Journal archives for January 2023

January 11, 2023

Slimy Sawflies! - Observation of the Week, 1/11/22

Our Observation of the Week is this group of sawfly larvae (potentially in the genus Caliroa), seen in Germany by @ingrid_kulozik!

Ingrid Kulozik traces her interest in nature back to her childhood. Her parents took her on hikes, and she remembers her elementary school teacher collecting wildflowers with her class and teaching them their names. “Soon I bought my first plant identification book and used it with enthusiasm,” she says.

As a teenager, I was active in the youth group of the “Bund Naturschutz” in Bavaria: I mapped trees or helped rescue toads along roads at night.

My studies in landscape ecology gave me deeper insights into the diversity, interrelationships, and interactions in nature. But back then, 45 years ago, I also became very painfully aware of the vulnerability of our planet to human intervention.

This dichotomy continues to this day: on the one hand the amazement, the enthusiasm about colors, forms, strategies, and adaptations in nature, on the other hand the great sadness and fear about biotope destruction and species loss.

For the past two decades, Ingrid has been working as an environmental educator, “trying to awaken curiosity and enthusiasm for nature in as many people as possible and to pass on knowledge.”

Last June, Ingrid visited her daughter in Berlin and checked out several nature preserves, like the NSG Baumberge, which has a mix of grasslands, dunes, and forest, and where she saw this group of sawfly larvae on an oak tree. 

There I could make some exciting observations: A blue-winged grasshopper (Oedipoda caerulescens), an impressive sand wasp (Bembix sp.), and an antlion (Myrmelon formicarius) that moved forward through the sand at great speed. I discovered the Caliroa larvae on an oak tree and at first could not identify them at all, but was fascinated by the shared strategy and effectiveness of the larvae in eating the oak leaf.

Sawfly larvae, as Ingrid noted, often feed gregariously, which is believed to be a defensive behavior. Larvae in the genus Caliroa are also coated with slime, making them distastful. Nearly all sawfly larvae are herbivorous and, when ready to pupate, usually drop off the plant and pupate in the soil. Adults lack the narrow “waist” of most other hymenopterans and they generally feed on nectar. Adult females have a saw-like ovipositor for laying eggs in plants, and their common name is derived from that anatomical adaptation.

Ingrid (above, with Origanum vulgare plants in her garden) joined iNaturalist in 2021 but had been photogtraphing bees in her garden since 2018, when she joined a citizen science project (now collected here).  

Throughout the summer I photographed bees, tried my hand at identifying them, and was able to discover about 50 species in my garden alone. Since then, I mainly photograph insects and make them available on different platforms. Especially during the pandemic, when I could not work in environmental education, this was a very fulfilling occupation for me. Since then, my attention to detail and my sense of wonder continue to grow.

iNaturalist is a great help for me when identifying species I cannot identify myself. I also find it interesting whether and where the species have already been observed in my vicinity. In addition, I have been able to make some nice contacts through iNaturalist. I am impressed by the large number of experts who make their gigantic knowledge and a large part of their time available. The many people working together here give me encouragement and hope not to be alone in my efforts to protect biodiversity.

(A big thank you to @jtklein​ for help with translation. Some quotes have been lightly edited by me for clarity. Photo of Ingrid was taken by Ulrich Kulozik.)

- A Trichiosoma triangulum sawfly larva, seen by @kiwikiu, was an Observation of the Week in 2021!

- This iNaturalist observation by @alainhogue might be the first documenation of an Elm Zigzag Sawfly in North America. Here’s an audio interview about the find.

Posted on January 11, 2023 10:50 PM by tiwane tiwane | 5 comments | Leave a comment

January 18, 2023

A Fascinating Frustule from Italy - Observation of the Week, 1/17/23

Our Observation of the Week is this diatom (potentially Cymbella peraspera), seen in Italy by @dgborin

“I'd say I'm addicted to nature,” said Davide G. Borin. “I really need a walk in the wood or a hike in the mountains at least once a week, and if I can't do it, my mood suffers.” And while Davide did end up going to a technical high school, he said his second choice would have been biology. 

Part of Davide’s interest in nature was sparked by a toy microscope he received in middle school. 

I liked it so much that in high school, as soon as I earned enough money, I purchased a good quality one that I used for decades. I still own it, but after a long hiatus, in 2016 my interest renewed, so I purchased a 1960/70 Carl Zeiss Jena Amplival microscope, a lot of objectives and accessories, and last year a semi-professional USB camera. I'm still improving my photomicrography skills.

