Journal archives for July 2022

July 08, 2022

Photographing a Passionflower While on a Snail Search - Observation of the Week, 7/8/22

Our Observation of the Week is this passionflower, (likely Passiflora cristalina), seen in Brazil by @flsantos

“I grew up in a small town and had a lot of contact with nature,” says Fábio Luis dos Santos. After studying insects in college, he now works at the Universidade Estadual do Mato Grosso (UNEMAT Alta Floresta campus) and at the Escola Estadual 19 de Maio, and tells me “Today my interests are moths and butterflies, as well as questions about basic education and college education.”

And it was while leading a gastropod-focused outing with students that Fábio found the flower you see photographed here. 

As soon as we arrived at the trail, I asked the students to observe all the organisms in the place and the red flower that was in front of them. However, nobody took a picture.. As I guided the activity, I went back and forth along the trails and didn't have time to take a picture, but on the tenth attempt, while the activity was working perfectly, I finally managed to photograph the flower.

Interesting that being an urban area, I told them about other very nice records nearby...for example, this snail.

Passiflora cristalina was described just over eleven years ago, and not too much is known about it. There are only eleven observations of the species on iNat, and Fábio has made four of them. There are over 500 species in the genus, and they not only provide a lot of fodder for pollinators, their fruits and leaves are food sources for many other animals (including humans). 

Fábio (above) has been an iNat user for nearly three years now, and credits it for helping his students during the COVID pandemic 

as a way to encourage [them] to go out and observe nature without an agglomeration of people…And it's as fun as playing Pokemon Go (laughs).

It's been a way of discovering that even the most abundant, common species that inhabit our homes can still carry many questions that can only be answered with massive data sets.

It has also been a form of continuing education, considering that each record, when approaching a taxonomic category in the determinations, presents us with unique opportunities for learning.

(Photo of Fábio by Sabrina Raisa dos Santos. Some quotes have been lightly edited for clarity.)

- You can find Fábio and his work on ORCID.

- Passionflowers are kind of amazing, check out their diversity on iNat!

Speaking of snails, take a look a this recent paper that analyzed iNat snail observations in Brazil!

Posted on July 08, 2022 07:52 PM by tiwane tiwane | 4 comments | Leave a comment

July 13, 2022

Stink Bug Eats Stink Bug - Observation of the Week, 7/12/22

Our Observation of the Week is this bug-on-bug predation, seen in the United States by @denisewill!

“Like so many other iNat users I’ve been fascinated by insects since childhood,” says Denise Williams, a biology teacher who grew up on a farm in Virginia. Now living in North Carolina, she tells me she has a native plant garden and started it mostly to attract insects. 

I spend a great deal of time around my house photographing arthropods of all kinds that come to my plants. My principal interests rotate every few years. For the last several years, my main focus has been on bees and wasps, but I was already starting to take more interest in hemipterans, especially the leafhoppers and stink bugs. After this observation, my interest has grown even more.

While looking for bees to photograph in her yard, Denise noticed the bug duo photographed above.

At the time, I assumed they were different instars of the brown marmorated stink bug with the younger, smaller one simply standing behind the older, larger one. Brown marmorated stink bugs are a drab brown as adults, but they are quite colorful when they hatch, so they can appear as different species as they progress through their molts. They are also so common here that I might have ignored them both, but I went ahead and snapped a few photos thinking I could at least document the stink bugs in my yard. It wasn’t until I downloaded the photos that I could see the proboscis of the smaller bug had pierced the larger one and the larger one was in the process of being consumed!

I still assumed the smaller bug was a brown marmorated stink bug, and that maybe I had just captured a case of cannibalism, so I posted the photo on iNat with that ID. @trisha24 verified the larger bug as a brown marmorated stink bug and identified the smaller one as a species of Podisus, another common stink bug in my area, but one that is predatory rather than plant-eating. Another user, @lupoli_roland, pointed out that the discoloration of the larger bug was due to it being digested.

Bugs (Order Hemiptera) have proboscis that is used for sucking. Many bugs, like the brown marmorated stink bug, use theirs to ingest plant liquids, but there are quite a few species (such as the predatory stink bug here) that slurp up the innards of other animals.

Native to Asia, brown marmorated stinkbugs have become a noted agricultural pest in North America and other places where they have been introduced. A generalist when it comes to feeding, they’ve caused tens of millions of US dollars worth of damage to crops in the past few decades.

Denise (above) really got into iNat after participating in a bumblebee project in 2018, and she quickly realized it was a great tool for helping her learn. 

I’ve learned so much about my local flora and fauna because of it and I’ve become a better and more focused observer…

Without iNaturalist, I might not have bothered to take the photograph of these insects, I might not have had access to these experts who could identify the insects in my photo and explain what was happening, and I certainly would not have fully appreciated what I got the chance to observe.

- New Yorker staff writer Kathryn Schulz wrote an entertaining piece about brown marmorated stink bugs for the magazine back in 2018.

- Here’s an informative video about predatory stink bugs. 

