June 01, 2020

It's an Elm Zigzag Sawfly Larva! - Observation of the Week, 5/31/20

Our Observation of the Week is this tiny Elm Zigzag Sawfly, seen in Germany by @karsten_s!

“Since my earliest childhood I have been very interested in nature and till today I'm a passionate fish-keeper,” says Karsten Schönherr. He’s made several trips to South America fo research fish, and is currently focused on “the Lithoxini, a group of catfish that lives in the river rapids of the Guyana shield with several still undescribed species.”

With a trip to South America not possible at the moment, Karsten tells me he’s now focusing on local flora and fauna in Germany, utilizing his camera’s macro and telephoto lenses to help him out. “I'm basically broadly interested in mostly everything that I can capture with my camera but particularly focusing on plant-animal interactions, parasitic/parasitoid relationships, Hemiptera, Lepidoptera & Tenthredinoidea,” he says. 

That third taxon is also known as “typical sawflies”, which is what you see above. Karsten found it while on a bike ride, when he stopped along the river Neckar

[I] took my camera with the new macro lens (Pentax Lumix DMC-GX80, Olympus Makro 30mm) and checked in the trees nearby if I can find anything interesting to photograph. Obviously there was also this elm tree… I was right away amazed by this regular feeding pattern and tried to make some good pictures. Light conditions were excellent.

Native to eastern Asia, elm zigzag sawflies were first documented in eastern Europe in 2003, and have since spread across the continent and to Britain, where they were first confirmed in 2017. Its common name originates from its larval host plant (members of the genus Ulmus) and distinctive eating pattern, as it devours leaf material in a back and forth manner, at first between the leaf’s main veins. Older larvae tend to not leave such distinct zig zags. After gorging themselves on elm leaves for 15-18 days, the larvae will then pupate for 4-8 days and emerge as small, dark-colored adults with light-colored legs. No males have ever been found, and it’s believed this species reproduces by parthenogenesis.  

“I stumbled onto iNaturalist website while I was searching for reference pictures of catfish of the families Loricariidae and Callichthyidae,” Karsten (above, in Peru) tells me. 

Step by step I also used it to explore local nature and get a better understanding of nature just outside my doorstep. It's a perfect tool to get into contact with the respective experts and convert a nice picture of an insect larva into something more meaningful. Once you know the correct name you can easily find more information about it and how it interacts with other organisms you have observed. It can be a starting point to explore and understand a tiny puzzle piece of the amazing diversity, complexity and beauty of nature…

Hopefully with observations like this more and more people are getting interested in nature and conserving this treasure for us and the generations to follow.

- by Tony Iwane. Photo of Karsten by Norman Behr. Some quotes have been lightly edited for clarity and flow.

- Here’s some nice footage of an elm zigzag sawfly doing its thing. 

Posted on June 01, 2020 00:16 by tiwane tiwane | 4 comments | Leave a comment

May 24, 2020

A Chimney Building Cicada Nymph is Seen in Brazil! - Observation of the Week, 5/24/20

Our Observation of the Week is this Fidicina cicada nymph, seen in Brazil by @siddantas!

Here in North America, we’re used to seeing cicada exuviae on tree trunks, but I’d never heard of a cicada tower until coming across Sidney Dantas’s photo. Sidnei tells me they’re very common in Amazonia, especially near the end of the rainy season, but in over twenty years of exploring the Amazon, he has never actually seen a nymph actually building one until May 9th of this year.

As a child growing in eastern Brazil, where much of the forest had already been removed, Sidnei says he learned about nature “[mostly] from tv shows and books/magazines.” But that didn’t stop him from becoming a biologist later in life, earning a masters and a PhD  in bird ecology and taxonomy, mainly in the area of Belém do Pará. “After my PhD,” he tells me, “I got some postdoc grants and continued to do research on birds in Belém, and did not focus much on other kinds of creatures for a long time.”

That changed in 2018, however, when Sidnei changed career directions and became a guide for tourists at the Cristalino Lodge in the Brazilian state of Mato Grosso. “Here in Cristalino, I have to speak about birds and many other things, so I got in contact with my ‘naturalist side’ again, and activated my curiosity for nature in general, especially for butterflies and frogs. Now I am...spending the quarantine [here], and taking my time to look for more amazonian wonders everyday.”

Which, of course, brings us to the very busy cicada nymph. “On that day, me and my friend Jéssica Martins, another guide in Cristalino Lodge, were walking in the forest, and in fact she saw the cicada first, after I passed by it unaware, and called me back. 

