Journal archives for March 2022

March 01, 2022

A Diver in Tahiti Posts the First Parribacus holthuisi Slipper Lobster to iNat! - Observation of the Week, 3/1/22

Our Observation of the Week is the first Parribacus holthuisi slipper lobster posted to iNat! Seen in French Polynesia by @vetea_liao.

“I've been fascinated by nature, in particular in marine biology, since my childhood when I learned how to spearfish with my father,” says Vetea Liao, who grew up in Tahiti. 

I had to learn the local names of the fishes and understand their behavior. And then later during my studies I learned about the whole reef ecosystem and the classification system and I was even more fascinated. For one of my first jobs, I participated in a massive biological inventory on the island of Moorea, the Biocode Project, and was amazed by all the little organisms that we found and I was able to talk to many taxonomists. This experience definitely hooked me!

During one of his forays into the ocean, Vetea witnessed daytime spawning by the coral species Porites rus (below), which he says is unusual because most corals spawn at night. After more investigations into this behavior, he found it was quite predictable, so “with few friends we were able to confirm that this spawning for this coral species was synchronous over two different islands, within a few minutes [of time]. Then we decided to start a small scale citizen science project to explore the spatial scale of this synchrony and found that it happened at the same time on seven different islands separated by 500 km.”

In 2021 they created the Tama No Te Tairoto (“Children of the Lagoon”) association to scale up the project even further and in 2021 found simultaneous spawning over ten different islands. “We are a group of young marine biologists,” he explains. “most of us are amateur photographers and we also use our photos to show our followers the wonders of our lagoon and rare or intriguing marine species.”

Slipper lobsters like Parribacus holthuisi are, of course one of those intriguing marine species, and Vetea says the one shown above was found when the group went night snorkeling.

I invited a few [members] to the lagoon where I grew up but I hadn't been there myself in a few years. Unfortunately the general environment of this area has been degraded and overfished but two years ago some regulations on fishing were implemented. I was interested to see if there was any visible impact on the fish population, and fortunately while snorkeling we saw this beautiful slipper lobster that was different from the usual one (Parribacus antarticus). I posted it on iNaturalist because I saw that there was no picture of Parribacus holthuisi.

More closely related to spiny lobsters than “true” lobsters (Family Nephropidae), slipper lobsters (Family Scyllaridae) have distinctive flattened antennae, which Vetea captured so well in his photo. They live in warmer waters around the world where they dwell on the seafloor and eat mollusks, worms, and other invertebrates. They’re edible but haven’t been the target of large scale commercial fishing. Parribacus holthuisi grow to about 14 cm in total length

Currently working with Direction des ressources marines for the local government in Tahiti, Vetea (above) used to work in Moorea for the Gump research station (run by UC Berkeley) and for the CRIOBE research station (French CNRS). And of course in his free time serves as president of Tama No Te Tairoto. The group uses Google tools for their work, but Veta says “when I discovered Inaturalist, the tools and the community associated, I was impressed.”

I use iNaturalist to reach out to a wider community of specialists. We do have a few local guide books for underwater organisms but there are still some species to discover or to identify. And when local specialists can't identify something to the species level, the iNaturalist community is a very useful resource.

(Photo of Vetea by Anne-marie Trinh. Some quotes have been lightly edited for clarity.)

- Vetea and his group haven’t published their findings yet, they’ll be turning to it after the observation season is over. He tells me they hope to make an international call for further study of this behavior.

- There are, of course, videos of coral spawning, here’s one from PBS Nature.

- Take a look at the diversity of slipper lobsters on iNat!

Posted on March 01, 2022 11:04 PM by tiwane tiwane | 13 comments | Leave a comment

March 08, 2022

In Iran, a Herpetologist Finds a Colorful Caspian Monitor Lizard - Observation of the Week, 3/8/22

Our Observation of the Week is this Caspian Monitor (Varanus griseus caspius), seen in Iran by @hossein_nabizadeh!