Posted on July 13, 2022 02:47 AM by tiwane tiwane | 22 comments | Leave a comment

July 19, 2022

A Scorpionfish Hides Among the Coral in Guam - Observation of the Week, 7/19/22

Our Observation of the Week is this Yellowspotted Scorpionfish (Sebastapistes cyanostigma), seen in Guam by @motu_vaeoso!

As a child in American Samoa, Motusaga Vaeoso says that nature documentaries were what first interested in wildlife. “I felt like an explorer as I watched the lions in Africa hunt as a team or humpback whales engage in an incredible feeding behavior called bubble-net feeding,” she says. “Nature fascinated me, and I was always curious to know what was in my environment.” 

The ocean “has been a constant in my life, and I want to do my part to protect it,” she tells me, so Motu has been studying coral reef ecosystems for years now, “and learning about how coral reef fisheries change over time because of local and global impacts.” After participating in the Quantitative Underwater Ecological Surveying Techniques (QUEST) program, she became the first American Samoan appointed as a NOAA Coral Reef Fellow for American Samoa.

Now a graduate student studying marine science at the University of Guam, Motu has been conducting coral reef surveys in Asan Beach Park, which is part of the War in the Pacific National Historical Park, and that’s where she spotted the colorful scorpionfish you see above.

I habitually carry my underwater camera with me because you never know what you may stumble on. Since I saw the Sebatapistes cyanostigma, my eyes are used to finding them now, I showed our monitoring team how to find them, and we have found more than 20.

The yellowspotted scorpionfish is a widespread species, ranging from the Red Sea into the Pacific Ocean. Averaging a few inches in length, these fish also sport toxic spines which can be medically significant for humans. Like other scorpionfish, they are ambush predators that hunt smaller invertebrates and fish at night. During the day they hide among the coral, like the one seen here.

Motu (above) joined iNat less than two months ago and plans to post her archive of nature photos to the site. She says 

I started using iNaturalist to help with my fish identification skills, but I realized that it has a lot of practical applications. I used to take many field photos and then store them on my hard drive or google drive, never using them again until I needed to look up a specific photo. With iNaturalist, I realize that I can put my photos (including the old ones) to good use by uploading them to iNaturalist to create a temporal, spatial, and taxonomic coverage record of my field photos. iNaturalist has made me more aware of nature, and I am taking notice of other marine species such as gobies and algae. As a result, I constantly find different things to learn about in the marine world.

(Photo of Motu by Natasha Ripley)

-  You can check out Motu’s research here, and follow her on Instagram!

- Motu wrote a blog post about her reef monitoring work in Guam and abotu iNat a few weeks ago, check it out!

- In this video interview, Motu and her sister Valentine discuss their work educating and inspiring students in in American Samoa. 

- iNatter @vetea_liao also studies corals in the Pacific, and his Parribacus holthuisi slipper lobster was a past Observation of the Week!

Posted on July 19, 2022 06:57 PM by tiwane tiwane | 10 comments | Leave a comment

July 26, 2022

A Naturalist with "Macro Fever" Spots a Leaf Insect in Singapore! - Observation of the Week, 7/26/22

Our Observation of the Week is this leaf insect nymph (likely in the Genus Cryptophyllium), seen in Singapore by @hadoe!

Doreen Foo and her family (husband Eugene and daughter Fybie) have been volunteering with Singapore’s National Parks Board since 2016.

Starting from intertidal surveys, we also volunteered in various community science programs such as Heron Watch, Butterfly Watch, Dragonfly Watch, Garden Bird Survey, Monitor Lizard Survey, BioBlitz, Turtle Watch (Beach Patrol) and Outreach Patrol to educate proper intertidal etiquettes too! After learning that Singapore has such a rich biodiversity, we are inspired to promote conservation activities and help contribute towards scientific research as volunteers on a long term basis.

As part of slowing down and observing more when outside, Doreen became interested in moths  but wasn’t able to find good local ID resources until she found out about iNat and started using it. She soon began to upload more observations from her outings and has contributed nearly 3,500 so far.

When Covid hit in 2020 and most of us were in a lockdown stage where travelling was prohibited, I grew to “develop a macro fever” (and this is my latest hobby). I was so intrigued to explore more using the macro mode of my mobile phone and then proceeded to use a selfie stick with an additional clip-on lens, I went on to explore the various nature parks in Singapore. This Cryptophyllium was found in Thomson Nature park on a sea hibiscus (Talipariti tiliaceum) plant on 9th July, it was a lucky find as it was still at eye level so I was happily snapping a few record shots as it was my first time seeing this nymph!

Leaf insects comprise Family Phylliidae, which is nested in Order Phasmida (commonly known as stick insects), and they range from South Asia into Australia. Like other members of their order, they’re herbivorous and often incredibly well camouflaged like the nymph Doreen photographed. When moving they often rock back and forth, simulating plants shaking in the wind. 