We were amazed to see it in action, and spent some minutes taking photos and observing the cicada building the tower by placing the mud with its big front legs from side to side, being annoyed by some ants, and even pulling the sides of the tower to cover itself when we did some sudden movement close to it...After some time taking photos, we decided to leave it alone.

Cicadas spend much of their lives as nymphs, tapping into the roots of plants and slurping up xylem. Many will spend years doing this (perhaps most famously the 13 and 17 year cicadas of North America) before metamorphosing into adults who will live no more than several weeks or months. The nymphs which Sidnei and Jéssica found were likely in the genus Fidicina, and their towers would perhaps more accurately be called “chimneys”, as they are believed to aid the nymphs in regulating the microclimates of their underground chambers, as well as providing a place to escape during heavy rains.

“I started using iNaturalist for uploading my butterfly and reptile photos, in order to contribute to projects cataloging the butterflies and reptiles of the Cristalino region,” says Sidnei (above, on one of the observation towers in Cristalino Lodge). “Soon I was posting observations of other taxa as well, excited by the possibility of getting them identified by specialists! I’ve learned a lot about insects, frogs, and other things...and I started to learn how poorly many of these taxa are known for this region…

I have contributed photos and sound recordings to people’s work on membracids, crickets, wasps, and I find it amazing to get in contact with people from these areas and learn so much! At this point, the iNaturalist experience stimulated me to pay more attention to and record unusual species or behaviors, to share with other people and possibly contribute to knowledge about amazonian biota.

- by Tony Iwane. Some quotes have been lightly edited for clarity and flow.

- iNat user @belgianbirding commented on Sidnei’s observation and linked to his own blog post about his encounters with these chimneys.

- The Animal Architecture project has some pretty sweet examples of structures created by animals.

- Of course David Attenborough did a segment on periodical cicadas.

- An emergence of 17 year cicadas is actually occurring right now in a small area of North America. 

Posted on May 24, 2020 20:12 by tiwane tiwane | 23 comments | Leave a comment

May 21, 2020

Seeking Swordfish, Landed Green-eyed Shark - (Belated) Observation of the Week, 3/29/20

Our (belated) Observation of the Week is this incredible Centrophorus shark, seen off of the Cayman Islands by @captjohndmcdow.

Note: I originally reached out to John about his observation in late March, but due to extenuating circumstances he wasn’t able to reply until recently, so I’m posting this a bit late. - Tony

 A researcher with a masters in fisheries ecology from Texas A&M University, John McDow was swordfishing off the southern shore of Grand Cayman when he came across the shark you see above. “We were deep-dropping squid in about 2300' of water and drifting into the 1400' range before resetting,” he recalls. 

This shark picked up the bait as soon as it hit the bottom on one of the drops. It didn't put up much of a fight and we thought it was a pomfret or barrelfish. When it made it to the surface I saw it was a shark and I knew it wasn't a species we had seen before. We took measurements as quickly as we could and got several photos before releasing it. The shark swam off strong despite being brought up from such a depth.

The shark John and his companions landed was only the tenth individual of its genus posted to iNaturalist (there are now eleven), and as you might ascertain from his tale it’s a deepwater dweller. Like many deepwater marine denizens, not much is known about it, but the large distinctive green eyes are thought to help it see as it hunts for prey so far beneath the surface. Look closely and you can see it has spines on both dorsal fins. Unfortunately, sharks of this genus are vulnerable to the trawl fishery, such as this example from Australia:

Graham et al. (2001) reported declines of 98.4–99.7% in the relative abundances of C. harrissoni, C. moluccensis and C. cf. uyato off the upper slope of New South Wales between 1976–77 and 1996–97. (White et al. 2008)

John (above, with his daughter and a scarlet snake) began exploring the bays, marshes, and beaches of the Gulf Coast when he moved there as a teenager and is now researching the seasonal migratory patterns of tarpon (as well as working a fishing guide). He’s only recently joined iNat, but tells me “I love iNaturalist. It is a great resource and a good place to network with other nature enthusiasts. What I love the most about iNaturalist is that my kids also love it and now they want to go herping or snorkeling to find a species they saw on inaturalist or to get a new photo to submit.”

- by Tony Iwane

- In addition to marine life, John is also into herping - take a look at his observation of a tree-climbing Cayman Racer!

- Like so many observations, John’s Centrophorus benefitted from the knowledge of experts thousands of miles away. @clinton, iNat’s top elasmobranch identifier, resides in New Zealand, and @willwhite, and expert in this genus, lives in Australia.

