Journal archives for August 2021

August 02, 2021

Identifier Profile: @kai_schablewski

This is the third in what is an ongoing monthly (or almost monthly) series highlighting the amazing identifiers of iNaturalist.

“I love the enormous variety of shapes and the beauty of nature and have been fascinated by it all my life,” Kai-Philipp Schablewski (@kai_schablewski) tells me. Currently living in Marburg, Kai was born in the German city of Siegen and says “In my childhood [See Kai at age 11 below] I spent a lot of time in nature, was allowed to help design my parents' garden and owned several aquariums where I kept and bred plant, shrimp and fish species.” He  has also studied botany and has a real passion for plants.

Biodiversity is the Earth's greatest treasure that reflects the history of life on Earth but also stands for the future of life on Earth. Plants form the basis of most of the Earth's ecosystems.

The greater the diversity of plants, the more other species an ecosystem can usually accommodate.

There are around 320,000 different plant species, unfortunately we often only get to know a tiny fraction of them in the course of our lives.

He also notes, of course, that biodiversity is not evenly distributed. Germany averages, he says, about 500 different species of vascular plants per 10,000 km², while

the greatest number of different plant species and the greatest general diversity can be found in South America. Brazil, Colombia, Peru, Ecuador and Venezuela are among the 10 most biodiverse countries in the world, and Bolivia [is almost in the top ten]. Since I also find the landscapes and nature there incredibly beautiful, it is easy to see why I am particularly interested in the flora of this continent.

Unfortunately, I have never been to South America so far, but I love to imagine nature there and how it might be to find these plants there.

For years, then, Kai has been using platforms like Flickr and iNat to virtually explore the flora and fauna of South America and other biodiverse regions, and on iNat he’s made over 120,000 identifications (he’s the top iNat identifier of plants in South America) as well as adding and curating thousands of taxa. 

[When I became a curator in 2018,] the distribution of observations was even more uneven than it is today. Many observations came from the United States, Canada, Mexico, South Africa or New Zealand.

Many other particularly species-rich states, such as the countries of South America or Southeast Asia, had far fewer observations back then than they do today and many species were not even available on iNaturalist.

In order for iNaturalist to gain popularity in these countries as well, I found it very important to enter as many different species as possible into the system and also to update and correct the taxonomy. I think the situation has gotten a lot better now and iNaturalist is becoming more and more important in these countries too.

When identifying plants on iNaturalist, Kai says he usually tries to get an initial family ID general characteristics. “Then I try to determine the respective genus or species using identification keys. Often, with the help of species knowledge or the numerous image databases, it is possible to bypass many steps of the identification process and thus achieve a result more quickly.” (You can see a list of some of Kai’s resources at the end of this blog post.)

Not speaking Spanish, Portuguese, or Chinese, Kai often relies on machine translation and also notes “I [sometimes] understand the content of Spanish or Portuguese texts, especially technical terms that are often very similar in different languages.”

And what types of plant photos are best for identification? “As many different details of the species as possible should be visible.” 

It is therefore highly recommended to take more than one picture of the species. Close-ups of flowers, leaves, fruits, the stem and other features are very helpful. In addition, it often helps to look at the species from different angles, for example a top view of the flowers and a view from the side. Even a picture from further away is helpful so that it is possible to see the habitat of the species.

While he may spend much of his time identifying observations from around the globe, Kai (below) says that using iNat to make observations has led him to some cool finds in his native Germany, like the first arctic sunburst lichen observations in the country, or this very blue liverwort

After working as a biological technical assistant at several pharmaceutical companies, Kai lost his job about three years ago and has since had difficulty finding full-time work as he suffers from social phobia and depression. “I probably spend far more time with iNaturalist than with any full-time job before,” he says, “but I don’t know how long I will be able to do this because I somehow have to make a living.”

“My previous jobs did not give me the feeling of doing something useful, even though I worked in the pharmaceutical industry,” he explains. “I felt replaceable and interchangeable. Since I've been helping with iNaturalist, I've had the feeling that I can contribute to something bigger and actually influence and improve it to a certain extent...I think it is very important, especially in this age of habitat destruction and species extinctions that we are living in.”

