Journal archives for May 2022

May 03, 2022

Inspiring Local Libraries to Protect Native Pollinators

In May and June, the challenges in Seek by iNaturalist celebrate a new film, My Garden of a Thousand Bees, thanks to support from HHMI Tangled Bank Studios, a mission-driven film studio dedicated to sharing powerful stories about science and scientists. We’ve invited them to share how they have incorporated iNaturalist and Seek into the film’s outreach and impact campaign.

When the global pandemic hit, acclaimed wildlife filmmaker Martin Dohrn, locked down in his small city garden in Bristol, England, decided to turn his cameras on the wildlife in his backyard. He was particularly fascinated with the bees visiting his garden. Putting his cameras and unparalleled skills to use, he filmed more than 60 different species, from giant bumblebees to scissor bees the size of mosquitos.

The result, My Garden of a Thousand Bees, is a film that will change the way you look at bees and inspire a new appreciation for these spectacular pollinators. But the story doesn’t stop there. The film’s impact campaign has germinated a vast network of public engagement events with one simple mission: to get audiences to appreciate their local pollinators and take small, easy steps to make their lives a little bit easier.

As part of the campaign, HHMI Tangled Bank Studios and PBS Nature joined the One Square Foot initiative to encourage the planting of native wildflowers that support bees and other pollinators, and together launched the #PlantWildflowers national campaign. The initiative engaged more than 300 public libraries with twin goals of educating their visitors about the important role native bees and other pollinators play, and encouraging the creation of pollinator habitats in their communities. As part of this endeavor, libraries signed up to conduct bioblitzes using iNaturalist, with the goal of emphasizing the importance of observing and understanding local wildlife. Libraries will also utilize the May and June Seek app challenges to quickly and easily identify native species of bees, butterflies, and flowering plants.

The campaign also enlisted the talents of expert science communicator and USDA entomologist Dr. Samuel Ramsey, creating short bee-related videos that are available as outreach tools at library events and on social media.

Along with the videos, a suite of free resources was created to help partners host pollinator-related events. Materials include NGSS-aligned educational and activity guides from WWF Wild Classroom, a Bioblitz “How To” guide, regional bee ID cards and more — all available at PlantWildflowers.org.

At the core of the campaign is a simple message: it doesn’t take much to help your local pollinators. Planting native wildflowers is something everyone can do, whether on a windowsill in a city, in a community garden or on a rural farm. When using iNaturalist or Seek, or just simply observing nature on your own, remember that planting even one square foot of wildflowers — your one square foot — can make a difference and provide much needed habitat for bees and other pollinators.

So how can you get involved? This spring and summer, the #PlantWildflowers campaign is working with leading science education and conservation organizations, PBS stations, and libraries across the country to host planting events, BioBlitz activities, film screenings and more. Visit PlantWildflowers.org for updates on events in your region, or create one of your own using the #PlantWildflowers toolkit.

And if you’re curious about the story that began it all, watch My Garden of a Thousand Bees on May 4th on PBS Nature, or streaming for free now on PBS.org.

-By Jared Lipworth, Executive Producer & Head of Outreach and Impact at HHMI Tangled Bank Studios

Posted on May 03, 2022 08:02 PM by carrieseltzer carrieseltzer | 8 comments | Leave a comment

May 10, 2022

Oh, Just a Harvestman Eating a Velvet Worm Under UV Light... - Observation of the Week, 5/10/22

Our Observation of the Week is this amazing scene: a Cranaid Harvestman (Family Cranaidae) eating an Equatorial Velvet Worm (Genus Oroperipatus) in Ecuador! Seen by @m_ellis.

