October 03, 2017

iNatting from Airports and Airplanes!

Hello Fellow iNatters!

Many of you are like me and absolutely nuts with iNaturalist, as I have noted from your many observations! I don't know about you, but my mind is almost always on what organisms can be noted and were, regardless of where I find myself - even when nature is hard to come by. At the mall with the family, at the theme park, at the baseball game, the office, and so on, but what about the airport and from INSIDE the airplane?

Recently I have started documenting these observations, almost as a game, to see what I can see from the various airports across the country and internationally. It is some fun! On that layover between your home and final destination, you may be able to see things you won't see in either place. Why not document them? Most airports are well-equipped with large windows allowing you to see whatever exists outside from a 360 degree vantage point. I like to take advantage when possible. Of course, on nighttime or tight layovers or when there just isn't much to see outside, those can be tough.

A selection of my airport/airplane observations are included in this post. Some of the more interesting observations include Bat Falcon and a Jumping Spider in Panama's Tocumen International, Florida Royal Palm and Beach She-oak in Miami International, the rare Purple Desert Lupine and Ives' Phacelia on Borrego Valley Airport property, the Amazon River from the plane, etc. I have even started photographing aerial shots from the plane window mid-flight and submitting them as "Plants". With those international flights, you can photo the image shown on the onboard TV monitor that shows your current position and then later match your specific position using Google Earth. Those "Plants" observations have much less value than shots from the ground since they are not species specific, but are fun nonetheless. I'll try to review my various other observations and photos from the past and add them here in time. Some additional older airport observations:

Bat Falcon, Tocumen International, Panama
Jumping Spider, Tocumen International, Panama
Surf Scoter, San Diego International
Common Loon, San Diego International

Before I carried a camera, I recall so many interesting airport observations I wish I had documented. Years ago on one layover on my way to South America at Panama's Tocumen International Airport, I saw two species of parrots, Magnificent Frigatebirds, other assorted bird species and most amazingly, a migration kettle of hundreds of Swainson's and Broad-winged Hawks circling overhead. On another layover in Buenos Aires, Argentina, multiple Fork-tailed Flycatchers on the wires. If only I had photographed all of those...

To me, photographing observations from airports and airplanes is just one more way to contribute to the iNaturalist database and citizen science in general. I hope you agree and give it a shot. Have fun!


Posted on October 03, 2017 01:02 AM by jaykeller jaykeller | 16 observations | 3 comments | Leave a comment

August 21, 2016

RARE Arizona Bark Scorpion with TWO Metasomas (Tails) and Stingers!

On Sunday evening, August 14, 2016, BJ Stacey (@finatic) and I were black lighting for insects in Madera Canyon, Santa Cruz County, Arizona, at the Carrie Nation Trailhead, when I decided to do a scorpion check with my handheld black light. I made a short walk along the edge of the parking lot - something I have done there countless times before - and stumbled across an expected species for the area known as the Arizona Bark Scorpion (Centruroides sculpturatus). This species is easily recognized by its frequently reddish coloration and contrasting dark back with a line of pale spots running its length.

I observed it for a minute before I realized that something was "off". By now BJ had arrived to photo it and it was at this moment that I noticed that it must be two individuals mating, which didn't sit very well with me because I hadn't ever seen mating scorpions riding each others' backs. When I quickly realized that there was only one set of legs and chelae, it suddenly dawned on me that I was looking at a single Bark Scorpion with two metasomas and two stingers! (View photos of this individual here: http://www.inaturalist.org/observations/3902604). After exclaiming that I had a two-tailed scorpion I quickly pulled a vial out of my pocket and VERY CAREFULLY collected it. Arizona Bark Scorpion is by far the most venomous scorpion north of Mexico and is well known in its range as causing severe pain following a sting, and can even lead to death in the very young or very old. In Arizona, it is frequently found in peoples' homes where of course most often they are promptly dispatched. In the case of this juvenile individual, it is quite small, so it would likely have some trouble breaking human skin without a very precise and direct contact, if it can at all.