While out on walks, Davide likes to collect water samples to put under his microscope, and these Cymbella diatoms were collected while he was out and about, and he made the image you see above through a pretty involved process.

I took the photomicrographs with 3 different objectives: Planapo 25x/0.65, Planapo 40x/0.95 and Planapo 100x/1.3, with oblique illumination and monochrome green light (frustules are colorless and monochrome light avoids chromatic aberrations). I used a pancratic (zoom) condenser set to N.A. 0.9 (25x and 40x) and N.A. 1.4 with double glycerine immersion (100x). I connected the USB camera through a 2.5x correction projection eyepiece, took the shots as 16 bit monochrome TIFFs and post-processed them with DarkTable, a free RAW processing software I use for all my photos.

I honestly don’t understand too much of that process, but the resulting images are undeniably compelling. Diatoms are tiny, single-celled brown algae that have a silica-based outer shell or frustule. Frustules have tiny pores for waste removal (they actually do go through urea cycle) and other functions, and come in many amazing shapes

“[On hikes] I take my DSLR equipped with a macro lens (usually a 150 mm) and wear camouflage clothes, to better blend in the environment 😅,” says Davide (above, in his outdoor gear).

I discovered iNaturalist about a year ago thanks to an advertisement in the local natural history museum. I subscribed immediately, but I started to upload observations only this last summer, so I'm still new…

iNaturalist is really helping me to learn about nature in a fun way: I didn't expect to find such a variety of species in a heavily anthropogenic environment such as the Padan Plane, where I live. I also like the idea to be able to contribute to science, even if only for a tiny bit.

- There’s a lot of great info about diatoms at Did you know that diatoms produce about 20-30% of the oxygen we breathe?

- There are over 23k observations of diatoms on iNat, check them out!

Posted on January 18, 2023 12:14 AM by tiwane tiwane | 15 comments | Leave a comment

January 20, 2023

A new Computer Vision Model including 1,465 new taxa in 40 days

We released a new computer vision model today. It has 69,966 taxa, up from 68,853.

This new model (v1.6) was trained on data exported exported last month on December 11th and added 1,465 new taxa.

Taxa differences to previous model

The charts below summarize these 1,465 new taxa using the same groupings we described in past release posts.

By category, most of these 1,465 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 January 20, 2023 06:59 PM by loarie loarie | 16 comments | Leave a comment

January 24, 2023

Megaherbs! - Observation of the Week, 1/24/23

Our Observation of the Week is this group of Campbell Island Daisies (Pleurophyllum speciosum), seen in New Zealand by @genevieveearly!

Genevieve Early’s parents both have a scientific background and her father was an entomologist, so she tells me “I have always been encouraged to be curious and observant in nature.” She’s recently gotten into nature photography, particularly macro photography, and after having returned to university as an adult is “currently a postgraduate research student studying the effect of a native New Zealand fungus on invasive pines.”

Last year she earned a scholarship to travel on the Heritage Adventurer, “travelling around New Zealand's subantarctic islands and the Fiordland area. I was most excited to see the unique megaherbs on Campbell, Auckland and the Snares Islands, of which Pleurophyllum speciosum is my favourite example.”

Megaherbs (what a great name) are large, herbaceous plants with showy flowers that evolved in subantarctic islands. Potentially a form of island gigantism, these plants are an amazing sight, according to Genevieve.

Megaherbs form beautiful meadows of large and often colourful flowers on these cold and windy islands. The floral displays look more like something I would associate with tropical flora - almost jarring to see against the subantarctic backgrounds of tussock, cliffs and windswept forest or shrubland. Seeing the large Southern Royal Albatross nesting amongst the flowering megaherbs [above] was a highlight of the trip for me.

On the Auckland Islands and Campbell Island, megaherbs were threatened by overgrazing of animals introduced in the 1800s (sheep, pigs, cattle and rabbits) but the populations are bouncing back after these animals (except for pigs on Auckland Island) have been removed.

Genevieve (above) has been an iNat user since 2019 and used to post observations periodically and create distribution maps for her university work. Last year, though, she stepped up her iNat game.

In 2022 I set myself a challenge to get to 1000 unique species observed before the end of the year (which I narrowly missed, by not having an internet connection to upload while I was in the subantarctics!). Challenging myself to do this has changed how I view nature around me - I am both more appreciative of native/endemic species variety and habitats I encounter, and I am also more aware of common weeds and invasive animals as I now notice their impact and abundance. Using iNaturalist has made me much more clued up about the world around me and more likely to notice species I would otherwise have missed, as I learn to recognise and identify what is around me in different habitats I go to.

