Journal archives for November 2020

November 02, 2020

This Microscopic Ciliate Was Found on a Copepod in France - Observation of the Week, 11/2/20

Our Observation of the Week is this Trichodina domerguei ciliate, seen in France by @plingfactory!

“Taking samples for a microscope is like a surprise bag,” says Michael Plewka, “you never know what you will find!” Focused on marine biology and coral ecology in college, Michael is now a high school teacher in western Germany and has changed his area of study from marine to limnic life thanks to an artificial pond he and his students monitor. “So now I am studying the life  of small organisms living in water, soil and mosses in Germany and other European countries,” he tells me, and he works with other microscopy enthusiasts at organizations like Berliner Mikroskopische Gesellschaft.

And of course when Michael travels, the microscope equipment comes along. “Whenever I have holidays my focus is either on looking for small critters in tropical marine environments,” he says, “or taking my microscope somewhere and watching the organisms that I can find.”

You can find the most interesting organisms in the most boring environments where you don't expect to be life at all, like for example old industrial buildings. The vicinity of a nearby-airport in our region has some of the most fascinating and rare microscopic organisms.

In May of 2014, while on holiday in France’s Bretagne (Brittany) region, he took a plankton sample from a pond in the city of Bourg-Blanc. “The pond itself was not very spectacular,

[but] interestingly enough it turned out that there were similar organisms (same genera) as in ponds in Germany, but different species. And then I found some small critters moving around a copepod. I knew from our observations in our school pond that a similar protist (Trichodina pediculus) lives as a parasite on Hydra

While he didn’t have the correct literature with him at the time (rotifers are his specialty), Michael later identified the tiny ciliate as Trichodina domerguei, based on its number of denticles. Like other members of this genus, Trichodina domerguei attaches itself to a host (often fish) which it uses primarily as a substrate - its mouth faces out. Usually the ciliates don't harm their hosts, but they certainly can, especially if they attach to a sensitive part of the animal. You can check out Michael’s photo of the copepod host here

Michael (above, in The Netherlands) joined iNat at the urging of his colleague @rotiferologist, and has since been helping others identify their rotifer observations. “Taking adequate images from such small organisms is not that easy, so it is also not always easy to ID the specimens based on these photos alone, especially when it comes to the species level,” he says, “[but] thanks to the ever increasing power of smartphones which can be used at a microscope the situation might get better in the future.”

To Michael, “iNaturalist is a chance to communicate with people  who are interested in nature from all over the world. 

In times where it is necessary to be conscious of the fact that the activities of people on one continent have an effect on the life of people on other continents, iNaturalist is a great tool to connect people and to see that like-minded people are working together.


- Take a look at Michael's other photos on his website!

- Michael recommends this website as an excellent resource for identifying protists.

Posted on November 02, 2020 23:10 by tiwane tiwane | 7 comments | Leave a comment

November 04, 2020

Tallying Amphibians from the United States, Canada, and Mexico

Our recent post about reaching 300,000 species raised some interesting questions about how long it will take for iNaturalist to log all species for various groups in various locations. This is difficult to do for many groups and locations because of taxonomic issues. One group that’s fairly well known, at least in North America, is amphibians. The number of amphibian species observed on iNaturalist in the United States, Canada, and Mexico does seem to be saturating.

But how many species remain? We wrote a post on this for Amphibians in the United States three years ago and counted 13 missing species. We re-crunched these numbers again for the United States as well as Canada and Mexico which together make up the three most observose countries on iNaturalist.

In the United States, all but one of those missing 13 species has been found. We now count that 316 of 318 species thought to occur in the United States are represented on iNaturalist by at least one verifiable observation. The two missing species are Blanco Blind Salamander (Eurycea robusta) and Reticulated Siren (Siren reticulata). The former is only known from a single specimen found in Texas 40 years ago and the latter is a species recently described from Georgia and Alabama two years ago.

In Canada, we count that all 48 of 48 species thought to occur in Canada are represented on iNaturalist by at least one verifiable observation. We’re counting these based on observations anywhere in the world, not just in Canada, and there are no amphibian species endemic to Canada (i.e. found nowhere else in the world) so this makes sense given our numbers from the United States.

In Mexico, only 300 of 424 species are represented on iNaturalist (71%). While there are fewer observations from Mexico than the United States on iNaturalist, this is also driven by a large number of Mexican species with extremely small ranges. Many are only known from one or two sites.