After bringing it home alive and well, and after gaining permission from my wife to maintain such a creature at least for a period of time (!!), I released it into a terrarium I have ready to accept a scorpion for observation. Her thought was the same as mine that something so rare should be observed to document its behavior. We are experienced with scorpions in captivity, having kept multiple scorpions for this purpose in the past, typically releasing them back where they were found at some point. This specimen will likely never be released, largely in part to the fact that typically these don't survive very long in the wild (or in captivity, for that matter) due to molting issues. That said, there are very few examples.

Scorpions with two tails are extremely rarely observed, and one estimate I found online said that it occurs in only one of every 5,000 individuals. It is my first. Others who are far more experienced with scorpions than I, and who have themselves observed many thousands of individuals have told me they have not yet found one.

I have not been able to fully examine this specimen as yet to determine the exact structural characteristics of the double metasoma, but one other feature worth mentioning is that its right lower chelal claw is significantly stunted, rendering that claw unusable for grasping. See below for additional behavioral information pertaining to its chelal use.

I will use this journal entry as an ongoing record of my observations of this individual, so please check back over time for updates. I look forward to your thoughts and comments, and I'll say it now to get it out of the way - It is not for sale or trade (and I have already turned down offers).

FYI @miketroll @sidesplotch @jmaughn @dominic @rjadams55


8/15/16 - Placed in its terrarium of sandy substrate and a hiding place. Walking around acquainting itself with its new home.

8/16/16 - Small insects including a winged termite and beetles placed in its enclosure, but it is not interested. Getting worried that it may not eat. Placed water droplets in the sand, and it quickly went over to it and very obviously laid down in it. Do they absorb water through their bodies? Added a shallow water dish.

8/17/16 - Caught a small moth at my light and dropped it in.

8/18/16 - In the morning I found four moth wings (phew!) and a still-alive termite (now wingless). Removed the termite. Does not like termites, check! (NOTE: All scorpions seem to be somewhat finicky eaters, so trial-and-error is important. No scorpion that I have kept has ever turned down a moth though).

8/20/16 - Caught a greenbottle fly and removed a wing before dropping it in the enclosure. Now well-hydrated and having eaten a couple of days prior, it aggressively ran toward the fly, grabbed it with its one good chela (the other also being used as a prod) and incredibly stung it accurately with BOTH stingers almost simultaneously! It is quite interesting that it would be able to accomplish this considering scorpions have evolved over millions of years to hunt with a single stinger. I will seek to photo/video document this in the near future.

8/20/16 - Metasoma function: I have been observing the individual's use of its metasomas since capture, and can state that they are each fully and seemingly equally functional in every manner. They are sometimes held over the body, sometimes both off to the side, and sometimes one up with the other down. While eating the fly, it crossed them (I will resist the temptation to anthropomorphize!)

8/22/16 - Ate two small moths, but I was not able to witness the kills.

8/23/16 - Consumed an Alfalfa Looper moth that was bulkier than itself (with one forewing removed). This individual has zero issues with kills, despite its one stunted chela.

8/26/16 - Some type of buildup collected in one of its metasomas, so I removed the buildup with forceps and moved the scorpion to a dry habitat in case it is a cause of the buildup.

8/30/16 - Tail buildup has not returned, so hopefully was a one-time event. It is eating voraciously almost daily, including a termite (so scratch the earlier reference to not liking termites).

9/17/16 - I re-configured its enclosure using pulverized coconut husk as the substrate, which it much prefers vs. sand and is more like its normal habitat. I will mist the aquarium glass periodically to maintain appropriate moisture levels.

10/14/16 - I captured a brief video of the scorpion attempting to kill a cricket, though the cricket proved a bit too fast (video link posted just below). I feel this was a half-hearted attempt, as it did not make subsequent attempts on it. This gives a good solid impression of this scorpion's routine of stinging prey with both stingers simultaneously. I'll try again with this same cricket soon, and hopefully capture an actual kill. https://www.flickr.com/photos/71649753@N07/29720781973/in/dateposted-public/

10/26/16 - After 83 days in captivity, it has finally molted (ecdysis)! This photograph was taken approximately two hours after it completed the task, apparently with perfect success. Interestingly, the right lower claw (visible in this photo) which was already malformed at the time of discovery, has lengthened relative to the upper claw. I suspected that it would soon be shedding its exoskeleton after it began to shun any prey twelve days prior.

