Journal archives for December 2021

December 07, 2021

It's a Golden-rumped Sengi! - Observation of the Week, 12/7/21

Our Observation of the Week is this Golden-rumped Sengi (Rhynchocyon chrysopygus), seen in Kenya by @mwas!

Mwangi Gitau grew up in Nakuru, Kenya, about ninety miles west of Nairobi, and says he first became interested in nature when he saw tourists “admire and take photos of the huge flocks of the Lesser Flamingos and other water birds” in Lake Elementeita - a saline lake in Africa’s Great Rift Valley. 

Now he leads birdwatching tours for ConQuest Adventures in Kenya, Uganda and Tanzania, which is where he photographed the observation of the week. 

The Golden Rumped Sengi was seen in Arabuko Sokoke Forest in Coastal Kenya, during an 8 days birding tour…We were on a trail looking at a Red-capped Robin-Chat, [and] deep in the thickets we could hear noises in the leaf litter. We stayed still for a while, and suddenly the sengi showed up on the trail - that’s how we managed to get the photo. The  Red-capped Robin-Chat follows the sengi when it's feeding because it disturbs insects on the litterfall, which the robin benefits from.  

Most of the clients who visit the forest always include it on their wish list, and luckily we saw close to 10 pairs in a transect of 12 miles for a duration of 3 days.

As its common name suggests, this species of sengi (also known as “elephant shrews”) has gold-colored fur on its hindquarters. This is thought to attract a predator’s attention to that part of its body, which has tougher skin and might deflect teeth or fangs - if they can even get close to this quick animal. Most of their diet consists of various invertebrates, which, as Mwangi explained, they find by digging in the leaf litter. The IUCN lists them as Endangered due to habitat loss and trapping.

Mwangi (above) tells me he’s been on iNaturalist for about three years after being persuaded to join by Mike Plagens (@mjplagens) and says “so far it’s a very good learning platform because you network with experts in all fields.”

- You can check out Mwangi’s bio here!

- Disovery/BBC shot some nice footage of a Rufous Sengi (Galegeeska rufescens).

Posted on December 07, 2021 10:31 PM by tiwane tiwane | 21 comments | Leave a comment

December 13, 2021

Welcome, Naturalista Uruguay! ¡Bienvenido, NaturalistaUY!

Today we officially welcome NaturalistaUY (iNaturalist Uruguay) as the newest member of the iNaturalist Network! NaturalistaUY is a collaboration with two Uruguayan organizations, the environmental education NGO JULANA and the scientific initiative Biodiversidata with support from the National Geographic Society.

¡Hoy damos la bienvenida oficialmente a NaturalistaUY (iNaturalist Uruguay) como nuevo miembro de la Red iNaturalist! NaturalistaUY es una colaboración con organizaciones uruguayas, la ONG de educación ambiental JULANA y la iniciativa científica Biodiversidata con apoyo de la National Geographic Society.

NaturalistaUY’s logo is the capybara, which is locally called the carpincho (Hydrochoerus hydrochaeris). It is an animal that people relate to and immediately recognise as typically Uruguayan, and that is distributed in every department of the country. Of course, it helps that they are very cute! Although the species is distributed throughout most of Latin America, the capybara is very characteristic of Uruguay. It is also the largest living rodent in the world (distant cousin of the largest that has ever walked the Earth, the Uruguayan and already extinct Josephoartigasia monesi).

Elegimos al carpincho como nuestro logo de NaturalistaUY (Hydrochoerus hydrochaeris). Queríamos que fuera un animal que nos representara a todas y todos, que la gente reconociera inmediatamente como típicamente uruguayo y que estuviera distribuido en todos los departamentos de nuestro país. Por supuesto, ¡ayuda el hecho de que son muy lindos! Si bien la especie se distribuye por casi toda Latinoamérica, el carpincho es muy característico de nuestro país y actualmente es el roedor más grande del mundo (primo lejano del más grande que haya pisado la Tierra, el uruguayo y ya extinto Josephoartigasia monesi).

The iNaturalist community in Uruguay has grown quickly since 2019, today, reaching more than 33,000 verifiable observations on the platform and exceeding the 3,900 species reported for the Uruguayan territory. With more than 1,400 people uploading records all over the country, iNaturalist has grown to be the largest citizen science platform in Uruguay. @flo_grattarola is the main point of contact for NaturalistaUY through her role as coordinator of Biodiversidata and member of JULANA.

