring tidepool. I tried looking at the movement using my torch, but there was nothing. Again something moved and this time I went closer and took a look. For a few seconds I was speechless. I looked at it for a couple of minutes, moving in the tidepool and settling on the bottom (goby like swimming behaviour). It was a fish, as clear as the water in the tidepool, moving on the mat of zoanthids (soft corals).

I haven’t observed anything like this before, thus I rushed with my camera. But as the tide was already turned I managed to click a couple of photos, after which a wave hit me, making me wet as well as submerging the tidepool in which the fish was.

Gaurav eventually uploaded it to iNat a few weeks ago and top iNat fish identifier @maractwin identified it as a member of the triplefin family of blennies! “It was not only the long awaited first ever triplefin blenny for me,” says Gaurav, “but a memorable observation as well because of the fish’s unique appearance.”

Members of the Tripterygiidae family, triplefin blennies have three dorsal fins instead of the usual long single fin of most other blenniform fish. They spend much of their time resting on rocks or corals (in this case zoanthids) and eat mostly small invertebrates. 

Gaurav (above, exploring the intertidal) tells me he was introduced by @shaunak and @ajamalabad of MLOM, and that “iNaturalist has helped us (me and the entire MLOM team) a lot, in documentation as well as in identification. 

I had a habit of documenting natural world, but apart from just filling my hard drive it actually never helped me. Today, whatever intertidal data I have, I post it on iNaturalist and tell other people to upload their observations as well. Posting this data on such a platform is not only creating a baseline of data about this diversity but also in the future it might help several science students and scientists who work on not much explored topics from coastal India.

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

- MLOM data were used to (at least temporarily) halt the construction of a coastal road in the Mumbai area. 

- We wrote a blog post about MLOM and their use of iNat back in 2018.

-  Take a look at the nearly 3,000 triplefin blenny observations on iNat, they’re a diverse and beautiful family.

Posted on April 19, 2020 09:03 PM by tiwane tiwane | 6 comments | Leave a comment

April 27, 2020

It's a Small-headed Fly from South Africa! - Observation of the Week, 4/26/20

Our Observation of the Week is Psilodera fasciata small-headed fly, seen in South Africa by @cecileroux!

Cecile wrote a wonderful little piece for this week, so I’ve decided to publish it here in full. I’ve added some links to her text and appended a paragraph about this remarkable family of flies. Enjoy! - Tony

I was lucky to be born into a family that loves nature. I have always loved being immersed in nature, watching, listening, appreciating. My mother studied Entomology, but I only started following in her footsteps when my husband gifted me a camera with a macro lens. I was immediately hooked! 

Shortly after getting the camera, I was introduced to iNat by a botanist friend, @steve_cousins, who has since sadly passed away. He was doing his doctorate on our critically endangered Renosterveld, and while he studied the vegetation, I followed and started to record the infinite variety of insects and spiders in some of the few remaining veld remnants in the Swartland. We talked about pollination, and the importance of bees, and as I watched the flowers, I was amazed to see the variety of pollinators. I realised that not all that buzzes are bees, and started to look closely, and that is how I first came to know the small-headed fly, Psilodera fasciata. Along with the Bombyliidae family, they are some of my favourite flies, and I am grateful that they seem to like my rather unkempt indigenous garden, where I found this one. One needs patience to photograph these flies, they take ages to decide where to settle down. But the patience and sore knees and dirty elbows are always worth it!  Lockdown is made better by the company of all the insects and spiders in my garden.

Currently some friends and I are endeavouring to record the abundance of life on Kasteelberg, the mountain guarding over our village. The renosterveld and fynbos vegetation, the birds, small mammals, reptiles and invertebrates. I am at my happiest when I am out in the veld, discovering and observing. My main interest is spiders, but I am captivated by every small thing that moves! The best part of observing the small life around me, is being amazed and excited almost every day, a wonderful privilege in a jaded world. So much to discover still! Apart from my own pleasure, I also hope to teach people through my photos that insects are not pests, and spiders are not to be feared.

I am not a scientist, and field guides, although invaluable, can go only so far. I find iNaturalist a wonderful site where like-minded and knowledgeable people from all over the world become teachers. I am learning so much, and appreciate every ID and discussion.

Psilodera fasciata is a member of the Acroceridae family, known commonly as small-headed flies or spider flies, which contains about 500 species around the world. While the inspiration for “small-headed” is obvious from Cecile’s photo, “spider flies” refers to this family’s predilection for parasitizing our eight-legged friends. Female Acrocerids lay hundreds or even thousands of eggs. Hatchling larvae seek out spiders and make their way to the host’s insides, consuming it from within then pupating outside of the host’s depleted body. Adults feed on nectar and often possess enormous proboscises, as Cecile photographed here. When not in use, the fly tucks this proboscis under its body, and you can sometimes see it protruding past its rear end.

- Speaking of egg laying, check out an Acrocerid doing just that - in slow motion!

- Here’s one with an insanely long proboscis, photographed by bernardo_segura.

Posted on April 27, 2020 04:56 AM by tiwane tiwane | 21 comments | Leave a comment