“As a child, I was always looking for reptiles in my grandfather's garden,” recalls Dr. Hossein Nabizadeh, a biologist at Razi University.

and [people’s] fear of reptiles made me do more research on them. For this reason, I started studying biology, and my research for my master's degree focused on the systematics and ecology of the lizards in the Maranjab Desert in Iran. This made me focus entirely on the taxonomy, ecology, and protection of reptiles. Iran has a high variety of reptiles and has the strangest snake in the world called the spider-tailed horned viper.

Hossein has been studying Iranian reptiles for years now with an International Herpetology team, and in 2017, on a research trip to central Iran, he and his fellow herpetologists came across the Caspian monitor you see here. It’s one of two Varanus griseus subspecies known in Iran (the other being the grey monitor), and “[in the caspius] subspecies, the transverse bands on the dorsal region are reddish-brown and the tail is dark with 13 to 19 transverse bands at the end of the tail (usually one-third of the tail)...

Monitor lizards have bifurcated tongues, drooping eyelids, strong, well-developed limbs, long, strong tails, and large, sharp teeth, and they can be seen in most desert areas of the Iranian plateau. The largest lizards in Iran and the world belong to the Varanidae family.

Currently working on descriptions of new lizard species from Iran (to be published soon), Hossein (above), a member of the Institute of Herpetology Research at the Central Iranian Plateau, joined iNat last June and his posted most of his photos of Iranian reptiles here, in order to help them be seen by others. “I do photography as an amateur,” he says, “and I use most of these photos for my research.”

(Some quotes have been lightly edited)

- Look closely at the second photo of this monitor lizard and you’ll notice how close its nostrils are to its eyes - a trait of this species.

- Take a gander at the beauty of Iran’s reptilian residents on iNat!

- Check out two previous Observations of the Week from Iran: @parham_beyhaghi’s Lorestan Newt, and @shahrzadasa’s Bongardia chrysogonum.

Posted on March 08, 2022 10:38 PM by tiwane tiwane | 12 comments | Leave a comment

March 16, 2022

Awesome Ascomata - Observation of the Week, 3/16/22

Our Observation of the Day is this Angelina rufescens fungus, seen in the United States by @huafang!

“I grew up in countryside in Taiwan,” says Huafang Su. “Memories of my childhood revolve around climbing trees, running in bamboo forest, catching all kind of insects and other small animals, etc. Nature was always there for me to explore.”

Now a grandmother and living in the state of Michigan, Huafang has slowly been reintroducing herself to nature. 

I spent time learning about birds, frogs, butterflies, wildflowers, and trees, but I was not particularly passionate about them until I met fungi. Maybe because fungi are ephemeral, maybe because they are unpredictable, or maybe because they are difficult to study, fungi get my attention. Mushroomers constantly find species that are new to science, new to one’s area, or new to oneself. I especially like to find new-to-me species. I enjoy the quiet and suspenseful hunt in the woods. I love the delight of serendipity again and again. I don’t have any training in science, however I’ll keep on learning so I can understand more about fungi. Fungi will be a life-long learning for me.

And back in 2020 one of those “new-to-me” species was Angelina rufescens, which is when Huafang saw her first one. 

It was nothing special at the first glance until I zoomed in to take photos of it. Its elongated ascomata [fruiting bodies] were so distinctive with the split-open look and adorned with light-color margin. With so many fungi being unknown, it’s very common to come across a fungus that cannot be easily identified in the available field guides. However, some fungi are easy to identify if we manage to find out the information about them. Angelina rufescens is one of them. It’s the only species in the genus, it produces distinctive ascomata that regrow on the same wood annually and on its dead ascomata of previous fruiting.

She’s since seen it two more times, including the one photographed above, which she saw in November of last year.

A member of the Michigan Mushroom Hunters Club (MMHC), Huafang (above) has been heading their FunDis project since 2017. “We learned the value of citizen science through participating in the project,” she says,

[and] we now collect the specimens, document the specimens with photos, voucher the specimens, sequence some of the specimens if fund is available, and deposit the collections to the University of Michigan Herbarium (UMICH). iNaturalist, in this regard, is one of the best platforms for citizen scientists of every experience level to document their finds and communicate with other enthusiastic citizen scientists.