La comunidad de iNaturalist en Uruguay ha crecido masivamente desde 2019, llegando hoy a más de 33.000 observaciones verificables en la plataforma y superando las 3.900 especies reportadas para el territorio uruguayo. Con más de 1400 personas subiendo registros en todo el país, iNaturalista ha crecido hasta convertirse en la mayor plataforma de ciencia ciudadana de Uruguay. @flo_grattarola es el principal punto de contacto de NaturalistaUY a través de su rol como coordinadora de Biodiversidata e integrante de JULANA.

About the iNaturalist Network

The iNaturalist Network now has 19 localized sites that are fully connected and interoperable with the global iNaturalist site. The sites are: Naturalista Mexico, iNaturalist Canada, iNaturalist New Zealand (formerly NatureWatchNZ), Naturalista Colombia, BioDiversity4All (Portugal), iNaturalist Panama, iNaturalist Ecuador, iNaturalist Australia, ArgentiNat (Argentina), iNaturalist Israel, iNaturalist Finland, iNaturalist Chile, iNaturalist Greece, iNaturalist Luxembourg, iNaturalist United Kingdom, iNaturalist Guatemala, iNaturalist Sweden, Naturalista Costa Rica, and now Naturalista Uruguay. Any iNaturalist user can log in on any of the sites using their same username and password and will see the same notifications.

La Red iNaturalist ahora tiene 19 sitios locales a nivel nacional que están completamente conectados y son interoperables con el sitio global iNaturalist. Los sitios son: Naturalista México, iNaturalist Canadá, iNaturalist Nueva Zelanda (antes NatureWatchNZ), Naturalista Colombia, BioDiversity4All (Portugal), iNaturalist Panamá, iNaturalist Ecuador, iNaturalist Australia, ArgentiNat (iNaturalist Argentina), iNaturalist Israel, iNaturalist Finlandia, iNaturalist Chile,iNaturalist Grecia, iNaturalist Luxemburgo, iNaturalist Reino Unido, iNaturalist Guatemala, iNaturalist Suecia,NaturalistaCR, y ahora NaturalistaUY. Cualquier usuario de iNaturalist puede iniciar sesión en cualquiera de los sitios usando su mismo nombre de usuario y contraseña y verá las mismas notificaciones.

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

El modelo de la Red iNaturalist permite personalizar la experiencia iNaturalist para apoyar mejor a las comunidades regionales y al liderazgo local del movimiento, sin dividir la comunidad en sitios aislados. El equipo de iNaturalist agradece la divulgación, la formación, las traducciones y el apoyo a los usuarios realizados gracias a los esfuerzos de las instituciones integrantes de la Red iNaturalist.

We encourage all Uruguayans to join NaturalistaUY platform and explore biodiversity!

¡Invitamos a todas y todos los uruguayos a unirse a la plataforma NaturalistaUY y a explorar la biodiversidad!

Posted on December 13, 2021 02:40 PM by carrieseltzer carrieseltzer | 8 comments | Leave a comment

December 21, 2021

A Colorful Amphipod with a Big Snoot - Observation of the Week, 12/21/21

Our Observation of the Week is this Thorlaksonius platypus amphipod, seen in the United States by @imlichentoday!

[Siena McKim (@imlichentoday) wrote a wonderful piece this week that flowed really well so here it is in full. I’ve added some links to the text and made some minor copy edits, but otherwise everything between here and the line break is what Siena wrote. Enjoy! - Tony]

My earliest memory of nature was when I sucked on a dried slug from the sidewalk, but I am not positive that is what started my naturalist journey! I can’t seem to pick one group of organisms I’m interested in: in high school it was mold, college it was fungi, insects, woody plants, and finally freshwater algae and ciliates. In my final semester at University of Michigan I did my independent research on green jelly blobs you could find in many of the freshwater bodies around northern Michigan. In these blobs, colonies of Ophrydium (ciliates), there was an abundance of one species of diatom that had never been discovered before. This research led me to my first publication and showed me how many organisms haven’t been discovered, and how much I could illuminate about the natural world.