Mike Ellis is a PhD candidate at Tulane University, and he credits his parents for helping him get outside and explore nature at a young age, even though his interests tended toward books and playing Pokémon. He did bring that “gotta catch ‘em all” mindset to his later study of biology and ecology, and tells me

as a freshman at Hobart & William Smith Colleges, the first course I enrolled in was a seminar called “Bird Obsessions,” and my advisor, Dr. Mark Deutschlander, issued our class a challenge to see who could find the most bird species in a single semester. That competition planted the seeds for my own bird obsession, and two years later, a semester abroad in Ecuador and Peru officially converted me into a conservationist and birder hooked on “seeing them all.”

For the last six or seven years, Mike has been “immersed in tropical ecology, ornithology, and conservation [in Ecuador] with two nonprofits dedicated to protecting and restoring the country's critically threatened western forests: Third Millennium Alliance (TMA) and Fundación para la Conservación de los Andes Tropicales (FCAT),” and that’s where he stumbled up on the really cool predation event documented here.

With forests in the area disappearing quickly, Mike says one often runs into other scientists “doing amazing work,” and on the night of this observation he was helping TMA’s herpetologists Moisés Tenorio and Diego Quirola look for Bothrops asper snakes. “I was out searching for anything that might look funky under a UV light and hoping to catch a glimpse of whatever their expert herper eyes could find that my birder eyes might miss,” he tells me, 

[and] I had just finished marveling at a glowing frog and was slogging through some cloud forest mud to catch up with the others when my UV light landed on something electric blue sticking out against the blood red spikemosses covering the forest floor. Harvestmen are a dime a dozen here, but they tend towards yellow or green under UV light and often aren't this vibrantly luminescent, so I leaned in for a closer look. I was jazzed by what I saw, more so because it was my first ever onychophoran (velvet worm) than because of the predation I was witnessing! At Tulane, I teach intro ecology and evolutionary biology labs on the diversity of life, and we have a week dedicated entirely to ecdysozoans (critters that grow by molting their exoskeletons). Onychophorans have always been, in my opinion, one of the more fascinating members of that group, made all the more intriguing by the fact that it's one of the few taxa I teach about that I'd never before encountered in person. 

Mike’s right, velvet worms are pretty remarkable creatures. Averaging about 5 cm (2 inches) in length, they use their stubby feet to crawl on the ground, searching for prey. When a velvet worm assesses that an organism might be a good meal, it immobilizes the prey by squirting glue-like slime over it! 

Harvestmen, often called daddy longlegs, often do have very spindly legs and lack both venom and silk glands. Some scavenge and others hunt, and what’s really cool is that they are able to eat solid food, whereas most other arachnids can only ingest liquids. They comprise their own order within the arachnids and are not spiders. 

Working with Dr. Jordan Karubian from Tulane, Mike (above) is doing research that 

leverages remote sensing and field data to determine how anthropogenic forces pair with natural environmental gradients to reshape forest structure and avian communities in the region. My ultimate goals are to improve our understanding of tropical landscape and climate change impacts and to generate tools and data that will help us better monitor, prevent, and reverse declines in diversity and ecosystem function.

An iNat user for about four years now, Mike says he likes the connections it builds between naturalists of all stripes, especially important for conservation work as experts can provide identification help with endangered and potentially undescribed species. And,  

lastly, I love and use iNaturalist because it's a great way to foster a culture of gratitude and reciprocity, both with nature and with each other. Often, learning an organism's name is the first step people take towards really knowing and caring for that organism, so the ability to make and share identifications on this platform is very powerful. It's a place where we can share the gift and responsibility of knowledge, so I always try to give back a bit more than I receive by keeping my community ID numbers ahead of my own observation numbers. I encourage you to try doing the same! Even if you feel you're just a seedling of a naturalist in a forest of experts, there's always a niche for you here to grow into and share.


- Check out this video about a physicist studying the velvet worm slime squirting.

- An early Observation of the Week by @steve_kerr documented a harvestman with a “Phineas Gage” injury. 

- Just take a look at the most faved velvet worms and harvestmen on iNat - amazing!

- iNatter @leftcoastnaturalist debunks the myth that “daddy longlegs” are the most venomous creatures on Earth. 