For example, in the State of Tamaulipas 3 species that haven’t been observed on iNaturalist occur. All three are endemic to Mexico. They are:
Graceful Splayfoot Salamander (Chiropterotriton cracens)
Tamaulipan Arboreal Robber Frog (Craugastor batrachylus)
Dennis' Chirping Frog (Eleutherodactylus dennisi)

Tamaulipan Arboreal Robber Frog (Craugastor batrachylus) is also found in Querétaro where it represents the only species that occurs in Querétaro that hasn't yet been observed. Chihuahua, Morelos, Distrito Federal and Tlaxcala also each have one species that hasn't been observed. They are:
Lemos-Espinal's Leopard Frog (Lithobates lemosespinali) (Chihuahua)
Morelos False Brook Salamander (Pseudoeurycea altamontana) (Morelos & Distrito Federal)
Roberts's Tree Frog (Sarcohyla robertsorum) (Tlaxcala)
Jalisco has four species that haven't been observed. Two of them can also be found in Colima. They are:
Jalisco Trilling Frog (Eleutherodactylus jaliscoensis)
Sierra Manatlán Trilling Frog (Eleutherodactylus manantlanensis)
Colima Shiny Peeping Frog (Eleutherodactylus orarius)
Sierra Huichol Peeping Frog (Eleutherodactylus wixarika)

In Hidalgo, we can also find Roberts's Tree Frog (Sarcohyla robertsorum) as well as the following three species:
Cave Splayfoot Salamander (Chiropterotriton mosaueri)
Least Chirping Frog (Eleutherodactylus verruculatus)
Puebla Tree Frog (Sarcohyla charadricola)

While we are missing no species from some states like Sonora and Sinaloa, 6 other states have more than 5 missing species. These states tend to be in the mountainous tropical parts of the country and are as follows:

Michoacán (6 species):
Ambystoma amblycephalum
Eleutherodactylus erendirae
Eleutherodactylus floresvillelai
Eleutherodactylus nietoi
Eleutherodactylus orarius
Lithobates dunni

Puebla (10 species):
Chiropterotriton casasi
Craugastor galacticorhinus
Eleutherodactylus verruculatus
Lithobates pueblae
Megastomatohyla nubicola
Sarcohyla charadricola
Thorius dubitus
Thorius magnipes
Thorius maxillabrochus
Thorius schmidti

Veracruz (16 species):
Aquiloeurycea praecellens
Chiropterotriton casasi
Chiropterotriton nubilus
Chiropterotriton perotensis
Chiropterotriton totonacus
Ecnomiohyla valancifer
Eleutherodactylus verruculatus
Isthmura corrugata
Lithobates chichicuahutla
Megastomatohyla nubicola
Pseudoeurycea granitum
Sarcohyla pachyderma
Sarcohyla siopela
Thorius dubitus
Thorius magnipes
Thorius narismagnus

Chiapas (12 species):
Charadrahyla chaneque
Craugastor amniscola
Craugastor brocchi
Craugastor matudai
Craugastor pozo
Craugastor taylori
Dendrotriton megarhinus
Dendrotriton rabbi
Exerodonta chimalapa
Plectrohyla pycnochila
Pseudoeurycea brunnata
Ptychohyla dendrophasma

Guerrero (19 species):
Bolitoglossa coaxtlahuacana
Craugastor uno
Eleutherodactylus erythrochomus
Exerodonta melanomma
Incilius cycladen
Pseudoeurycea ahuitzotl
Pseudoeurycea amuzga
Pseudoeurycea kuautli
Pseudoeurycea mixcoatl
Pseudoeurycea tenchalli
Pseudoeurycea teotepec
Quilticohyla erythromma
Sarcohyla chryses
Sarcohyla floresi
Sarcohyla mykter
Sarcohyla toyota
Thorius grandis
Thorius hankeni
Thorius infernalis

Oaxaca (39 species):
Bolitoglossa oaxacensis
Bolitoglossa riletti
Charadrahyla chaneque
Charadrahyla esperancensis
Craugastor polymniae
Craugastor silvicola
Craugastor uno
Ecnomiohyla echinata
Exerodonta chimalapa
Exerodonta melanomma
Ixalotriton parvus
Megastomatohyla mixe
Megastomatohyla pellita
Pseudoeurycea anitae
Pseudoeurycea aquatica
Pseudoeurycea obesa
Pseudoeurycea orchileucos
Pseudoeurycea papenfussi
Pseudoeurycea smithi
Pseudoeurycea unguidentis
Sarcohyla calvicollina
Sarcohyla celata
Sarcohyla cembra
Sarcohyla crassa
Sarcohyla cyanomma
Sarcohyla cyclada
Sarcohyla labedactyla
Sarcohyla miahuatlanensis
Sarcohyla psarosema
Sarcohyla sabrina
Thorius aureus
Thorius boreas
Thorius insperatus
Thorius longicaudus
Thorius minutissimus
Thorius narisovalis
Thorius pinicola
Thorius pulmonaris
Thorius tlaxiacus

