Journal archives for June 2023

June 01, 2023

Mother and Child Dusky Leaf Monkeys! - Observation of the Week, 5/31/23

Our Observation of the Week is this mother and child Dusky Leaf Monkey (Trachypithecus obscurus) pair, seen in Malaysia by @recklessmantis!

“I remember flipping over rocks to discover creepy crawlies underneath, catching bugs, and chasing crabs and mudskippers at the beach,” says Gerald Lim Dk, who hails from Penang Island in Malaysia. “Growing up as a millennial, I love  watching wildlife documentaries on National Geographic, Discovery Channel and Animal Planet.”

Now he takes his own fantastic nature photos, which he posts to Instagram as well as iNat. Last November he was exploring a part of the island when he came across the pair of monkeys you see here. “The mother and child interaction was adorable and heart warming. I was smiling as I reviewed the shot. The adorable part is when the little one is playfully biting its own tail.”

Dusky leaf monkeys (also known as dusky langurs, among other names) occur throughout parts of southeast Asia, and often like to scavenge for leaves (and fruit, if it’s around) in the canopy. Females weigh about 6.5 kg (14.3 lbs), with males being a bit larger. Babies are born with orange fur that slowly becomes darker, although the adult fur coloration depends on the subspecies. The IUCN lists this species as endangered as it’s threatened by habitat loss and hunting. 

Gerald (above) says iNat’s helped him a lot when it comes to finding species to look for. I got to know some species of birds that I didn't even know existed where I live. For example the Rufous Woodpecker (Micropternus brachyurus) and the Velvet-Fronted Nuthatch (Sitta frontalis). I hope to see them someday.”

I'm not part of any research currently, [but] perhaps I'll be able to contribute in the near future because I have limited knowledge in nature overall. I just enjoy taking pictures of [wildlife], particularly mammals and birds or anything I could find during expeditions or solo walks.

(Photo of Gerald by Alexius LZL, aka @floatingkittem. Some quotes have been lightly edited for clarity.)

- Here’s an informational video about dusky leaf monkeys from Langur Project Penang.

- Speaking of mudskippers, here’s an oooold Observation of the Week featuring those very fish! Seen by @anil_kumar_verma.

Posted on June 01, 2023 05:53 AM by tiwane tiwane | 5 comments | Leave a comment

Identifier Profile: @maractwin

This is the seventeenth entry in an ongoing monthly (or almost monthly!) series profiling the amazing identifiers of iNaturalist. Mark is also a member of the LGBTQIA+ community and we’re posting this for Pride Month! He “currently lives in Cambridge, Massachusetts with his husband, three ferrets, and a couple anemonefish.”

Mark Rosenstein joined iNaturalist nearly eleven years ago, and during that time he’s provided close to 500,000 identifications for other users. That includes over 235,000 ray-finned fish identifications, making him the top identifier of that taxon.   

As a child growing up in San Antonio, Texas, Mark’s first connection to nature was as a butterfly collector, although he also liked watching Jacques Cousteau documentaries. “That's part of what prompted me to get a saltwater aquarium after college,” he explains, “[and] that led to me learning a lot about tropical fish, and eventually setting up a living reef tank.”

I was working in computers at MIT in 1992 when I heard Tim Berners-Lee give a talk about his recent invention, the world-wide web. I built my first website, FINS, about the aquarium hobby, in 1993. As part of this website, I created a listing of fish species available in the aquarium hobby, taking photos of fish in aquariums to illustrate it. This led to me learning a little about taxonomy for the first time. My interest in saltwater aquariums led to me getting scuba certified so that I could see them in their natural habitat, not just in a glass box on life support.

His first few diving destinations were to the Caribbean, but his eyes were opened on a later trip to Fiji with ichthyologist Gerry Allen. “This was the start of a more serious study of fish taxonomy on my part (as a hobby; by now I was running a web company),” Mark says.

He continued to visit spots in the Indo-Pacific region, upgraded his camera gear, and started taking lots of photos. 

My regular dive buddy commented that I had probably photographed every fish in Fiji, and that led to the suggestion to produce a field guide, as we were disappointed with mistakes and missing info in the guides we were using at that point. I naively started that project, with no idea how big an undertaking it was. I spent about four years putting that together, and self-published Fiji Reef Fish shortly before the pandemic made everyone quit traveling or diving for a few years

Mark also started getting into birds due to seagoing avians he found while on the water, and it was at a bird club meeting in 2012 where he first heard about iNaturalist.  