Posted on May 10, 2022 09:30 PM by tiwane tiwane | 19 comments | Leave a comment

May 13, 2022

Identifier Profile: @clauden

This is the tenth in an ongoing monthly (or almost monthly!) series profiling the amazing identifiers of iNaturalist.

I’ve come across Claude Nozères (@clauden) on iNat few times and have always been impressed not only by his 30k+ identifications, especially of marine organisms (a diverse and difficult group), but his encouraging comments as well as his ability to dig up for ID discussions. So I’m happy to be writing about him for this Identifier Profile.

Claude grew up in Vancouver, British Columbia (on the western side of North America) and tells me “[I] was always interested in the seashore and the mountains, though in the end the sea won out and I pursued marine biology at university, focussing on the ecology of food webs with seals and whales.” After being offered an internship in Quebec (on the eastern side of North America) to work with seals, he stayed in the area to get his master’s degree at Laval University - researching the diet of St. Lawrence beluga whales

To do my project, I had to collect over 60 potential prey species of fish and invertebrates to analyse their chemical signatures. I noticed there was no one best resource to identify all the animals in the NW Atlantic, and some mistakes were being made using southern (US) or eastern (Europe) guides. And the illustrations in ID keys were not always easy to interpret when examining organisms, especially for fresh colors. Because my project involved processing (blending!) prey samples to obtain their chemical profile, I had to be sure of their identification.

So he began documenting the prey photographically - first on film, then on a (one megapixel!) digital camera. 

Taking shots of organisms on fisheries surveys, folks were impressed with how I could show them the diversity in their catch. After learning about photo cataloguing and page layout, I made my first photo guide in 2002. I became good at photo-documenting and identifying species on surveys, so now I work as a biodiversity biologist in this region. Currently, I help other biologists on marine fish surveys and give advice to folks on marine species names and their identification, mostly in the Atlantic and the Arctic, but also in the Pacific. I am fascinated by the similarities and differences across these oceans—sometimes coldwater and deep species are found in very different environments. I find Echinoderms, molluscs, and crustaceans are especially interesting in their distributions, and their diversity in forms and colors are also revealed with iNaturalist.

In the 2000s, Claude would add photos to the World Register of Marine Species (WoRMS) galleries but rarely received feedback about them. He joined iNat in 2011 and has since added IDs to over thirty thousand observations, mostly fish and marine invertebrates. “Amazingly,” he says, “making shared, digital observations has led to me opening up books more often, to learn about organisms (and sometimes their behavior in a region or season).”

When identifying for iNaturalist, Claude focuses on marine organisms and takes the time to really delve into various resources. In addition to using computer vision suggestions and nearby observations on iNat to narrow things down, but if those don’t suffice

I may then search for related records for the taxonomic group ou a broader region. It starts with iNaturalist, to see other related taxa of a group in the area (state, province, water body). If no obvious visual candidates, then turn to OBIS/GBIF for observed occurrences, and to WoRMS to see if it has linked documents or resources for a taxon I am trying to confirm…For certain groups, I also consult key documents I have found, from NMFS, DFO, and Smithsonian, especially for fishes, crustaceans, and cnidarians. 

He also periodically goes back through observations to see if new photos or new observations in a particular location can help him confirm previous observations he wasn’t sure about. 

So it may look like I have deep knowledge, but it is highly dependent on posted observations, if several are similar, and if resources are online to confirm what is seen in photo(s). I defer to experts when a group is too much for me with just a photo (plankton and polychaetes, for example!). In the end, I can identify for others on iNat because others have already posted and done so—the shared photos and locations that are easily searchable in one place make it easy to do. 

What I find interesting, in asking about process and resources, is that iNaturalist is reaching a size that is becoming a key resource on its own. While I consult the sites above, the work on iNaturalist is the place for vetted data (because of photos and posted community opinions)—at least for the taxa and the places that are posted so far. Other resources may have more, but are too generic or not reliable for locations (not confirmable). On iNaturalist, we identify, confirm, and update. On OBIS/WoRMS, it is a more static, classical approach to updating (send an email if an error).

