Journal archives for November 2022

November 03, 2022

Welcome, Angie & Johannes!

Angie Ta Johannes Klein

As you may know, we've been trying to hire an engineer to focus on mobile app development since this summer, and I'm happy to announce that we kind of ended up with two! Angie Ta is our new full-time React Native engineer, and she'll be focusing on the new cross-platform mobile app we've been developing. Angie lives in the Bay Area region of California like most of the team, but she's originally from Florida. She loves the water, speaks almost-fluent Cantonese, and can tell the rest of us what anime people actually watch these days.

During the hiring process we also interviewed Johannes, an avid iNat user from Germany. Due to the complexities of hiring internationally (something we learned about during this round of hiring) and the fact that we'd found another good candidate in the US, we decided not work with him as a full-time hire, but we really wanted to work with him in some capacity, and we had some funds allocated for a contractor, so we decided to work with him on contract instead. Johannes will also be focusing on mobile app development, though he'll be splitting time between the new iNaturalist app and Seek. Johannes is an expert in the family Crassulaceae, and in making Most, which he says is "not really cider" but really sounds a lot like cider.

Anyway, please welcome these two new members of the team!

Posted on November 03, 2022 01:00 AM by kueda kueda | 55 comments | Leave a comment

November 08, 2022

Strange (Sea)Bedfellows - Observation of the Week, 11/8/22

Our Observation of the Week is this Urchin Carrier Crab (Dorippe frascone) carrying a Blue-spotted Urchin (Astropyga radiata)! Seen in The Philippines by @albertkang

Originally from Malaysia, Albert Kang has been living in The Philippines since 2002. In 2006 he stopped working and got into scuba diving, which reignited his long-held interest in nature. “Scuba diving,” he says, “opens up a whole new world of underwater marine life and was fascinated with it.”

When some friends from Belgium recently came to visit him, they went diving at Anilao, Batangas, Philippines, where Albert dives regularly.  “A Filipino friend owns a dive resort there and I go there very regularly and also bring friends from other countries to dive there :D,” he tells me.

Usually, this crab is only active at night but this dive was during a bad weather day and by 5 pm, it was already getting dark underwater.  The dive was at a muck dive site, meaning sandy bottom. The crab was scurrying around, carrying the sea urchin, which is always interesting to see since the crab by itself is drab in colour and not too interesting/exciting.  The bright colours of the sea urchin make it stand out, in addition to the interesting symbiotic relationship behaviour.

A small species (its carapace grows to about 5 cm (2 in)), the urchin carrier crab often uses its rear two pairs of legs to hold an urchin, leaving its two front non-pincer legs free for walking. It’s thought the urchin provides protection for a crab, and the crab brings it to new areas to feed, benefiting both partners.

“I am more of a generalist,” says Albert (above, taking a selfie with a Wallace’s Flying Frog in Malaysia), “meaning I take pictures of most things but more on the smaller stuff for macro photography. The joy is more of ‘searching’ and ‘finding’ tiny critters that are often overlooked and seldom photographed.” He joined iNat over seven years ago and tells me that after doing so  “I am spending more time out in the field to take pics and looking for new stuff.”

- Two phasmids have been described based Albert’s photos: Orthomeria kangi, from Philippines in 2016, and Orthonecroscia keatsooni from Malaysia in 2016. Albert tells me several more species are currently being described, based on his findings.

Cool footage of an urchin carrier crab and its buddy.

Posted on November 08, 2022 08:06 PM by tiwane tiwane | 11 comments | Leave a comment

November 16, 2022

A Special Snake Encounter in Tanzania - Observation of the Week, 11/15/22

Our Observation of the Week is this Black Mamba (Dendroaspis polylepis), seen in Tanzania by @thbecker!

Thomas Becker grew up in the German town of Arnstadt, next to the Thuringian Forest. For over two decades, Thomas worked as a journalist and editor in chief at a local paper. “I used to be more of someone who could enjoy nature but saw it more as a setting for activities (hiking, cross-country skiing),” he says, “[but] about ten years ago, my attitude changed fundamentally.”

And that was because at that time I moved with my wife from Germany to Tanzania, where we have been working in tourism ever since. I have always been a passionate photographer, but more interested in landscapes than details. Now, living at the foot of the mighty Kilimanjaro, I dived deeper into nature than ever before.