This exercise is a reminder that in tropical regions such as many of Mexican states, its not just that there are often more species than in temperate regions but that many species often have much smaller ranges. As a result, observing them requires observations from all corners of the country. We're fortunate to have many very knowledgeable Mexican amphibian identifiers (e.g. @cris-tzabcan, @coatzin_tutor, @yamaneko, @eligarcia-padilla, @opuntia24, @josecamx, @pedro_nahuat, @jhvaldez_tutor, @lucareptile, @rene_vela, @sonoran) and observers who have seen many Mexican amphibian species (e.g. @alejandrocalzada, @juancruzado, @eligarcia-padilla, @wouterbeukema, @pedro_nahuat, @jesusrc7, @horacio_barcenas, @el_neotropico, @esauvaldenegro, @alejandromijangosbetanzos, @oscarleonardo32, @sandboa, @cris-tzabcan, @dianafr) participating in iNaturalist/Naturalista.mx. It will be interesting to see how much longer it takes to find these missing Mexican amphibian species.

Posted on November 04, 2020 01:18 by loarie loarie | 18 comments | Leave a comment

November 06, 2020

On a Mission to Find a Rare Cactus in Mexico - (Belated) Observation of the Week, 11/6/20

[It took a few weeks for Mané to get back to me, so I’m posting this a bit late. - Tony]

Our (belated) Observation of the Week is this Aztekium valdezii (Biznaga Piedra de la Sierra Madre Oriental en Español) cactus, seen in Mexico by @manesalinas!

A biologist specializing in plants of the mountains of northeastern Mexico, Mané Salinas Rodríguez also teaches and works at the Jerzy Rzedowski Herbarium at the Universidad Autónoma de Querétaro. Growing up in the city of Monterrey, she credits both of her parents for her interest in nature. Her mother bought her nature books (including quite a few about dinosaurs), and her father often took her to the surrounding mountains. “And from there,” she says, “my interest in studying biology was born.”

Mané encourages her students to use iNaturalist, and she herself logs her interesting and rare plant finds, including the tiny Aztekium valdezii cactus you see here. A tiny (6 cm) slow-growing endemic plant, it’s restricted to canyons and ravines in a small mountainous area of the mountains in the state of Nuevo Léon. She found it back in 2015 when studying for her PhD on the endemic vascular plants from the Sierra Madre Oriental mountains. “One of the objectives,” she says, 

was to document the geographical coordinates of the largest number of vascular plant species in that mountainous area, in order to make niche modeling maps on MaxEnt and thus predict what were the diversity hotspots and subsequently detect possible areas of conservation.

However, because Aztekium valdezii was rare and accessible data on it is difficult to come by, she was on her own. Determined, she and her colleagues explored, with the help of her Jeep "El Humboldt", multiple potential sites with no luck. It was only on the third attempt, while nursing a rough hangover, that she found her quarry.

“The sun was very strong and my head was pounding, but my desire to find the Aztekium was greater than the pain,” Mané (above) recalls, 

[But] I had a feeling that I was going to be lucky so I walked along a canyon wall that seemed ideal as an habitat and finally after a while, I found it and my surprise was greater when I saw it with a flower!

I will never forget the feeling of happiness of having found it on my own, only following the clues of its habitat and without help or data.

Posted on November 06, 2020 21:52 by tiwane tiwane | 19 comments

November 10, 2020

Students in a Uruguay Natural Resources Management Program Find a Gorgeous Orchid - Observation of the Week, 11/10/20

Our Observation of the Week is this Bipinnula montana orchid, seen in Uruguay by @mateoalmada!

The remarkable orchid you see above is one of our most popular recent Observations of the Day, if one goes by social media engagement, and it was seen not only by Mateo Almada but his fellow students in the Universidad del Trabajo de Uruguay’s Degree in Natural Areas Management program. I’d like to thank @flo_grattarola for getting me in touch with Professor Matías Zarucki (@mattzarrr, below), who in turn looped in Mateo.