Some of Kai’s favorite taxa are:

He’s also fascinated by mycoheterotrophic and parasitic plants like Tiputinia foetida and Corsia arfakensis.

"Some of my favorite pages that I use for my identifications include for example:

Galería Bioweb Ecuador

Flora Argentina and Flora del Conosur

REFLORA - Flora do Brasil 2020 

Flora of China 

Plant Photo Bank of China 

...and many more.

I usually also check the plant on POWO, the taxonomic backbone for plant species on iNaturalist.

Many papers that have been published at ResearchGate have also helped me very often."

Posted on August 02, 2021 09:58 PM by tiwane tiwane | 34 comments | Leave a comment

August 05, 2021

An American Pika Doing its Thing - (Belated) Observation of the Week, 7/20/21

[It took a little time for Prof. Meredith to get back to me, so this is being posted a few weeks late.- Tony]

Our Observation of the Week is this American Pika (Ochotona princeps), seen in the United States by @drbrachydactyl!

“I carry my cameras on all the hikes I go on (because you never know what you might see), and I look for and notice animals everywhere I go at all times,” says Professor Stephanie Meredith, who studies primatology. She tells me she’s always loved animals but became a primatologist “because I'm really into behavior and especially enjoy observation,” which comes out in her recounting of her pika observation.

My wife and I were hiking in the eastern Sierra (it's so lovely there) for the first time and we saw three pika on the Little Lakes Valley trail by Rock Creek. My wife spotted the first one, but just for a split second and it was gone. I spotted the second and third. We spotted them all by motion, though the locals tell me that you can often hear them alarm calling. The second (the one pictured) was obliging with its photo ops. It was putzing around the rocks, foraging on plants, and for some reason when it would grab a mouthful of vegetation, it would return to a perch and munch there in full view. The reason I eventually got a good photo was simply because we watched it for long enough. I'm sure we watched it for at least 10 minutes, because it was the first pika we'd been able to see well enough to appreciate...

It was fun to watch a pika just do its pika thing--after all, you can hardly get cuter than a munching pika. And that's always my favorite--when you are lucky enough to just be quiet and watch an animal, large or small, do its thing without regard for your presence. 

While they may look like rodents at first glance, pikas (members of Family Ochotonidae) are actually lagomorphs, an order which includes rabbits and hares. American pika range throughout rocky mountainous areas of western North America and spend much of the year in their dens, living off haypiles they gather over the short summer. Very sensitive to high temperatures, they have likely been forced to higher altitudes as the climate warms.

Currently an anthropology professor at West Los Angeles College, Stephanie (above, in Iguazú National Park) is collaborating with Clara Scarry (CSUS), Marcela Benitez (Emory), and Sarah Brosnan (GSU)), researching cognitive development in black-horned capuchins at Iguazú National Park. She’s also “working to develop research opportunities for community college students,” and is considering using iNat as part of this endeavor.

“iNaturalist,” she says,

hasn't changed the way I interact with or see the natural world, but it has changed my sharing practices. I now diligently use iNaturalist to report herp sightings that I might otherwise keep to myself (for example, if a photo is only perfunctory, or maybe even kind of bad). I do this because I have some herpetologist friends who actually use iNaturalist for research purposes (Greg Pauly at the LA Natural History Museum) and because if I don't, some of my other naturalist/biologist friends (Tom Wake at UCLA) will chide me about it, lol. And that makes sense. It's great for documenting range changes through time, activity patterns across the year, etc.--all the kinds of stuff that ecologists want to know but that small teams of researchers really just can't document by themselves.

(Photo of Prof. Meredith was taken by Lara Torge)

- You can check out Professor Meredith’s website here!

- Pika researcher Chris Ray, PhD, gives a nice overview of American pika life in this video.

- This video has some nice pika behavior and vocalization footage!

- So far, 22 of the 29 pika species have been observed on iNat - here are the most-faved pika observations!

Posted on August 05, 2021 09:18 PM by tiwane tiwane | 11 comments | Leave a comment

August 10, 2021

It's Not a Goat, It's a Japanese Serow!