Mycology is a field to which citizen scientists can make significant contributions. Many mushrooms still await classification. I will keep on doing the part I enjoy the most – walking in the woods and documenting the fungi I find.

- Angelina rufescens is a member of Class Leotiomycetes, which are quite beautiful and different from the standard “mushroom” we usually think of when we think of fungi. Check out the most-faved ones on iNat!

- There have, of course, been several Observations of the Week about fungus observations, including a Clavaria by @thiago_mouzinho and this zygote fungus growing on a millipede by @hazelsnail!

Posted on March 16, 2022 09:49 PM by tiwane tiwane | 13 comments | Leave a comment

March 22, 2022

In Malawi, a Wasp Nest is Raided by a Large Hive Beetle - Observation of the Week, 3/22/22

Our Observation of the Week is this Ropalidia distigma paper wasp nest being raided by a Large Hive Beetle (Oplostomus fuligineus). Seen by @lemoncul in Malawi.

After growing up in Luxembourg, Marc Henrion (@lemoncul) moved to London for university and postdoc training, then to New York for a postdoc position. While he always had an interested in nature, Marc tells me “it really took off when I moved to the US and discovered the national parks with their impressive wildlife and the realisation that I would need a much better camera.”

After moving to Malawi a few years later, he says

[I] was blown away by the birdlife, though I had to learn a lot. I work in international public health research, but luckily my office mate [@markusgmeiner] was active on iNaturalist and got me hooked into systematically logging my observations and helping with IDs. I am always interested in large mammals, but birds really are my passion. Reptiles, amphibians and insects are a bonus when out and about but not my main interest.

And we’re lucky Marc is interested in non-bird wildlife, otherwise we might not have gotten a look at the tableau you see above. It’s actually due to his forgetting his binoculars at home before heading out to Majete Wildlife Reserve in southern Malawi a few weeks ago. “So,” he says,

instead of looking for birds, leopards and wild dogs, I decided to have a more entomologically focused weekend as I could use my phone camera to record observations that way - a phone is not ideal for birdwatching... So in the evening I walked around the campsite with a flashlight and my phone. I then spotted the beetle stuck in a wasp nest on one of the shower blocks. I wondered what the beetle was doing there, and thought it had been the victim of the wasps. Only after posting it on iNaturalist and the beetle being ID'ed (by @opolasek and @beetledude) did I find out that the beetle was the parasite in this situation - really cool when you learn something new.

I reached out to Ozren (@opolasek) for more information about this interaction, and he told me

The observation by lemoncul shows a real problem for a wasp colony, a hive chafer. These coleopterans can raid wasp colonies and cause a substantial loss of larvae and destruction of the nest. However, in all observations on iNaturalist, the wasps do not mount a reaction or try to defend the brood. This is very interesting, but we are unaware why the wasps do not react. The chafer may use chemical signals to pacify the wasps, and one of the wasps in this photo seems to lick the chafer. 

Adults of this species (which also raid honey bee hives), eat, meet, and mate on nests, after which the female will lay her eggs in mammal dung. Larvae eat and pupate within the dung, emerging as adults on the prowl for hymenopteran nests.

The wasp species, Ropalidia distigma, is one of the most common in the area, says Ozren, and makes nests containing about 50 adults, often on trees or human structures. A citizen scientist with a “keen interest in the family Vespidae,” Ozren has been working with others on a revision of African Ropalidia

Notably, [Ropalidia distigma] will soon change the name, and it will become Ropalidia puncta, a taxonomic change that will resolve nearly 218 years of confusion of one type specimen described by Fabricius in 1804. This finding is a part of the large revision of this genus, where five colleagues helped produce a revision of African species. The study described 33 new African species and included 528 documented observations of these wasps collected on iNaturalist website. This study was recently accepted for publication by the journal Zootaxa.

Marc (above, second from right), tells me he uses iNaturalist for three main reasons:

1. Logging my observations - for my own records and for contributing to research.

2. Finding out what I've seen -- I learned a lot about species that I had no idea what they were when I recorded them and getting the online community to identify them.