Students in the Natural Areas Management program train to be park rangers, and Matías tells me 

we use ​iNaturalist as a tool for the registration and identification of species during our field activities. We believe that this is a good didactic tool to motivate students and, at the same time, generate valuable information for the knowledge of biodiversity. In addition to the specific records of our field trips, we created a ​project where we document the biodiversity in two of the school grounds that we visit most often.

Field trips have unfortunately been curtailed this year due to the COVID-19 pandemic, but in recent months the students and professors were able to restart them due to Uruguay’s generally successful containment of the virus. For example, here they are at Grutas de Salamanca.

The group visited an archaeological site in the state of Maldonado, and Mateo recalls 

The field trip objective was to visit the place and assess the conservation status of the forest. On October 27, during a walk on the hills, we were attentive, appreciating the fauna and flora, and when something caught our attention, we stopped to observe it. It was then when I appreciated the ​Bipinnula montana​. I photographed it and at night I shared it in the application, I didn’t expect the impact it had. I'm happy because it puts my country on the map on something other than football.

What impressed me the most when I saw it was the shape of the tongue with the little hairs and the ribs of the leaf that surrounded it. I felt compelled to capture that beauty with my phone and it become my first plant record in iNat.

Unfortunately, not much is known about this species (“The lack of information represents here one of the problems for biodiversity conservation,” says Mateo), but we do know it grows in both Brazil and Uruguay, and generally grows on dry grasslands. 

Mateo (above), tells me “I have always admired and photographed nature a lot, [and iNaturalist] allows me to save my records in an album where I collect the richness of our biodiversity...

Through the application, I have learned about the importance of collecting information about our flora and fauna to provide data that can be of great help to researchers and natural resources managers. It's great because it is an application that reaches all audiences where anyone with a simple photo can collaborate a lot with the community.


- Here’s a project showing observations made for in the program’s two commonly-visited sites.

- A nice video (en Español) about the University’s Natural Resources Careers program

- Take a gander at other observations of this good looking genus.

Posted on November 10, 2020 20:43 by tiwane tiwane | 20 comments | Leave a comment

November 16, 2020

A Kenyan Marine Conservationist Finds a Brilliantly Acanthocercus Lizard - Observation of the Week, 11/16/20

Our Observation of the Week is this Acanthocercus sp. lizard, seen in Kenya by @gurveena!

Gurveena Ghataure, a wildlife conservation manager with Fauna & Flora International (FFI), credits her childhood in Kenya for her lifelong interest in nature and conservation, and feels fortunate she was able to encounter so much wildlife at a young age. And having family members around go teach her about nature was helpful as well.

My childhood is all wrapped up in my grandad's binoculars and I can still smell that smell from its leather case and our VW combi in which we did all our trips around the country. I loved seeing wildlife and being out in the wild savannah plains. I used to see giraffes and zebras on my way to school and that never got old! I loved following dung beetles or collecting ladybirds at school and bringing them home.

After attending university in the United Kingdom, Gurveena spent seven years doing conservation work in southeast Asia, including four years in Myanmar with FFI. “Living in Asia was incredible,” she says, “and I got to see so much incredible wildlife - through work but also a lot of it through personal travel. All my travel tends to be focused around seeing a particular species or a type of habitat and the creatures in there! I have a bucket list....which is never ending.”

She’s now managing a marine conservation project in the north coast of Kenya, working with a local NGO and involving the community protecting coastal habitats and small scale fisheries. That’s where she came across the brilliantly colored lizard you see above. “I recently relocated to Lamu for my job and found a house to rent - transitions always being strange,” she says, 

I spotted this lizard in my garden on my first day and it made me so excited. I have been trying to get better at identifying insects and reptiles - particularly lizards. I started keeping track of it and would find it most days around the same trees - that morning it was looking incredibly bright and I think it was trying to court a female and so I took a picture of it.

Lizards of the genus Acanthocercus are found in Africa and the Arabian peninsula, and can be found around human habitation. Like other lizards, males especially can change their coloration as a way to signal to other lizards such as females or rival males. 

“I generally love looking for any wildlife,” says Gurveena (above). “My friends joke that I will get lost following the smallest beetles when we go for a walk.” She uses iNat to log her finds for others to see, and to get ID help. She has a soft spot for marine life and bats, but tells me 

I also like to champion the underdog species that tend to get overlooked. I worked with an amazing conservationist who really inspired that and was a huge influence in my life.