Posted on May 21, 2020 05:23 by tiwane tiwane | 7 comments | Leave a comment

May 17, 2020

A Young Zoologist in Sri Lanka Finds a "Horned" Parasitoid Wasp in her Backyard - Observation of the Week, 5/17/20

Our Observation of the Week is this tiny Dirhinus wasp, seen in Sri Lanka by @chathuri_jayatissa!

Many of us began our interest in nature as young children, turning over logs and picking up bugs, then later wanting to photograph them. Chathuri Jayatissa came at it from the opposite direction. As a child, her love was photography and age thirteen her mom gave her a camera. On a field trip with her school’s photography club - her first visit to a rainforest - Chathuri had a transformative experience. “I was amazed by the beauty in the forest and the wildlife,” she tells me.

I took several photos of butterflies, birds, and wildflowers, and it became my new hobby from then onwards. I started a new relationship with nature and it became my passion. I used to spend my leisure time in the wild looking for interesting things around me. This habit helped me a lot for studies and eventually I found few friends in social media with the same interest. My parents also bought me a new camera which helped me in shooting birds and macros, [and] I spent my holidays traveling around the country looking for birds, and on safaris in with my family.

Currently a zoology student at Rajarata University of Sri Lanka, Chathuri’s friend @aniruddha_singhamahapatra told her about iNaturalist last year and she’s been using it quite a bit, especially over the last few months due to the SARS-CoV-2 pandemic, as she’s been exploring her home garden in depth. “It was not only the birds,” she says, “I found some very interesting little insects from my home garden and I was fascinated with them. So I used to search for every little creature in my garden where my parents helped me in photographing them by providing additional lights and sometimes the backgrounds. I couldn’t identify most of them, where iNaturalist was the only support to know them.”

It was on one of these garden jaunts with her mother (and borrowing a macro lens from her brother) that Chathuri spotted the wasp you see photographed above. 

At the first glance I thought it was a tiny fly and I managed to click one photo before it disappeared. I was curious about this tiny creature. But I couldn’t find it again. So with the only photo I had, I uploaded it in iNaturalist. Then it was an excitement with lots of comments from people around the world. [On iNaturalist] I got to know that it’s a wasp from the genus Dirhinus. I was amazed by the number of views for my observation. I was very happy to see my observation as the Observation of the Day where I never expected. It was a millstone for me in iNaturalist.

A member of the family Chalcididae, Dirhinus wasps are pretty cool. Like many other wasps, they are parasitoids and specialize in parasitizing flies - especially fly species that pupate underground. The adult female Dirhinid uses the distinctive “horns” on its head for digging as it searches for a suitable host. Once a host is found, she will oviposit within the pupa, and when the adult eventually emerges, it can use its “horns” to get back above ground.

Chaythuri (above), continues to photograph the tiny organisms around her and post them to iNat. “iNaturalist is the best platform for nature lovers and those who learn about biodiversity,” she says. “It helps to find people with knowledge on specific species. I myself consider iNaturalist as a knowledge bank with so many  things to learn about the surrounding area in which we live.”

I have been seeing a steady uptick in really cool observations from Sri Lanka lately, and asked @loarie to update the observations by month chart from his August, 2019 World Tour post for the country:

The large spike in early 2019 came from a short-term QuestaGame promotion (as explained in the world tour blog), but growth since has been organic and is definitely on the rise, which is great to see. I reached out to Priyantha Wijesinghe (@elaphrornis), who tirelessly promotes iNat use in Sri Lanka on Twitter (thank you, Priyantha!), and asked him if he had any insights into this recent growth. He tells me that the growth is likely due to increased use both by ecotourists and by residents of the country who are keen naturalists. What makes him happiest is seeing the growth of interest in invertebrates, which he says “never really took off (except for butterflies) simply because there is easily accessible literature for identification…

For me a very thrilling development (and which I attribute largely to iNaturalist) is the interest in insects and other invertebrates which I am seeing from photographs on iNaturalist...And I think the ability to get an identification (even if only to family or genus) is a huge boost to someone trying to get to know the local spiders or moths or whatever.

Priyantha made sure to mention some top iNatters in the country, such as @nuwan (who just co-authored the first volume of a handbook to moths of Sri Lanka), @amila_sumanapala, @thilinahettiarachchi, @shanelle97, and @aravinth6, among others. “It's interesting to see how the quality of the observations has really improved in some observers,” says Priyantha.

