Journal archives for January 2021

January 04, 2021

Slimelilies in the Algerian Desert - Observation of the Week, 1/4/21

Our Observation of the Week is this Albuca amoena plant, seen in Algeria by @zaidiabdelhamid!

“I am in love with nature as I like calm,” says Zaidi Hamid, who heads a department in Algeria’s Department of Forest Administration. “Since I was young, I like the calm that I discovered outside in nature away from pollution, far from the noise of the city.” Early on, he tells me he didn’t have the means to have a particular method for work and research, but since 2015 he’s  been researching wild plants of southwestern Algeria. 

“I see that information on the current plants in the region are very rare,” he explains. It’s made up of two zones, one called REG or the hamada and the other called the ERG. The REG is stony, while the ERG contains enormous sand dunes that reach 300m (984 ft) in height.

I saw that it is necessary to update [information about plants in this area] and to present it to the world because the plants of arid and Saharan regions are very different from the plants of other regions.

Furthermore, the plants of the Saharan zones have a high nutritional and therapeutic value for individual lives and society as a whole in the Sahara. (In our traditions, we use wild plants of our region as food and as medicinal plants more than anything.)

While driving back to his home city of Abadla nearly two years ago, Zaidi saw Albuca amoena plants in flower, so he stopped and photographed them with his smartphone, taking about 30-40 shots. “After photographing Albuca Ameona, I had an indescribable feeling for the way that I captured these images without specialized photography equipment,” he tells me. “Even if our means are limited, we do not do not lose hope of achieving our desired goal.”

Plants of the genus Albuca are commonly known as “slimelilies” in English, as they exude mucous-like slime. The mechanism of pollination for this genus has been a bit of a mystery, as the tepals of its flowers close tightly over the stigma, which is where pollination usually happens. Steven D. Johnson, et al, found that in Albuca canadensis and Albuca setosa, which occur in southern Africa, large Megachilid bees deposited pollen from their backs onto the tips of the tepals. The pollen germinates from liquid exuded by the plant, and when the flower wilts the tepal brings that to the style, pollinating it. If you’re having a hard time picturing how this works, check out the excellent diagram (Figure 4) in the Discussion section of their publication, which is available here.

Joining iNat just last month on the recommendation of @karimhaddad, Zaidi (above), says 

It was a great honor for me to join it to enrich my knowledge and to join the group of scientists and researchers in the field of nature.

iNaturalist changed my view of research, especially the way to photograph plants and nature in general.

iNaturalist is truly a world that brings together naturalists and scientists that one can trust in, and I am very honored to have joined them.

(Zaidi's text was translated from French by Marité Xavier)

- Zaidi also photographed this gorgeous Colchicum gramineum on the same day he saw the Albuca amoena!

- Here are the most-faved observations of this genus.

Posted on January 04, 2021 11:40 PM by tiwane tiwane | 16 comments | Leave a comment

January 12, 2021

The First iNat Observation of a Rare Brazilian Viper - Observation of the Week, 1/12/21

Our Observation of the Day is the first Alcatrazes Lancehead (Araraca-das-alcatrazes) posted to iNat! Seen in Brazil by @diegojsantana.

Fittingly for someone who watched frogs and snakes while on fishing trips as a child, Diego Santana is currently a professor at the Federal University of Mato Grosso do Sul in Campo Grande, Brazil, where he works on the systemics and biogeography of reptiles and amphibians. Last November, he found himself on the Alcatrazes Islands, off the coast of Brazil, assisting researchers from the Butantan Institute, a large producer of immunobiological and biopharmaceutical compounds. The researchers were studying snake venom evolution and asked for Diego's assistance in finding and wrangling the island’s endemic viper species.

“We saw nine individuals in four days there and collected their venom, marked each individual with a microchip, and released them back to nature,” says Diego.

The island is beautiful, and to know that we were the only humans there with these incredible animals was an awesome sensation. We also observed two threatened frog species, which are also endemic to the island (Ololygon alcatraz [Scinax alcatraz on iNat] and Cycloramphus faustoi).

Alcatrazes lanceheads are known only from one island in the archipelago, Ilha Alcatrazes, which measures about 1.35 square km in area. The islands were previously attached to the mainland, and it is believed Alcatrazes lanceheads evolved from Bothrops jararaca snakes stranded there after the islands were cut off from the continent by rising oceans. Alcatrazes lanceheads are smaller than their mainland counterparts and feed primarily on centipedes and frogs as no rodents live on the island. Research shows that their venom is not particularly potent in mice, suggesting they have evolved to specialize in their resident non-mammalian prey. 

In the past, Ilha Alcatrazes was used for target practice by the Brazilian Navy but that’s no longer the case and Diego tells me “the island is within a conservation unit, is monitored constantly, and  access is granted only for research purposes (and it's not easy to get a license).”

Diego (above, assisting with a viper on Ilha Alcatrazes) says he heard about iNat from some friends and joined a few weeks ago and has been uploading photos from his archives as well as providing ID help on South American reptile and amphibian observations. “I really enjoy it and is one of my favorites hobbies now,” he tells me.

Photo of Diego by Pedro Peloso. Some quotes have been lightly edited for clarity and flow.

Diego heads the Mapinguari Lab, check it out!