Currently, Claude assists other marine biologists in surveys and helps with marine IDs on both coasts of North America, and he’s using iNat to collate skate egg capsule observations, or working with @thomaseverest on a bivalve siphon project

The community is why I use iNaturalist: posting, identifying and commenting on observations of organisms observed in an area. Folks are happy to learn more about the ‘thing’ they find, and being connected on iNaturalist means you often get a rapid response—from a local who knows the flora and fauna, or from a world expert on a group. I get as excited posting a bee from my garden and learning it is a rare find as I am to help folks know the odd beast they caught is a crustacean with a special biology. Beyond the community, though, it is the toolset underlying our exchanges—the ability to search, filter, get updates, auto-suggest names, show taxonomic hierarchy all helps to get results and makes it seem less like work and more fun to discover finds.


- You can take a look at Claude’s publications here, and some posters he’s made. 

- Invertebrate salad? “At one point, we were doing an open house for a university, and I did photo cards, including one for sea organisms that have ‘vegetable’ common names—so I did an oddball salad portrait showing sea broccoli, sea cucumber, sea potato, sea strawberry. The visiting kids would be all, ‘Whoa! Those are animals in the sea?’. It was especially fun to show folks what lay hidden on the shoreline and beyond. So close yet so little known.”

- There’s a nice quote from Claude on this previous Observation of the Week by @imlichentoday

Posted on May 13, 2022 04:28 AM by tiwane tiwane | 27 comments | Leave a comment

May 24, 2022

iNaturalist is hiring two developers!

We’re thrilled to announce that iNaturalist is hiring two developers to join our team to help us improve our mobile apps and continue to scale our infrastructure. You can learn more about these positions in our new jobs page.

We’re looking for full-time staff who are interested in careers with iNaturalist. Candidates may be remote and need not be in the United States.

Thanks for helping us with these searches by sharing these openings with your networks!



A few iNaturalist staff (@loarie, @abhasm, @albullington, @tiwane, & @kueda) exploring Mount Tamalpais in May

Posted on May 24, 2022 06:55 PM by loarie loarie | 12 comments | Leave a comment

A Conger Off the Coast of Portugal - Observation of the Week, 5/24/22

Our Observation of the Week is this European Conger (Conger conger, Congro in Portuguese), seen in Portugal by @cyberoceans!

“Quoting Jacques Cousteau: ‘The Sea, once it casts its spell, holds one in its net of wonder forever,’” says Ana Santos. “This happened to my husband and me 10 years ago and I still wonder on every immersion.”

While she’s not a marine biologist, Ana says many of her friends are and they have encouraged her to post her sightings to iNaturalist. “I try to help scientific projects with some of my pictures,”

In fact, one of my first posts was the first sighting of a Tethys Fimbria ever registered before in Professor Luis Saldanha Marine Park. I believe the more informed you are, the better prepared you are to protect, conserve and act on ocean and nature conservation. That’s why I use iNat and that’s another purpose for my portfolio.

A few weeks ago, while diving in the wreck of the MV River Gurara, which sank thirty-three years ago off of Cape Espichel, Portugal, Ana spotted the juvenile eel you see above. Like many other animals, it’s now made its home in the wreckage, seeking shelter during the day before emerging at night to hunt fish and invertebrates. 

European congers “have a long slender and rounded body similar to a snake with no scales,” says Ana, “and they can reach two meters in length. They’re  black or grey on the back and lighter on the belly, and has a large mouth with thick lips, strong jaws and sharp teeth.” Females (often much larger than males) can weigh in at around 72 kg (159 lb), making this species the heaviest eel species in the world. 

Ana (above) calls diving her “passion” and tells me “every photo or video allows me to relive every moment and curiosity about sea creatures got me to iNat to better identify and understand each species. My camera goes everywhere I go and I also capture other nature wonders on land, inspired by iNat.”