Our Observation of the Week is this Japanese Serow (Capricornis crispus, カモシカ in Japanese), seen in Japan by @tuohinopsakki!

“If you ever happen to be in Tokyo and have a day to spare, I really recommend checking out Okutama and the Chichibu-Tama-Kai National Park,” says Julius Eerola. “Both are accessible easily from central Tokyo by local train. Perfect trip to get away from the hustle and bustle of the largest city in the world for a while.”

Julius, who’s from Finland, was visiting Japan in January 2019 (he’d also studied at the University of Tokyo when he was younger) and was hiking with some friends when he saw the amazing mammal you see above. They were on the Okutama Mukashi Michi (Old Okutama Road) which 

is about 9 kilometres long and runs along an abandoned railroad. It starts from the Okutama village and ends at the huge Ogouchi Dam. On the road we spotted many interesting animals, like Japanese Macaques and a Mountain Hawk-Eagle, though sadly I didn't get a nice picture of them.

When we arrived at the dam, we took a walk over it. Since the dam is massive in size, the view on it is great. When we arrived on the other side of the dam, we noticed this goat-like animal walking on the rocks near the water surface. I was confused, I had never seen an animal like that before. We took many pictures of it, and turns out it was a Japanese Serow. I feel really happy that we were able to see it from such close distance.

More closely related to goats than it is to cows, the Japanese Serow is endemic to forested areas of Japan (primarily Honshu) and stands at about 70–75 centimeters (28–30 in) at the shoulder, with both sexes sporting short horns. Hunting reduced the species’ total population to about 2,000-3,000 individuals before it was declared a “Special Natural Monument” by the Japanese government. It’s now considered of “Least Concern” by the IUCN and subject to culling in some areas.

Julius tells me he’s always been into nature. 

I grew up in Finland surrounded by abundant forests, which isn't rare around here. I'm especially interested in birds and bugs. Currently I work as an archaeologist, and my nature related hobbies really help in that line of work. People in the past had such a strong connection to nature, that it is absolutely necessary to understand the natural world and its phenomena in order to understand the people themselves.

I joined iNaturalist only about a month ago, when I discovered the site through the internet service of Finnish Biodiversity Information Facility. I had to join instantly. Since then I've been absolutely overwhelmed how great the service and community are. Even though I use the site mostly as my personal nature diary, I have already learned so much through it.

- Here’s some footage of a Japanese Serow walking about.

- The Finnish Biodiversity Information Facility is iNat’s partner for iNat Finland, which joined the iNaturalist Network last May.

Posted on August 10, 2021 08:09 PM by tiwane tiwane | 10 comments | Leave a comment

August 18, 2021

A Northern Goshawk Flies Off with a Eurasian Coot - Observation of the Week, 8/17/21

iNat user @clara_g documented a Northern Goshawk (Accipiter gentilis, Habicht in German) making off with a Eurasian Coot (Fulica atra, Bläßhuhn in German) in Germany and it's our Observation of the Week! 

Clara Guckenbiehl tells me that a “great biology teacher” in high school, as well as apprenticeship at a zoo keeper at a wildlife rehabilitation center, were key factors leading to her studying biology in college. “Especially during the master's program,” she says, 

I discovered field ornithology as a great hobby that makes me forget everything else, where I don't mind getting up early, walking for hours or standing in the pouring rain just to find out what I can observe that day, to see that one resting migratory bird or to hear that one owl calling. Having found friends sharing this fascination as well as upgrading my camera equipment definitely helped me to improve my skills and fueled my passion.

And it was on an outing with friends, while wielding her trusty camera, that Clara captured the predation event you see above.

I saw the goshawk preying on the coot while at a lake with my husband Tobi and my friend and fellow student Alex. Not much had happened so far when suddenly Alex said that “something large” just went down into the reeds. So I got my camera ready while the Egyptian geese were clamoring and ranting. And then the goshawk flew up with his prey, directly towards and over us, being followed by several attacking crows and the cackling of all waterfowl. I was absolutely stunned when I realized what we had just witnessed! And I'm really glad I got the photos at all because my old camera I brought that day doesn't really shoot fast and focuses quite slowly.