10/31/16 - Took a cricket for the first time since its pre-molt fast began on October 14. It is still a tiny bit soft, so I monitored it carefully after introducing the cricket to make sure no damage was done. It wasn't particularly proficient with its stingers yet, and it didn't sting it before simply starting to eat its head. It still cannot grasp with its right claw, despite the slight relative lengthening following the ecdyisis, but used it as a prod as it had prior.

4/4/18 - Minor update that this individual is still doing well in captivity. It has not molted since 10/26/16.

Posted on August 21, 2016 01:54 AM by jaykeller jaykeller | 1 observations | 41 comments | Leave a comment

October 09, 2015

iNatting With Friends!

Hello Everyone,

I wanted to write a snippet about the benefits of "iNatting" with others, which can be an enlightening learning experience and one that tends to contribute positively to the number and diversity of submitted observations, which I will explain in a moment. I recently had the pleasure of meeting Sam Kieschnick (aka "sambiology") while on a business trip to his home area of north Texas where we explored a local natural park together and found a gob of interesting species. I'm only somewhat familiar with Texas fauna and flora from my past trips there, so meeting a local expert was a fantastic experience not only from a personal perspective, but also from a pure learning opportunity. Sam's knowledge of the area is extensive and appreciated by me, and I feel like I took a significant leap forward knowledge-wise there. Thanks Sam!

As I mentioned earlier, iNatting with friends also tends to increase the diversity of organisms submitted to iNaturalist. From my many outings with fellow SoCal local BJ Stacey (aka finatic), I have been struck many times by the times when he simply notices that obscure plant or insect that I had walked right past only moments prior. I often return that same type of favor. Therefore, the overall impact is a more complete "bioblitz" of the area and more species we're both able to see. It is interesting to note that when we explore areas separately, we tend to observe an overall less abundance of creatures.

A few weeks ago, another iNatter, Susan Hewitt (aka "invertzoo") visited my local patch and BJ and I were fortunate to be able to visit a local beach to sample the many Mollusks there, a group in which we are both really just starting to immerse ourselves. We learned so much from that experience that has allowed us to more confidently document these creatures in our travels since.

So in summary, my recommendation is to reach out to others in your local patch or even farther afield if you are comfortable in doing so, to go on expeditions together. You will not only likely learn a lot, but you will quite simply see more of the life bounty that nature has to offer.

Jay Keller

Posted on October 09, 2015 03:14 AM by jaykeller jaykeller | 6 comments | Leave a comment

June 18, 2015

Commonly-encountered antlion species Brachynemurus sackeni appears to represent two cryptic species

"Phylogeographic Investigations of the Widespread, Arid-Adapted Antlion Brachynemurus sackeni Hagen (Neuroptera: Myrmeleontidae)
Joseph S. Wilson, Kevin A. Williams, Clayton F. Gunnell, and James P. Pitts

Department of Biology, Utah State University, 5305 Old Main Hill, Logan, UT 84322, USA
Received 10 June 2010; Accepted 16 November 2010
Academic Editor: Coby Schal

Copyright © 2010 Joseph S. Wilson et al. This is an open access article distributed under the Creative Commons Attribution License, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.


Several recent studies investigating patterns of diversification in widespread desert-adapted vertebrates have associated major periods of genetic differentiation to late Neogene mountain-building events; yet few projects have addressed these patterns in widespread invertebrates. We examine phylogeographic patterns in the widespread antlion species Brachynemurus sackeni Hagen (Neuroptera: Myrmeleontidae) using a region of the mitochondrial gene cytochrome oxidase I (COI). We then use a molecular clock to estimate divergence dates for the major lineages. Our analyses resulted in a phylogeny that shows two distinct lineages, both of which are likely distinct species. This reveals the first cryptic species-complex in Myrmeleontidae. The genetic split between lineages dates to about 3.8–4.7 million years ago and may be associated with Neogene mountain building. The phylogeographic pattern does not match patterns found in other taxa. Future analyses within this species-complex may uncover a unique evolutionary history in this group."


Two recent observations of this species complex in California:

Posted on June 18, 2015 01:13 PM by jaykeller jaykeller | 1 comments | Leave a comment