Posted on January 12, 2021 09:55 PM by tiwane tiwane | 10 comments | Leave a comment

January 19, 2021

An Iranian Bird Guide and Bright Pink Native Plant - Observation of the Week, 1/19/21

Our Observation of the Week is this Bongardia chrysogonum (commonly known as سینه کبکی in Farsi) plant, seen in Iran by @shahrzadasa.

For nearly ten years now, Shahrzad Fattahi has worked as a bird guide, but she got her start in plants many years ago. “Iran is a country that is very rich in plant diversity,” she tells me, 

[and] at first I became interested in plants and I was able to take a short course to get acquainted with plants with taxonomy. Photography of nature was an integral part of my observations, so in the genre of wildlife photography and macrography, I expanded my activities and gradually became interested in birds and butterflies...I work and often travel alone to natural places and photograph the species observed, especially birds, butterflies and plants in different seasons.

It was on one of those trips, in 2016, where she took the photograph you see above.

During one of my trips to Mazandaran province, in a large plain called Lasem, which is full of flowers and butterflies in spring, I came across various plants, one of which was Bongardia chrysogonum

I remember a spring day with natural colorful flowers. A gentle breeze and a butterfly dance, along with the sound of a Common Rosefinch playing across the plains, thrilled me. After watching and photographing the species, I lay down on the grass for a short rest and watched the sky beyond the leaves, which attracted my attention more and I took two photos of it. I did not imagine that one day it could fit in a site like iNaturalist and be introduced to the public.

Shahrzad explains Bongardia chrysogonum grows in many of Iran’s natural areas, and its bright pink color attracts attention (the flowers are yellow when in bloom, however).  It’s commonly known as سینه کبکی, she tells me, which means “breast of the chukar” as it resembles that bird. The plant’s leaves, which are quite beautiful, as well as its tuber, are eaten and used medicinal purposes. A member of the barberry family (Berberidaceae), it ranges from Southeastern Europe into Kazakhstan, as well as North Africa.

After her friend @parham_beyhaghi suggested she share her finds on iNat, Shahrzad (above) signed up in 2017 and has posted over one thousand observations (and added 1,300+ IDs). She has been contacted by several students who are researching plants in the region, asking for information and photos, making her realize “how important this site is in introducing species and helping students and naturalists, and it can be a good communication bridge for exchanging useful information all over the world.

I am very happy to join this site so I can improve my knowledge and connect with other researchers and scientists of nature and use their information to learn. iNaturalist is a source of biodiversity learning in the world and it has made me much more interested than ever before.

Some quotes have been lightly edited for clarity and flow.

- Parham Beyhaghi was the subject of an early Observation of the Week, posted almost exactly four years ago!

- Bongardia chrysogonum has been traditionally used to treat urinary tract infections, and this study shows it may be effective in treating prostate issues in humans.

- It may also be an effective epilepsy medication, according to another study.

Posted on January 19, 2021 10:45 PM by tiwane tiwane | 14 comments | Leave a comment

January 25, 2021

A Japanese Mycologist and a Poison Fire Coral Fungus - Observation of the Week, 1/25/21

Our Observation of the Week is this Poison Fire Coral fungus (火炎茸), seen in Japan by @hirabe1216!

Hiroshi Abe has been fascinated with fungi since he was a child and ended up studying mycology in both college and graduate school. His focus is on the ecology of ectomycorrhizal symbiosis, “the strong relationship between tree species and mushroom forming fungi,” he explains. “I was really surprised to know tree species cannot survive without fungal symbionts in the natural environment.”

Since graduating, he has been studying fungi of nearby Komiya Park in Tokyo as a first step towards urban ecosystem conservation. 

I think even recording species with a short description and DNA sequence data will help us understand and evaluate the local natural environment. In addition, due to the fact that taxonomy of fungi is now just developing, undescribed species are found even in the local park!

Poison fire coral fungus, however, is a well known species, and Hiroshi (along with his friend Takahiko Koizumi) came across this specimen during their first exploration into Komiya Park. “This species is well-known as a lethal mushroom in Japan,” he tells me, “[and its] Japanese name is ‘火炎茸(kaen-take)’ meaning ‘flame fungus.’

It is also said that the number of [poison fire coral fungi] is increasing as oak wilt disease expands in Japan. Oak wilt disease, which triggers mass mortality of Quercus trees nurturing birds, insects and ectomycorrhizal fungi etc., is now one of the serious problems in urban ecosystems in Japan. In fact, dead Quercus trees attacked by the disease are increasing in Komiya Park.

Hiroshi (above) uses iNat to record and share his fungus explorations, look for observations made by others, and get ID help from the iNat community. “iNaturalist,” he says, “is the great first step of citizen-science!!”

(Some quotes have been lightly edited for clarity.)

- Poison fire coral fungus (also known as Podostroma cornu-damae) has devastating effects if ingested, you can read more here [PDF] if you’re interested.

- Once known mainly eastern Asia, it has been found as far a south as Australia. There’s even an iNat observation of one there.

- And because why not, here’s an electronic instrumental dance song named after this mushroom.

Posted on January 25, 2021 11:03 PM by tiwane tiwane | 8 comments | Leave a comment