Doreen (above) tells me 

iNaturalist is very convenient to use and the “view suggestions” feature is so convenient! I have been sharing with people around me about this app. For example, whenever I volunteer at intertidal outreach, I would suggest to the beach goers instead of picking up sea creatures, it is better to take a picture, use the app and upload their findings, find out what it is, plus you can contribute to natural science research too! For me, I am truly grateful for all the identifiers who have helped correct the wrongful tags. In fact, over the years, I have since become friends with other observers from Singapore! Being able to connect with like-minded people who love nature and are selfless in sharing their knowledge, there is no wonder the first app I open every morning when I wake up is iNat!!

(Photo of Doreen by Fiora Lee)

- Check out a National Parks Board written piece and video about Doreen and her family.

- There just over 450 observations of leaf insects on iNat and they are pretty darn cool, take a look!

- Deep Look, as usual, put together a nice video about leaf insects. 

Posted on July 26, 2022 08:22 PM by tiwane tiwane | 9 comments | Leave a comment

July 28, 2022

Identifier Profile: @susanhewitt

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

“Seashells have amazing shapes and colors,” says Susan Hewitt (@susanhewitt). “It is an exaggeration, but I say that all of the mysteries of the universe are embodied in the spiral designs of seashells, so with enough study and meditation, you could understand everything!”

Born and raised in Kent, England, Susan says she fell in love with seashells and land-snail shells during her family’s yearly summer trips to North Devon. “I think my mother put up with boxes of shells in my room, because they were not too heavy, they were not dirty, and the contents would not escape and run around the house.”

She and her family often visited Charles Darwin’s house, which was a few miles away.

As a little kid I did not understand why Darwin was so important, but when I got old enough to read about his discoveries, I was delighted. The theory of evolution by natural selection unlocked all of biology and nature in the same way that atomic structure and the periodic table of the elements unlocked chemistry.

And in elementary school, each classroom had a “nature table”, where students could leave natural objects they found. 

When people ask me, I explain that I did not “become” interested in nature at some point, instead I was born interested in nature. As soon as I was big enough to walk by myself, I would go out and pick up anything natural that caught my eye and bring it home — rocks, pine cones, wildflowers, bugs — it was all great to me. William Healey Dall, who was a superb 19th century malacologist, said, “Naturalists are born not made” and I agree with him.

While living in Southern California in her early twenties, Susan’s interest in seashells became more serious, and she wrote some small papers about them. And in her thirties she says “I was super fortunate that I got to become friends with the late E.O. Wilson when I worked for two years at Harvard in the Museum of Comparative Zoology.” She’s now written 58 papers, which can be found on ResearchGate and on Wikipedia.

She first heard about iNat in 2014, when she led a mollusk search during a bioblitz at the New York Botanical Garden.  “I am interested in all mollusks of every kind, from every kind of habitat,” says Susan, “and when I first joined iNaturalist in 2014, I spent almost all of my time looking at mollusk observations and ID-ing as many of them as I could.” In the past eight years or so she’s since added IDs to about 120,000 verifiable observations, and is one of the top identifiers of mollusk observations on iNat!

I love to help people whenever I can by putting IDs on their observations because what is the point of amassing valuable knowledge if you don’t share it with others? I am in my 70s, and I think that is my job now, to help teach other people what I have learned.

Not only does Susan add IDs, she often includes helpful and encouraging comments along with those identifications and has written a detailed guide to observing mollusks on her iNat profile, which I definitely encourage everyone to check out. Here are some basic tips:

With snail shells try to get three views including a view looking directly at the aperture. With bivalves, please photograph the inside as well as the outside. Often we need a scale object to be included so we know how big the shell is.

When choosing a dead empty shell to photograph, if possible try to make sure the shell is in good condition: not broken, not chipped, and not too bleached-out by the sun.

Susan’s observation count is almost on par with her identification count, and she makes observations pretty much every day, whether in her current home city of New York or her annual trips to Florida, the Caribbean and Southern California. 

I use iNat on a daily basis and try to record all of wild nature that I come across. iNat has helped me learn so much more about every aspect of nature, and I have met and become friends with many really great local naturalists through iNat too.

I make daily observations using the app on my iPhone. I put at least a rough ID on while I am coming back from being out, or once I get home. Then I upload all my obs and the next morning I go though all the obs again, often trying to improve the IDs. I do have quite a lot of field guides, but I have to say I mostly use the resources on iNat itself.  And also I google to help me find out more about some species.

(The photos of Susan are by Sylvia van Leeuwen, and were taken during a Dutch marine biology expedition to the Caribbean island of Sint Eustatius in 2015.)

- Susan is also an active Wikipedia contributor and a few years ago they featured her in a video about the Love dart article she co-wrote. 

- An Associated Press article about iNat from 2018 included an interview with Susan.

- Check out a recent paper about using iNat as a tool for studying mollusks in Brazil. 

- You can also beach comb for sea beans, as a recent Observation of the Week post detailed.

Posted on July 28, 2022 10:17 PM by tiwane tiwane | 47 comments | Leave a comment