We were in a small wooden hut, so unfortunately I couldn't see what exactly did happen after the goshawk flew by. It seemed to be heading for a group of trees behind us - and I hope it could enjoy its meal there without being disturbed by the crows again!

Since the spring, Clara (above, looking for yellow-bellied toads), has been studying stress in forest birds for her master’s thesis, as well as doing some bird banding. But she’s definitely into other taxa as well.

At the moment, I’m specifically interested in dragonflies but I also try to record everything else that comes across my way. iNaturalist really helps me with that - on the one hand, it boosts my motivation to contribute to a large data set instead of having the photos gather digital dust somewhere on my computer. On the other hand, iNat's artificial intelligence and the “swarm intelligence” of the whole community regularly allow me to identify taxa I'm not familiar with. iNaturalist also serves as some kind of personal observation diary for me and allows me to get an idea of what to expect when visiting new areas.

(Photo of Clara by Tobias Geitz - @tobias_g)

- Eurasian Coot chicks have brightly colored heads and necks, here’s some nice footage of them hanging out with an adult.

Posted on August 18, 2021 12:38 AM by tiwane tiwane | 20 comments | Leave a comment

August 24, 2021

Cerratapalooza - Observation of the Week, 8/24/21

Our Observation of the Week is this Cockscomb Nudibranch (Antiopella barbarensis), seen in the United States by @helgeweissig.

“While I was SCUBA certified in 1994, I have only recently begun to dive regularly and a couple of years ago I started taking my photography hobby with me under water,” says Helge Weissig. “I have become increasingly interested in nudibranchs and other invertebrates but sometimes the odd fish picture will sneak into the mix.”

Helge went diving at “the wall” off La Jolla Shores in southern California last November and spotted quite a few creatures, including several cockscomb nudibranchs.

At the wall, the gentle slope of the Shores takes a steep step down from about 50 ft to up to 65 or 70 ft before dropping off more gently again into the depths of La Jolla Canyon. There is typically a lot of life on older sections of the wall (it crumbles from time to time, exposing naked clay that often stays barren for a while) and on that particular day, I found two Cockscombs [the other below]…

Cockscomb nudibranchs are probably some of the most luminous creatures one will find under water in Southern California. They are not exactly rare but most often solitary and easy to miss. Their bulbous cerrata (those club-shaped appendages on their body) often feature neon-blue tips and yellow rings while their rhinophores (the two antenna-looking appendages in the front) are light blue but often hidden or retracted.

Helge (above) tells me that by the time he was a teenager he knew he wanted to be a biologist, which led him from his home in rural Germany to San Diego. However, he eventually changed his focus to molecular biology and genetics and for the past nineteen years has “been working at an early drug discovery research and biotech company maintaining their research informatics platforms and running all sorts of data analyses.”

He only started using iNat recently but says he’s “very much hooked already.”

The ease of uploading and labeling observations as well as the very collaborative nature of identifying all kinds of organisms make it a fantastic tool for sharing observations, learning about their nature, and connecting with other people interested in and knowledgeable about them. While I mostly focus on the esthetics of my underwater photographs, I will continue using iNat to help me identify those organisms I haven’t encountered before and have not found information on anywhere else.

(Photo of Helge by Volker Kilian)

- as @anudibranchmom noted on the observation itself, the cockscomb nudibranch up top, lacking blue tips on its cerrata, looks quite similar to a tunicate colony, eg

- Take a gander at the most-faved nudibranchs on iNat!

Posted on August 24, 2021 09:41 PM by tiwane tiwane | 10 comments | Leave a comment

August 27, 2021

Meet Lisette Arellano (ten_salamanders), an iNaturalist Monthly Supporter

This is the third interview in a series getting to know members of the iNaturalist community who are also Monthly Supporters. You can also read the first and second interviews.