After entering some random recent photos that were mostly birds, I decided to try to enter my photos that weren't birds or fish, to use iNat to build a life list of other animals. After just playing with iNat for a few months, I was hooked, and started entering everything I photographed…

iNat then began to influence what I looked for and photographed in the field. I started trying to photograph one individual of each species of bird I saw each time I went out. Yes, that meant that every time I went out I would photograph another Robin, another House Sparrow. This gave me photography practice, and I have become much better at getting successful shots by doing this. And it gives me another way to see how common some species are, since I end up with many photos of them. I eventually started doing the same thing on dive trips. On a typical ten day drive trip to Fiji, I see about 500 species, and manage to photograph over 400 of them.  And then once I get home, post them all to iNat.

Not a morning person, Mark was happy to find that insects, unlike birds, are active later in the day. “I spent a while working on odonates (dragonflies & damselflies) and Greg Lasley (@greglasley) who I met through iNat mentored me on those…I [also] resurrected my childhood interest in butterflies. I joined a local butterfly club, and also learned a lot from Liam O'Brien (@robberfly here on iNat). These days when I'm not traveling for scuba diving, I spend much of my time in the field searching for butterflies.”

When it comes to identifying, Mark explains that “for several years, I actually skimmed pretty much every observation posted, until that became too many to keep up with. These days, I do two kinds of identification: fish for anywhere, and lepidoptera for North America.” If he’s busy he’ll only add IDs to the obvious ones, but when he has time he’ll open up his field guides and get down to identifying species he’s not as familiar with. He’ll also sometimes go through Research Grade observations to look for any that need correcting.

I have written my own cheat sheets that list groups of confusingly similar species and what to look for to identify them. I've created public web pages with a few of these at I also have amassed a collection of several hundred scientific papers from the primary literature and will refer to these for some identification challenges. As I learn new ways to identify fish, I also update the descriptions in my book. Someday I will publish a second edition with these updates.

One reason why he enjoys identifying on iNat is that, as someone who has experience cleaning up databases, he finds a “certain satisfaction” when he does that on iNat. “But the better reason,” he tells me, 

is that I learn a lot while doing it…Identifying species I know well reinforces [my] knowledge so that a year from now when I next dive in that part of the world and see the species, I am more likely to remember it. And when I see an observation that I don't know, sometimes I will research it. I really learn a new species by then looking at all of the photos of that species on iNat, to get a sense of the range of variation within the species.

My primary area of study (reef fish) is something I can only do in person a couple of times a year. But I can look at pictures of reef fish every day and by identifying them for others, keep my ID skills sharp and the names fresh in my mind.

Some of Mark’s tips for taking identifiable fish photos:

- try to get a side view.  Many people who are snorkeling or in a glass-bottom boat will take a photo looking down on a fish, but that often does not show necessary field marks.

If you're going to stand on a wharf and shoot fish in the water, the non-flat surface will distort the view. Take many many photos this way, and look through them to find one that has a pretty clear view of the fish. Or attach several of them to the observation.

- photos where the subject fish is tiny in the frame (such as frame grabs from GoPro video) are very difficult. Get as close as you can to the subject. If you nonchalantly drift towards a fish, you can often get quite close. Just don't expect the fish to let you charge at it full speed.

- those fish that are always moving, seemingly away from you, like wrasses--often they are swimming the borders of their territory. Just wait and it will complete the circle and come back towards you. If you do chase a fish into a hole, decide how badly you want the shot. If you back off ten feet and wait 3-5 minutes, it will probably reappear. But you may not want to wait that long.

- (this goes for any wildlife photography) Take multiple shots of each subject. Wild animals usually do not pose for you. A single shot may have an awkward pose. They might be pointing their pectoral fin directly toward the camera, so you can't see the pattern on it. With several shots, you can choose the best one to post.

- if you know that you are shooting a fish that is an identification challenge, try to get it with the fins spread and really sharp focus. Often the best way to separate similar fish is to count the little bones in the fins. But if you know this during the dive, and have the skill to get that kind of shot, you probably aren't looking for advice from me.