I always knew i wanted to work in conservation as even in my childhood growing up in Kenya - I noticed things were changing with habitats and species. The natural world is incredible and I feel we need to engage everyone to fall in love with nature and appreciate all the things, from the big species, to all the trees, to the little bugs and the fungi in the ground.


- You can follow Gurveena on Twitter and Instagram!

- A Southern Tree Agama makes quick work of two insects.


[11/17/20 - The iNat community has weighed in on the ID of the observation since this was posted and there is disagreement at the species level so I've updated the text and title. I'm just using the genus level ID now.]

Posted on November 16, 2020 21:45 by tiwane tiwane | 8 comments | Leave a comment

November 23, 2020

A Fish with a Head Full of Cirri in Canada - Observation of the Week, 11/23/20

Our Observation of the Week is this Chirolophis decoratus fish, seen in Canada by @leftcoaster!

“My first memory of being keenly aware of an interest in nature was when my mom took me to the beach when I was 8,” recalls Kathleen Reed. “The tide was out and we found all sorts of Lewis’s Moonsnail egg collars in the intertidal zone. I thought they looked like rubber - not something that an animal would create - and I was in awe when I found out what they actually were. I’ve enjoyed ocean environments ever since.”

While snorkeling in Thailand, Kathleen found that most of the really cool animals - sharks, turtles, rays, etc - were too deep for her to get a good look at. She signed up for a “try diving” outing with the local dive shop and “within the first few minutes of that ocean dive, I was hooked - the amazing critters, the ‘popping’ sound of corals, the sense of calm underwater - it was seeing a world I never knew existed.” She got certified as soon as she returned home and is now a divemaster with 450 dives under belt.

This past June, Kathleen went diving at the RivTow Lion, a sunken tugboat in the territorial waters of the Snuneymuxw Nation (Nanaimo, BC, Canada).

The ship had a wooden railing, which has rotted away over time and left perfect habitat for Decorated Warbonnets (Chirolophis decoratus). They don’t seem to have any natural predators on the ship, so they grow quite big, [about 15 inches (38 cm) in length]. I love looking for their very distinctive cirri sticking out of various nooks and crannies. On the dive I took this photo, I found 7 of them.

A species that ranges from northwestern Russia and down the Pacific Coast of North America to Humboldt Bay, Chirolophis decoratus do have those incredible cirri protruding from head, which may serve to either help them blend in to their surrounds and/or attract potential prey - which are mostly small invertebrates. It can be found hiding among seaweed, rocks, and various other crevices and cover objects.

Although she only joined iNat about a month ago, Kathleen (above, with a Giant Pacific Octopus) says “the community is the best part; I’ve learned so much from members like @anudibranchmom, @phelsumas4life, @msnewel, @mac-e, @rfields, @estehr, @sebastophile

They’ve helped me to learn how to distinguish types of fish, crabs, and nudibranchs that all looked the same to me before. They’ve also updated me on some of the recent science that’s happened with nudibranchs; I had no idea the extent to which my print ID books were outdated.

Aside from enjoying the iNaturalist community’s knowledge, I really love having something to do with the photos I take while scuba diving. Prior to iNaturalist, they were just sitting on my hard drive. Now I can post them, keep track of what I see and where, and contribute to research and conservation projects like tracking Sea Star Wasting Disease.

iNaturalist has definitely made me more focussed on what nature is around me wherever I am. Even if I’m out running errands, I’ll be on the lookout for a tree or a bug I don’t know. It’s also inspired me to get better at identifying land-based nature. Being a diver, I was pretty focused on just the ocean before.


- The story behind the octopus photo, from Kathleen. The photo was taken by Shane Gross. “I was focussed on looking into a crevice in the rock wall, when I saw my dive buddy’s light flashing frantically. I turned around quickly, and all I saw was tentacles coming at me. It was a large male Giant Pacific Octopus, and he was very curious. My dive buddy captured the moment I first spotted the octopus. I immediately backed off, and after the octopus came toward me tentatively a few times, he returned to hunting. We watched him from a respectful distance for 30 minutes, marvelling at his colour changing and ability to “blanket” over rocks and rummage around for food.”

- Some nice facts about and footage of Chirolophis decoratus in this video.

- Take a look at this beach in Australia, covered with egg collars of the moon snail genus Conuber.

Posted on November 23, 2020 22:29 by tiwane tiwane | 3 comments | Leave a comment