Lisette Arellano (@ten_salamanders) is from the San Francisco Bay Area in California. She works for the Golden Gate National Parks Conservancy as the Community Science Program Manager at One Tam, using iNaturalist is part of her work. Earlier this year she gave a presentation at a virtual event hosted by fellow iNaturalist enthusiast and author Mary Ellen Hannibal (@mhannibal) for the Bay Nature Institute (you can watch a recording of the whole program here, or jump straight to Lisette’s part beginning at 7:35).

How did you first get into iNaturalist?
iNaturalist is how I finally arrived at a place of contentment with my identity as a scientist and endurance athlete. It’s a long story that starts when I was a high school student saving up for a mountain bike so I could go on solo adventures without a car. That fall, I joined the high-school cross-country team as a ploy to spend more time outside, hang out with friends, and daydream. I wanted to be an ecologist when I grew up and imagined that by biking and running, I could get to know the Santa Cruz Mountains very well and learn all the nature things. That did happen to some extent until I got serious about sports and with that came some unexpected opportunities. By the time I was a collegiate student-athlete, my running-biking-naturalist concept seemed impractical. If I was outside, I was at practice preoccupied with how fast and how far I was going or I was in the field with exams or research on my mind. It was hard to slow down and appreciate the monarchs of Ellwood Grove and the plants of the Santa Ynez Mountains.

My doctoral work took me to Boulder, Colorado, a town full of athletes and scientists with big ambitions. That era had a lot of ups and down, and I constantly felt disappointed with my efforts as an ecologist, naturalist, and athlete. It’s difficult to do a hard workout before a day of Rocky Mountain summer fieldwork or to be mentally and emotionally present for both competition and comprehensive exams. Slowing down was hard when I felt like I always had to rush off to finish work.

Then on a winter break at Point Reyes National Seashore, I spent time on the trails, running the parts that were fun to run, hiking the parts that were fun to hike, and taking lots of pictures of slugs and mushrooms. After hours in the mist and rain, the evenings were spent curled up with field guides from the hostel library. This is what a younger version of myself had imagined and I wanted that feeling of gentle adventure and curiosity every day after that.

Life is not vacation, so it took me a while to figure out how I was going to establish a daily practice. iNatualist made it possible. Most of my iNatting happens on runs or bike rides, no matter how epic or mundane, fast or slow. Every time I upload my observations, spend time identifying, follow the path of my curiosity, even for five minutes while I’m also stretching, it’s all joy.

What made you want to donate monthly, in addition to everything else you do with iNaturalist?
In meetings, I’m always saying that iNaturalist is the promise of the Internet fulfilled. Well, I stand by that. I use iNaturalist every day and really want it to thrive into the future. I am grateful for iNaturalist as a conduit for my personal curiosity, a tool for my professional work, and a local and global community. Lastly, as a fellow non-profit worker, I know it takes a lot of behind-the-scenes work to maintain operations and am sympathetic to the need for predictable, long-term funding.

What keeps you motivated?
In my personal iNaturalist practice, I am most energized by the opportunity to hold a beginner’s mindset and to follow my curiosity without external pressure. With iNaturalist, there is also a sense of adventure to everything I do, however ordinary. Adventure and curiosity are very similar to me in that they are largely about holding a gentle fascination and openness to the world. For example, if I’m not at work, I do most of my iNatting while running or biking. If I start my run with a curious mind, I end up seeing all kinds of things –a squirrel blind in one eye, an interesting bee behavior, a new-to-me mushroom—and I am reminded that my tiny pocket of the universe is indeed very special and full of adventure.

In my professional iNaturalist practice, I am motivated by all the people that are part of One Tam and the constant experimentation and problem-solving we do for conservation. The best part of my job is connecting community scientists to each other and providing the space and support for people to develop and share their naturalist skills and curiosity. Starting new community science projects takes a ton of work, and I’m grateful that iNaturalist is such a solid tool for everything from mycoblitzes to our new Marin Milkweed Monitors project. The second-best part of my job is nerding out with data and constantly diving off the deep end learning new things. When I have a big dataset in front of me it’s like I opened a big box of coloring pencils and paints and the code is the blank canvas. It’s a bit overwhelming, but very exciting.