- You can follow Ana on Instagram!

- Here’s some video of a European conger off of Ireland.

- There are over 20,000 verifiable observations of “true” eels on iNat, take a look a that diversity!

- It’s not a true eel, a marbled swamp eel seen by @henicorhina was our Observation of the Week back in 2017.

Posted on May 24, 2022 08:35 PM by tiwane tiwane | 6 comments | Leave a comment

May 27, 2022

We’ve passed 100,000,000 verifiable observations on iNaturalist!

If you made 1,000 observations a day, every day, it would take you 274 years to generate 100 million observations. This milestone shows what people can do by working together. The iNaturalist dataset is something we’ve all made together, but it’s larger than any one of us. We hope everyone is as proud of this accomplishment as we are. Together, the iNaturalist community has created a unique window into life on Earth and hundreds of thousands of species with whom we share the planet. Thank you!

We know that even more potential for iNaturalist lies ahead. To fulfill our mission of connecting people to nature and advancing science and conservation, we’re working on a strategy to reach 100 million naturalists by 2030. This requires investing in technology improvements, so we’re now searching for two new software engineers to join the iNat team. Please spread the word to help us find great candidates.

100M observations across time

The graph below is a slightly different perspective of how these 100M observations have accumulated over time. The spiral begins in early 2015 when we reached our first million. Each band on the spiral represents another 1M observations (here's links to earlier posts about the 5M, 6M, 25M and 50M milestones). Each revolution represents a year. You can see the major patterns in the graph: the number of observations growing over time and the bands becoming closer together, the seasonal cycle where the spiral is thinner in the northern hemisphere winter, and the City Nature Challenge annual bioblitz bulge in April.

100M observations across species

Just as these observations aren’t evenly distributed across time, they are not evenly distributed across species. If we sort observations by species in descending order, we can count how many species it takes to cross 1M observations. A group with the top 5 most observed species cross the 1M threshold alone (Group 1), as does a group with the next 8 species (Group 2).

The graph below continues descending with groups of species needed to cross 1M observations through all 372,327 species. In other words, each colored square represents a group species and ~1M observations. Species number 372,327 is reached in the 75th group and the remaining ~25M observations are identified at coarser ranks than species (genus etc.).


Note that with each descending group more and more species are needed to cross 1M observations. For example, group 50 consists of 378 species each represented by 724 to 836 observations. Group 72 consists of 10,854 species represented by 77 to 111 observations. Because our computer vision model includes species for which we have around 100 observations, this is the point where species become too rare to be included in the model yet. The last group consists of 65% (243,544) of all the species observed on iNaturalist, each represented by only a few (1-15) observations. In other words, the top 5 species on iNaturalist have about as many observations as the bottom 243,544 species.

100M observations across space

These observations are also not distributed evenly in space. In some places, such as the area around Austin, Texas, the density of observations is high with about 88 observations per square kilometer. This means that a 60 km radius circle with an area of 11,310 km2 contains 1M observations.

In other parts of the world, the density is much lower, meaning that circles encompassing 1M observations are much larger. The map shows 100 example circles each of which contains 1M observations. All together, these circles encompass 100M observations. Many circles across much of North America, Europe, and places like Taiwan and Cape Town are small, reflecting high densities like those found near Austin, Texas. But in other places like west Africa, western Australia, and eastern Russia the circles are very large, reflecting the low density of observations (as low as 0.02 observations per km2 in eastern Russia). Note: The circles aren’t projected perfectly in the figure so they might not exactly encompass 1M observations as drawn.

While every observation on iNaturalist represents a meaningful contribution, these seasons, species, and parts of the world with underrepresented numbers of observations are opportunities for the iNaturalist community to make outsized contributions towards bringing the natural world into focus through the iNaturalist dataset.