- those using scuba and a real camera rig probably already know this, but there are a few guidelines for good underwater photography. Always get as close as you can to your subject; water absorbs and scatters light a thousand times more than the same distance in air. Ideally get a little below your subject and shoot up at it; this will give you a blue background. If you are going to shoot deeper than 15 or 20 feet, you need artificial light--either a strobe or movie light--on your camera. Sea water absorbs red light, so as you go deeper you need to compensate, either with colored filters, adjusting the white balance, or using enough artificial light to counter the effect. Underwater photography is an excuse to throw money into the ocean.

Two of Mark’s go-to references for fish are Reef Fish Identification: Tropical Pacific by Allen, Steene, Humann & Deloach, and Reef Fishes of the East Indies by Allen & Erdmann. Both are available in physical and electronic form, and Mark says he’s written hundreds of notes in his copies.

Posted on June 01, 2023 09:43 PM by tiwane tiwane | 59 comments | Leave a comment

June 08, 2023

Pride Month: Meet @xris!

We’re featuring some of iNat’s LGBTQIA+ users this Pride Month. Here’s @xris!

Name: Chris Kreussling (aka Flatbush Gardener)

Pronouns: he or they

“I joined iNaturalist in 2013 - coming up on my 10th anniversary!” says Chris Kreussling, although he admits he didn’t post his first observation until about four years later. He was interested in learning about the insects visiting his garden in Brooklyn, New York City and found the iNat community welcoming to learners.

Chris’s “spark bug” was this Eristalis tranversa fly.

[It’s the fly] that left me amazed and got me to start observing my garden more closely. As I write in that observation’s description: “I had never seen anything like this, and had no idea that flies could be so beautiful.”

He’s since created a project for his garden, where he’s observed over 10,000 observations, and

so far, I’ve documented 61 species of bees that visit my garden, including several that nest here. That’s almost 30% of the bee species believed to persist in New York City. I’ve been monitoring a population of the solitary, ground-nesting Colletes thoracicus, rufous-backed cellophane bee, in my garden for 16 years! And one of the tiny metallic green sweat bees, Augochlora pura, nests in the rotting logs I place around my garden for habitat.

Although he considers himself an “urban naturalist,” and has helped with NYC’s City Nature Challenge since 2019, Chris also loves getting out of the city as well.

My husband’s family has a cabin in the Adirondacks. We try to get up there every year. I’ve lived all my life within 15 miles of the Atlantic Ocean, so getting “up north” and into the woods is a real treat. Seeing the wilder end of the Hudson River is also amazing. I’m obsessed with the ice meadows that form along the river there. It’s a rare and globally threatened habitat, even more so with climate change. I try to document everything I can when I get to visit one of them. [Like this sharpshooter below - TI]

I don’t think I “read” as gay, but I assume anyone who meets me can figure it out. I am out and visible wherever I am. When I lead or guide workshops and walks, I like to casually work the phrase “my husband” into my exposition to make it clear. The LGBTQ+ and Neurodivergent Naturalist Projects on iNaturalist are another way I can be visible. I like that those Projects show up on all my observations! The rainbow flag in my avatar also helps.

Being white, cis male, and gender-conforming imparts a lot of privilege and protection. I feel safe, for example, walking on my own in most of NYC’s urban parks. I have many naturalist friends who do not. I hope that by being out, open, and visible – using that privilege – I can help change that.

(Photo of Chris was taken by his neighbor, Roberta Feldhusen - here’s the observation. Chris’s profile image was made by Ethan Kocak - @ethan31.)

- Chris is very active: blogging, giving iNat trainings, and posting on Mastodon. Check out the links in his profile for blog posts, appearances, slide decks, and more!

- Take a look at other home-based projects here!

- That “spark bug” was identified by one of iNat’s top hover fly identifers - read about some of those fly identifiers here.

- Since he posts so many observations of insects on plants, Chris makes extensive use of observation fields like "Interaction->Visited flower of" to record plant-animal interactions.

Posted on June 08, 2023 07:28 PM by tiwane tiwane | 31 comments | Leave a comment

June 22, 2023

A new Computer Vision Model (v2.4) including 1,994 new taxa

We released a new computer vision model today. It has 76,129 taxa up from 74,135. This new model (v2.4) was trained on data exported last month on May 21st and added 1,994 new taxa.

Taxa differences to previous model

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

By category, most of these 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 June 22, 2023 09:08 PM by loarie loarie | 16 comments | Leave a comment