What’s something that you’d like more members of the iNaturalist community to know or do?
I want the iNaturalist community to join action to ensure a livable planet for all organisms. I want everyone to realize that their pocket of the universe is indeed special and full of adventure and to act together to protect it. The iNaturalist community is global, so it’s hard to generalize. The society I inhabit is constantly distracted and divided, and I think it’s subversive to pay attention to the very real living things nearby and to connect to other people that respect and care about life on this planet. In some places, that’s not safe to do at all. By contributing to iNaturalist, members of this community are already taking steps to connect and build knowledge collectively and that’s just the beginning of action. In brief, be kind to others, share knowledge generously, and show up to care for the place you inhabit.

And if you are living in the San Francisco Bay Area or visiting, come play with me at One Tam. You can visit or @onetamalpais on Instagram for announcements

Thank you to @ten_salamanders and all of the Monthly Supporters! iNaturalist Monthly Supporters give automatic, recurring charitable donations and can be recognized on their profile pages, if they choose to from their account settings. Monthly Supporters are a critical part of our community and help ensure that iNaturalist is freely available to people all over the world. You can become a Monthly Supporter by giving your first recurring donation online. Thank you!

iNaturalist thrives thanks to deeply dedicated and enthusiastic community members like Lisette. We’re grateful to everyone who is generous with their time, expertise, and other gifts. For the rest of 2021, we'll profile several different Monthly Supporters to highlight members of the community and why they support iNaturalist.

Become a Monthly Supporter
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iNaturalist is a joint initiative of the California Academy of Sciences and the National Geographic Society. All donations will be received by the California Academy of Sciences, a 501(c)(3) tax-exempt not-for-profit organization based in the United States of America (Tax ID: 94-1156258). Gifts can be made online in more than 40 different currencies via bank account, credit/debit card, or PayPal.

Posted on August 27, 2021 06:20 PM by carrieseltzer carrieseltzer | 18 comments | Leave a comment

August 31, 2021

Spinner Sharks! - Observation of the Week, 8/31/21

Our Observation of the Week is this Spinner Shark (Carcharhinus brevipinna), seen off of South Africa by @veld_mens!

A scientific marine and fisheries observer on fish and seismic vessels, Carika van Zyl was on a trawler off the coast of South Africa and tells me 

I was doing data entry on the bridge and a splash caught my eye. I then saw another splash. I grabbed my camera and tried to take some pictures to identify the species. At first I thought it was a dolphin but it soon became apparent that it was a shark. I was completely amazed as I have never encountered [spinner sharks]. There were about four sharks and over a couple of weeks I spent hours photographing them in the afternoon and individually identifying them, trying to look for specific markings and thus realizing that it is the same group following the vessel. It was quite the task as you never knew where they would breach and they would jump so fast that I basically got 100's of splash photos.

One day, I was in luck and with a prayer and a strong resolve, realizing that I had to get good pictures of them. Strangely enough they are predominantly found more inshore and in warm waters. We were about forty miles offshore, and in 1000m deep cold waters…

Having the chance to witness and photograph these sharks in action was truly a highlight for me. They would just give us a show everyday. This trip really cemented my respect for sharks and the need to protect them.

Found in most subtropical waters around the world, spinner sharks swim quickly through schools of small fish such as sardines, spinning all the while, and then breach the surface as you can see in Carika’s excellent photos. As Carika noted, they’re normally found in waters shallower than 350 feet or so but she explains that “during [the trip] there was a huge change in ocean temperature, due to currents, which affected much of the East and South Coast and I think that was why they were so deep.” These sharks grow to a maximum length of about three meters, or just under ten feet.

Growing up in Ceres, South Africa, Carika (above) “fell in love with the mountains, its leopards, baboons, the fynbos and the historic bushmen rock paintings” of her home and earned a masters degree in Marine Monitoring, leading to her current occupation. She uses iNaturalist “mostly to assist in identifying fynbos species, and I so appreciate all the kind people who [help me].”

- Here’s some footage of spinner sharks off of Florida. 

- And don’t forget their look-alikes, the spinner dolphins! David Attenborough narrates a video featuring them here.

Posted on August 31, 2021 10:44 PM by tiwane tiwane | 12 comments | Leave a comment