3. A bit of friendly competition to see who is the top observer in Malawi (though @markusgmeiner will be difficult to overtake...) ;-)

(Photo by Oliver Pearse (@opearse), taken in Nsanje, Malawi. From left to right: Innocent Chapo, a local community leader; Alic, a forestry department ranger; Alex (@globalorthop); Innocent's son Hassan who was our guide; Marc (@lemoncul); and Markus (@markusgmeiner).)

- A paper based on GBIF data (which included iNaturalist observations) made a model to predict the spread of large hive beetles, and you can read it here! Also includes some pretty interesting information about their behavior and effect on honey bee hives.

- Ozren and some colleagues recently described a new speices of Ropalidia, and their investigation was spurred by this observation by @happyasacupcake. The paper will soon be published in Journal of Hymenoptera Research.

Posted on March 22, 2022 08:05 PM by tiwane tiwane | 13 comments | Leave a comment

March 29, 2022

A Mediterranean Burnet Grows in Lebanon - Observation of the Week, 3/29/22

Our Observation of the Week is this Mediterranean Burnet (Sanguisorba verrucosa, مرقئة ثؤلولية in Arabic), seen in Lebanon by @ramymaalouf!

A Lebanese-Spanish field naturalist currently residing in Bucharest, Romania, Ramy Maalouf says that as a child in Lebanon he would collect fossils and minerals in the mountains, but

my curiosity and excitement about botany and entomology started later on when I  moved to Algeria thanks to a friend, Emilio Esteban-Infantes, who was also living there at the time. It was also when I decided to start the photographic documentation of all my encounters in nature and learn more and more about the taxonomy of plants.

Ramy has moved around for much of his adult life and says “I decided to accustom myself to every country I visit through its nature and plants,”

During the lockdown imposed by the Covid-19 pandemic, I developed my page Flora & Fauna, where I post all my discoveries and make them accessible to everyone. I found myself with a huge database of more than 15,000 photos (of more than 2,000 species) of plants, insects, animals and landscapes from five different regions and countries: Lebanon, Galicia/Spain, North East Algeria, Romania and Al Ula/Saudi Arabia. It took me around 14 months to upload the database on the website. It soon became my window to the world and my way of presenting my observations.

Two of those photos are the ones you see here, when Ramy was on Mount Bakish at an altitude of about 1,600 m. “The name Bakish comes from the Bacchus (Dionysus),” he explains, “the god of wine and vegetation in Greek mythology. It was called that way because of the red soil that resembles the wine color.”

Members of the rose family, Mediterranean burnets are reddish-purplish when in bloom, and those flowers eventually turn into the fruits you see in Ramy’s photo. 

Ramy (above) tells me he’s currently working on three projects:

  • the flora of Mount Sannine, Lebanon
  • the flora of Al Ula, Saudi Arabia
  • the fossil records preserved in Amber that are found in two new sites
    that my father - Mounir Maalouf - and I discovered in Lebanon two years
    ago, with the guidance of the renowned paleoentemologists Dany Azar and
    Sibelle Maksoud.

But he’s continuing to upload his photos to iNat, which he first heard about from his friend @abounabat. “Since then,” says Ramy,

my experience and interaction with enthusiasts and professionals scaled up and with it my way of conceiving the world around me. It also helped me orient my work and my research in the field based on what others are finding around me. Having a community that is so active encouraged me to dig deeper and pay more attention to the natural environment around me. I am happy and proud to be part of your community.

- You can follow Ramy on Instagram and Flickr.

- Burnets range throughout much of the northern hemisphere, check out the most-faved ones here!

Posted on March 29, 2022 09:47 PM by tiwane tiwane | 8 comments | Leave a comment

March 31, 2022

Identifer Profile: @sedgesrock

This is the eighth in an ongoing monthly (or almost monthly) series profiling the amazing identifiers of iNaturalist! I've illustrated this post with photos from observations of African sedges that @sedgesrock has identified.