If you’re inspired to donate in celebration of the 100 million observation milestone, you can donate in dozens of currencies to support iNaturalist. iNaturalist is a not-for-profit joint initiative of the California Academy of Sciences and the National Geographic Society, and all donations are received by the California Academy of Sciences (Tax ID: 94-1156258).


Donate to iNaturalist



Thank you to everyone who has contributed to this milestone! We look forward to the next 100 million observations.

Posted on May 27, 2022 10:27 PM by loarie loarie | 24 comments | Leave a comment

May 31, 2022

Beachcombing for Sea Beans in Bermuda - Observation of the Week, 5/31/22

Our Observation of the Week is this “sea bean” (Macropsychanthus comosus), seen in Bermuda by @miguel-mejias1987!

“My passion for nature dates back to my early childhood, and man, all the signs were there!” says Miguel Mejias, who hails from Bermuda. 

As a little boy, I remember running up and down my garden chasing after butterflies with a handheld net. I also had my own collection of isopods (“rolly pollies,” we kids called them) that I kept in a box under my bed; I still remember my mother screaming as they crawled all over my floor after she had unknowingly knocked the box lid off while sweeping my room.

Now thirty-four years old, Miguel’s focus is mostly on bird conservation and behavior. He studied the breeding biology and migration of Bermudian White-tailed Tropicbirds (Phaethon lepturus catesbyi, known as “longtails” in Bermuda) for his master’s degree and is researching the breeding and singing behavior of Bermuda’s White-eyed Vireos (Vireo griseus bermudianus) for his doctoral thesis. “I count myself lucky in being able to research species in my country,” he explains. Miguel credits his grandfather figure, Dr. David Wingate, for his mission to conserve birds and other endemic species of Bermuda. 

As a naturalist, Miguel says he appreciates many non-bird organisms and he credits his friend Luke Foster (@lukef2006) for getting him into beachcombing for sea beans a few months ago.

I found this particular individual by literally kicking about dried Sargassum on a beach, and it slowly rolled down a shallow sand mount; it’s the biggest “purse” I’ve ever seen. Its initial beauty was obscured by dried, white, coral growth, which indicated to me that it was adrift for several months, at least. I consider every sea bean I find a treasure and the sheer luck of finding one, rare or common, is something I never take for granted.

This seed comes from Macropsychanthus comosus, which is native to tropical coastal forests in the Caribbean and from Mexico down into South America, Miguel tells me. 

From these forests, seeds or “sea beans” drop into the rivers, which are flooded during the rain seasons, and can be carried out to the ocean, where they drift in currents to faraway places. While considered a very common find among US shores along the Gulf of Mexico, it is fairly uncommon in Bermuda. It’s my favourite species of sea bean because of the diverse array of patterning of the seed case, across individual beans.

“I originally intended to use iNaturalist strictly for bird sightings, but I realized that’s what I have eBird for!” says Miguel (above, with a longtail). 

But I found, personally, that I wasn’t enjoying it as much, and I started to feel like it was a chore, instead of actual enjoyment. So, I started to submit observations, regardless if it was new or a repeat of another species, whenever I genuinely wish to post something, as opposed to throwing in a bunch of random things, to keep my rankings up; I enjoy it much more this way. Although I intend to iNat wherever life takes me, I think my primary goal is to document as much biodiversity in my home country of Bermuda as possible. Overall, I would say iNaturalist continues to reinforce what I’ve always known; life is precious and diverse, and it's worth protecting, at all costs.

(Photo of Miguel by Fae Sapsford. Miguel had the proper permit to handle the bird.)


- You can see Miguel’s publications here.

- This is an informative blog post about sea beans.

- Below is a photo Miguel took after a day of beachcomiing. Featured beans, by their beachcombing names: Sea Hearts (Entada gigas), Sea Purses (Macropsychanthus comosus), Sea Hamburgers (Mucuna sp.), and Star Nut (Astrocaryum sp.). 

Posted on May 31, 2022 09:44 PM by tiwane tiwane | 10 comments | Leave a comment