I’ve used iNaturalist to embrace my love for all different taxa and connect with other researchers and general nature enthusiasts to learn more about the organisms around me. Almost everything I have learned about southern California marine invertebrates has been from following other iNaturalist users and getting feedback on my posts. The platform has given me an outlet for sharing discoveries that I would have not even known were discoveries if it wasn’t for users on iNaturalist. If I’m out SCUBA diving or near the ocean observing organisms, I’ll always find a way to tell people about iNaturalist and how they can teach themselves about our amazing biodiversity.

During low tides you can find me tide pooling, usually looking for a sea slug species I haven’t found yet, but often I am distracted by crustaceans and snails. On this particular evening, we were graced with the usual sea slugs and snails but it started with a small moray eel biting my boyfriend’s finger! He quickly recovered from the attack and we went back to exploring. I was stunned to see a big funky amphipod grasping the red comb algae on the pools’ edge. It was so relaxed. I had my lights and camera on it for 10 minutes, with smaller energetic amphipods hopping on its back and whizzing around. I didn’t know its name at the time but I knew it was a species I had never seen before, especially in this color variation.

The name of the amphipods is Thorlaksonia platypus, an appropriate name for its big bill-like snoot (proper term for rostrum, anterior end of the head). It is a classic example of Batesian mimicry as its appearance attempts to replicate another animal, a Carinate Dove snail, Alia carinata. Thorlaksonia Platypus...“adopts a stance sitting on an algal surface which strongly resembles the size, outline, and orientation of the columbellid snail Alia carinata. The coloration of the amphipod is also banded to closely resemble that of the mollusk shell” (Crane 1969). Amongst these pools there are plenty of Alia carinata so that makes perfect sense. I ended up finding at least two T. platypus and some other Pleustidae species that haven't been identified yet. All of them were beautiful! People don’t generally pay too much attention to amphipods, but they can look really weird and act in funny ways like we are the audience to their late night talk show skit.

My interest in nature has led me to my position as a first year PhD student at UCSB studying sponge ecology, biodiversity, and endosymbionts. One direction I'm leaning towards is looking at the biodiversity that rely on sponges as habitat in the kelp forest, which would include amphipods. Although I’m a researcher, I see myself as a naturalist interested in all life, especially marine invertebrates, so iNaturalist feels like a home to me where I can nerd out about everything! I hope to bring more attention to community science while at UCSB and find more ways to engage the public with the ocean. A way that I have attempted to engage more with nature is through my art practice. This includes drawings of many underappreciated invertebrates that I am drawn to in the tide pools or while diving.

(Photo of Siena by Zach Berghorst - @amidzooids)

@clauden wrote this to me, regarding Siena's Observation: "when Leslie Harris identified it, [it] became the first confirmed record of the species on iNat. Then she went and commented on my earlier id of this species in Oregon, leading me to correct my error (it's restricted to SoCal) and then review others, having checked references and keys (and included in ID). So in a short period (days), iNat went from some general amphipod records, some flawed, to several certified and high quality observations of a bizarre and colorful crustacean that has...had few observations and no good photos for decades, and now available on GBIF for all...This is the power of the community (members) coupled with the tool (iNat platform) and the data (observations)."

- here's Siena's illustration of Thorlaksonia Platypus!

- cool video showing some of the amazing amphipods of Antarctica!

- check out some of the most faved Amphipods on iNat!

Posted on December 21, 2021 09:56 PM by tiwane tiwane | 15 comments | Leave a comment

December 29, 2021

Identifier Profile: @amila_sumanapala

This is the seventh in an ongoing monthly series profiling the amazing identifiers of iNaturalist!

On December 9th, Amila Sumanapala tweeted:

Identifying @inaturalist obervations is one of my #Hobbies. For the past 2.5 years I have been IDing both recent and past #India #dragonfly and #damselfly obs the best I can. Today I completed IDing 25000 verifiable Indian odonate obs being the first to reach the milestone.

So I thought this would be a great month to feature his work on iNaturalist! In addition to the 25,000+ Indian odonate - dragonflies and damselflies - observations to which he’s added IDs, Amila’s also identified over 2,400 odonate observations in his native Sri Lanka and over 63,000 total observations (of many fauna) worldwide.

Currently a researcher who lives in Boralesgamuwa, Sri Lanka, Amila traces his love of  nature back to his childhood and especially to birdwatching.