(Photo of Genevieve by R. Eastmann-Densem - @robbed)

- Pleurophyllum speciosum appears on the back of the $5 New Zealand banknote.

- Check out all of the observations of Pleurophyllum on iNat!

- Here’s an older video about Campbell Island/Motu Ihupuku that includes an interview with botanist Lorna Little about the island’s megaherbs.

Posted on January 24, 2023 11:40 PM by tiwane tiwane | 22 comments | Leave a comment

January 28, 2023

Welcome, Sylvain!

Sylvain MorinAfter a long search we hired a new devops engineer: Sylvain Morin! Sylvain comes to us from GBIF France, where he was instrumental in setting up their ALA instance for managing biodiversity data. Sylvain got started with us at the beginning of January, working with Patrick to help manage and scale our server infrastructure as we grow, something Patrick has been doing pretty much solo up until this point. He's already been improving our backup strategy by adding more redundancy and security throughout the process, and generally getting familiar with our systems and practices. When he's not keeping our ship afloat, Sylvain is a father and a husband, and seems to be as good at building physical objects as he is digital ones! He told me he recently built a bookshelf and I was like cool, setting up an Ikea shelf is definitely pretty satisfying, but no, he meant buying metal rails, cutting them to size, and welding them so they wrapped around a wall radiator. Next level. Sylvain has been interested in nature for his entire life, but has become more interested in learning names and really understanding his local ecosystems in the suburbs of Paris over the past ten years.

Please welcome Sylvain!

Posted on January 28, 2023 12:26 AM by kueda kueda | 46 comments | Leave a comment

January 31, 2023

A Fuzzy, Flower-Loving Scarab Beetle - Observation of the Week, 1/31/23

Our Observation of the Week is this Pygopleurus koniae bumble bee scarab beetle, seen in Turkey by @ozgurkocak!

A geological engineer living in the Karaman province of Turkey, Özgür Koçak says he’s always been interested in nature, but witnessing a fifteen day painted lady butterfly migration in 2004 was a watershed moment for him. He began to collect butterflies (he also collects, coins, flowers, leaves, stamps, shells, and other objects) but stopped in 2007 when he bought his first digital camera (he still collects some other insects for closer examination). 

Due to economic opportunities and the intensity of business life, I can only work in and around the region where I live. Last year I finished my great work “Lepidoptera of Karaman” and I published it as an amateur naturalist.

Of course it’s not just butterflies that interest Özgür, and he saw Pygopleurus koniae beetle you see pictured here back in May of 2019, south of Karaman. 

The place where this beetle is most common is the Central Anatolia region. In other words, the city and its surroundings where I live. Sparsely wooded areas and above 1200 m. altitude. Finding them is not so difficult: if you're wearing red clothes, they'll land on you. The only problem is they are on the wing during a very short period - maybe 15-20 days. You must be in the right place at the right time to find them. While males rest on green-leaved plants or feed on yellow and red flowers, finding females is a little bit harder because they are generally on the ground.

Bumble bee scarab beetles (family Glaphyridae) are large, day-flying, fuzzy beetles with, as Özgür noted, a strong attraction to certain colored flowers. Larvae in this family “are free living in ground or sandy areas (riparian and coastal dunes) where immature stages feed on the rooths [sic] or on decaying leaf litter and detritus that is layered in the sand” (source). According to Özgür, Pygopleurus koniae was thought to be endemic to Turkey have recently been spotted in Iran.

Over the years, Özgür (above) has shared his photos on multiple platforms, becoming friends with many experts and he’s published descriptions of 12 new insect species with the help of those experts. 

He joined iNat in 2017 and says “I shared a few photos when I became a member.”

These photos did not receive much attention and I did not share any other photos. Then I received messages that the photos I shared were recognized and I increased my posts. When I saw that some experts were making publications based on iNaturalist data, I decided to transfer my entire photographic archive to iNaturalist.

Sharing something is good. I believe that sharing the data you produce with experts is both good and important in terms of science. I would be very happy if someone sees these uploads and uses them in their own work or if they sign a good work with the inferences they will get from these data.

(Photo of Özgür by Kürşat Tan. Some quotes have been lightly edited for clarity.)

- Özgür is working with @heteropteran on the Heteropteran Fauna of Karaman project.

- We often think of bees, butterflies, and moths when it comes to insect pollinators, but beetles may have been among the first insects to visit flowers.

- Check out other glaphyrids on iNat!

Posted on January 31, 2023 11:23 PM by tiwane tiwane | 13 comments | Leave a comment