About four years ago, Thomas and his wife Heike began managing the Lake Chala Safari Lodge, within sight of Kilimanjaro. “Here, in a 580-hectare protected area, our passion for nature has intensified once again. Until then, I had only used iNaturalist occasionally to identify animals or plants, but in 2020 we launched the Lake Chala Wildlife project to document the impressive biodiversity of the area.” 

Nearly 700 observations of almost 300 species have been recorded in the project so far, and three of those observations record encounters with black mambas. 

[The snake above] is not the first black mamba we've seen here, but it's the biggest. And it was the first one that wasn't in a tree or disappeared straight away. I was sitting on the terrace in front of our house when the snake came closer. It registered my presence, raised its head slightly, but showed no form of defensive behaviour. I was able to get the camera and take pictures while it was observing the surroundings and possibly looking for food. We have many rock agamas living here, but also other potential prey. After a while she turned around and disappeared into the bushes. An encounter of a very special kind.

Africa’s longest venomous snake (2 m/ 6 ft 7 in), black mambas are quick diurnal predators that feed on birds, small mammals, and similar prey. The black mamba often moves with its head and neck raised, scoping out its surroundings. When threatened, it will try to escape but, if cornered, flattens its neck and opens its mouth, displaying black mouth tissue. Black mambas range throughout much of eastern and southern Sub-Saharan Africa.

Thomas (above, at Sequoia National Park), joined iNat just over four years ago, and uses it not only to document organisms around Lake Chela, but also when he travels.

Wherever I am now, I look around much more consciously, enjoy both the big and the small animals and try to learn something about them. Knowing what's living in the neighbourhood also means taking a closer look at it. It's no longer just a bird, but a Verraux's Eagle circling in the sky. How big is it, what does it eat? Are the snakes around us dangerous? How should one behave in nature? What can one do to protect the environment?

I have learned so much from iNaturalist. Or rather, through the people who make iNaturalist what it is. A huge database that unites experts and amateurs in an effort to better understand nature, identify developments and help conserve habitats.

(Photo of Thomas by Heike Becker)

Posted on November 16, 2022 07:27 AM by tiwane tiwane | 8 comments | Leave a comment

November 19, 2022

A new Computer Vision Model including 1,383 new taxa in 40 days

We released a new computer vision model today. It has 67,553 taxa, up from 66,214. This new model (v1.4) was trained on data exported last month on October 9th and added 1,383 new taxa to the model it has replaced (v1.3).

Taxa differences to previous model

The charts below summarize these 1,383 new taxa using the same groupings we described in past release posts.

By category, most of these 1,403 new taxa were insects and plants

Here are species level examples of new species added for each category:

Click on the links to see these taxa in the Explore page to see these samples rendered as species lists. Remember, to see if a particular species is included in the currently live computer vision model, you can look at the “About” section of its taxon page.

We couldn't do it without you

Thank you to everyone in the iNaturalist community who makes this work possible! Sometimes the computer vision suggestions feel like magic, but it’s truly not possible without people. None of this would work without the millions of people who have shared their observations and the knowledgeable experts who have added identifications.

In addition to adding observations and identifications, here are other ways you can help:

  • Share your Machine Learning knowledge: iNaturalist’s computer vision features wouldn’t be possible without learning from many colleagues in the machine learning community. If you have machine learning expertise, these are two great ways to help:
  • Participate in the annual iNaturalist challenges: Our collaborators Grant Van Horn and Oisin Mac Aodha continue to run machine learning challenges with iNaturalist data as part of the annual Computer Vision and Pattern Recognition conference. By participating you can help us all learn new techniques for improving these models.
  • Start building your own model with the iNaturalist data now: If you can’t wait for the next CVPR conference, thanks to the Amazon Open Data Program you can start downloading iNaturalist data to train your own models now. Please share with us what you’ve learned by contributing to iNaturalist on Github.
  • Donate to iNaturalist: For the rest of us, you can help by donating! Your donations help offset the substantial staff and infrastructure costs associated with training, evaluating, and deploying model updates. Thank you for your support!
Posted on November 19, 2022 12:07 AM by loarie loarie | 8 comments | Leave a comment