When I was 13 my father bought me a book on birds and birdwatching and at the same time I came across an exhibition stall conducted by the Field Ornithology Group of Sri Lanka, at an exhibition held at the University of Colombo. I was fascinated by the idea that people actually dedicated a lot of time and resources to observe and study birds. This got me interested in bird watching as a hobby and it was supported by my mother, who found me a local language field guide to the Sri Lankan birds. Later in my final years at school I learned more about biodiversity in general and the fact that the majority of the world’s biodiversity is still undescribed due to the lack of trained taxonomists, which encouraged me to study more about Sri Lanka’s biodiversity and become a taxonomist myself.

As a budding naturalist, Amila was interested in all faunal groups. But there were few resources for Sri Lankan odonates and  

this made me teach myself odonate identification through literature and field observations and I came to realize that there is a lot more to explore and discover about Sri Lankan odonates and not many people are working on the group. Eventually an interest sparked and I started studying them in detail in order to fill that niche. In 2012, during an exploration in the Peak Wilderness Mountain Range with some friends, I rediscovered the long lost species Sinhalestes orientalis (Sri Lanka Emerald Spreadwing). I published this discovery in 2013 [PDF] and it further encouraged me to focus even more on the odonates. Years later I authored a field guide on Sri Lankan Odonates and also started conducting workshops, lectures and other events to raise awareness and popularize odonates among the naturalists as well as the public.

In 2015 I joined the “Dragonfly South Asia” community and started attending DragonflySouthAsia Meets (DragonflyIndia Meets at the time), which is an annual gathering of dragonfly researchers, enthusiasts and citizen scientists in South Asia (primarily in India), and explored the odonates in several states in India. As an odonate researcher, the understanding of the taxa at a regional level was very important to me.

Amila spends a lot of time in the field, but thankfully he also devotes some time to iNat, which he first heard about at a citizen science workshop during the Student Conference on Conservation Science - Bengaluru in 2014. He signed up for an account then but didn’t really use it until 2018 when his friend Nuwan Chathuranga (@nuwan) “mentioned that iNat is a great platform to get identification support on the lesser known taxa. Thus I started using iNaturalist primarily to learn more on the insects I was documenting.”

When he has the opportunity to get on iNat with his laptop, Amila tells me “Identify tabs with filters set for all Sri Lankan observations and observations on Indian odonates are always open in my browser,” and that he also goes through and identifies older observations when he has the time. He mostly uses field guides, papers, and his own photo reference library, as well as platforms like Odonata of India when necessary. Identifying photos and documenting his own finds have long been hobbies of his, 

[and] it is also an amazing learning experience…Most of the observations I identify are generally of species already familiar to me and have observed during my explorations. However, some species, especially odonates from Northeast India and some insects from Sri Lanka are sometimes challenging to identify but a positive identification always rewards me with the knowledge and the self-satisfaction I gain through it.

I always find the discussions we have with fellow identifiers and experts very enriching. I always try to identify and verify observations by myself through self-studies, which helps me in strengthening my skills in identifying the species I work with and am interested in. By studying observations in iNaturalist contributed by a diverse community of users from all over the world, we can always learn new things.

It also gives us a unique satisfaction from contributing back to the community and science in general with your experience and expertise. Curation of data also improves the data quality in iNaturalist and helps us to get a better understanding on biodiversity as researchers…

iNaturalist and its dedicated community of identifiers became an invaluable resource in my explorations into the world of Sri Lankan insects. It helped lay the foundation of my current work.

(Photos of Amila by Dilani Sumanapala (top) and Nuwan Chathuranga (middle). Some quotes have been lightly edited for clarity and flow.)

- Amila’s website has a lot of cool stuff, like photos, publications, and some talks he’s given (in Sinhalese). 

- several of Amila’s favorite South Asian odonate observations are this Orthetrum andamanicum by @prosenjit (undescribed at the time), this Pseudagrion pilidorsum, and @mazedul_islam’s Gynacantha chaplini, which is the first known documentation of the species in India.

- when identifying beetles and other insects, Amila sometimes uses online museum collections as resources, like NHM’s Data Portal and the Smithsonian’s Entomology Collection.

- Amila’s Gasteracantha diardi spider was an Observation of the Week back in 2019!

Posted on December 29, 2021 08:38 PM by tiwane tiwane | 19 comments | Leave a comment