Sedges (Family Cyperaceae). They can be found pretty much all over the world, they’re easy to see and photograph, but they don’t get the kind of appreciation that many showy, colorful plants do. However, South African botanist Clare Archer (@sedgesrock) is, as you might expect, a fan of these organisms and she’s brought her love and knowledge about them (and other plants) to iNat! Sedges, says Clare, 

are such fun to study in the field and under the microscope, particularly the fruit where shape, and surface patterning is often species-specific. During my M.Sc. (on southern African Carex), I removed the outer cell walls of the fruit of several species, then studied the newly-exposed silica bodies under SEM. That was a wow moment, especially since I did not know what to expect!

Clare grew up in and around the city of Pietermaritzburg, South Africa, and tells me

I was interested in nature from an early age because we had a large garden that my mother filled with mainly indigenous plants. She knew the scientific name of every plant and naturally passed on that knowledge to me. The many birds and other creatures that arrived to enjoy the garden were observed with great excitement and identified whenever possible, and likewise family holidays were spent exploring the country and camping in wild places while observing and identifying wildlife.

Inspired by Jacques Cousteau, Clare originally wanted to go into marine biology but did not find animal dissection enjoyable so she ended up studying Geology. “During vacations I worked as an assistant for Prof. K.D. Gordon-Gray who mentored me and had a research interest in Cyperaceae.” 

After graduation, a vacancy in the monocot and fern wing (“everything except grasses”, she says) of the Botanical Research Institute’s Herbarium in Pretoria (now Tshwane) and she took it.

The work involved identification services, taxonomic and specimen curation and research. In later years there was the increasing responsibility of curating the specimen database. In between there was an M.Sc. after hours (Dissertation: “The genus Carex (Cyperaceae) in Southern Africa”). Following the M.Sc. project I began the full-scale taxonomic work on the Cyperaceae of Southern Africa (technically a Flora) that continued until early retirement [in 2015] due to deteriorating eyesight.

In 2018, Clare’s husband (@robertarcher397) showed her “this wonderful website” and helped her create an account on iNat. Since then she’s added identifications to nearly one hundred thousand observations, focusing mostly on plants in southern Africa, and is by far the top identifier of sedges on the African continent.  

Sedges are our friends! Many people regard them as weeds: in fact two species are “the world's worst weeds” because they are adapted to proliferate in irrigated, cultivated lands. However, [sedges] are found in nearly every habitat and especially in wetlands where their roots prevent soil erosion and improve water quality, and the aerial parts provide food and shelter for wetland birds and animals.

Clare also enjoys adding coarse IDs to observations which lack any ID, or in cases where she she can move the ID to a finer level, even if it’s not species. 

This is to help experts in their fields to find the observations that are relevant to them. I like to feel that I'm "rescuing" observations from relegation to "Unknown" when they are often perfectly identifiable…With the availability of expert IDs in other groups I have added to my knowledge of those groups, so while I have given time to do IDs I have also gained a great deal from iNat.

I try to check the new observations (for Southern Africa) at least once per day, just for personal enjoyment. It has re-awakened the sense of wonder in our natural world that I experienced as a child, but also preserves my long-accumulated knowledge of plants and their names.

(Photos (from top to bottom): Cyperus hystricoides by @robert_taylor, Ficinia radiata and Cyperus niveus var. leucocephalus both by @felix_riegel.)

- Check out sedge diversity and beauty on iNat! Here are the most-faved sedge observations.

- Clare tells me that pressed sedge specimens and microscopy are ideal for identification, but she has some tips on how to best photograph wild sedges for iNat. Photos should include, if possible:

  1. Habitat (wetland, streamside, among rocks etc.)
  2. Longevity & habit: show base of plant & its neighbours (indicating whether annual or perennial; a tussock or rhizomatous etc.)
  3. Leaves & stem (leaf shape, hairiness, arrangement; stem scapose or nodose)
  4. Mature inflorescence appearance (bracts, overall shape i.e. umbellate, paniculate, compact head etc.)
  5. Close-up of individual inflorescence units (spikelet, head etc.)
  6. Close-up of glumes
  7. Close-up of fruit (if at all possible)

(Wikipedia has a glossary of botannical terms, and the Conservation Research Institute has a nice illustrated glossary available in PDF form here.)

Posted on March 31, 2022 09:21 PM by tiwane tiwane | 20 comments | Leave a comment