I am aware of one person who started by uploading to iNaturalist pictures of flowers of cultivated garden plants but who now contributes some of the most interesting observations of truly wild insects, spiders, lichens, etc. Not only has the number of iNaturalist contributors based in Sri Lanka grown, their contributions have increased and also become better. iNaturalist has truly made a difference to natural history observation in Sri Lanka and ultimately will no doubt have a positive influence on interest in biodiversity conservation as well as interest in studying biodiversity for its own sake.

By Tony Iwane. Some quotes have been lightly edited for clarity and flow.

- Follow Chathuri on Instagram here

Posted on May 17, 2020 21:22 by tiwane tiwane | 21 comments | Leave a comment

May 15, 2020

We’ve reached 1,000,000 observers!

Last month we passed 1,000,000 total observers of verifiable observations! In fact, last month was record breaking on multiple fronts. We had record breaking visitors to the website, new users, observers, observations, and species observed. It’s interesting to have a look back at my post about reaching 150,000 observers less than 3 years ago and some predictions we made for 2020.

One stat where we didn’t break records was the number of identifiers (people who added an identification to someone else’s observation). How is it that last month under 23,000 identifiers working with over 2.7 million observations from over 177,000 observers were able to add enough identifications to tally over 89,000 distinct species? I thought I’d spend this post exploring this in more detail.

The Long Identifier Tail

To put in perspective what a small fraction of the iNaturalist community of identifiers is, the graph below shows all 2,500,000 iNaturalist users where each circle below represents 1,000 iNaturalist users. 51% of users have posted an observation (blue and yellow), but only 4% have made identifications for other people (yellow and pink). Nonetheless, these 107,000 identifiers have generated 53 million identifications for other people compared with 43 million observations generated by 1,265,000 observers (from now on I’m counting all observers, not just observers of verifiable observations as I prefer to do because the data were easier to fetch, but the patterns are the same).

So how can this be? The answer is that activity on iNaturalist, as is characteristic of most crowdsourcing efforts, follows what we call a ‘long tailed distribution’. This means that there are many people doing relatively few actions and relatively few people doing many actions.

This is true for observers but the activity of identifiers is dramatically more long-tailed. In fact because these tails are so long, we can only really view the graph above with log-transformed axes as shown below. For the Observations line, note that while over 1 million people have posted at least one observation, only around 1,000 people have posted at least 10,000 observations. For the Identifications line, there’s a whole order of magnitude fewer identifiers (around 120,000) but also a longer tail of few people doing large numbers of actions relative to the observations line.

Here's another way to visualize this. The graph below shows all contributors (people who have posted at least one observation or one identification). Again each circle represents 1,000 people. The red color indicates the top 1,000 observers. The pie chart shows that these top 1,000 observers account for 28% of all the observations on iNaturalist. The orange, yellow, and green colors show the next 2,000, 4,000, and 8,000 top observers and their relative contributions. Put another way, the top 3,000 observers have posted more observations than the bottom 1,250,000 observers.

The identifier tail is much longer. The top 1,000 identifiers have generated an amazing 70% of all identifications. This is more than twice as many as all other 106,000 identifiers generated.

@kueda pointed out that this is kind of like income-disparity reporting except that the story here is reversed with a a tiny minority sustaining the majority - an interesting analogy.

Are you an identifier yet?

One vulnerability that this very long identifier tail reveals is that even though iNaturalist has over 2.5 million users, the site is extremely dependent on a much, much smaller group of super-identifers. You can see the top 500 identifiers here and I’ll name just the top 10: @aguilita, @sambiology, @greglasley, @johnascher, @maxallen, @john8, @graysquirrel, @maractwin, @joshuagsmith, and @thebirdnerd. Please join me in thanking the small group of super-identifiers for literally making iNaturalist function.

But there’s also an opportunity to take steps to try to grow this identifier community. Statistically speaking, if you’re reading this there’s a good chance you’re not one of these super-identifiers. We definitely encourage you to give identifying other people’s observations a try. Who knows, you might be our next super-identifier! Here’s a video on how to use the identify tool and here are some tips on how to dive into identifying. There’s also lots of good ideas on how to recruit more identifiers on the iNaturalist forum such as this thread.

Posted on May 15, 2020 21:54 by loarie loarie | 57 comments | Leave a comment

May 14, 2020

Welcome, iNaturalist Finland! Tervetuloa iNaturalist Suomi Finland!

Today we are pleased to announce the launch of iNaturalist Finland as the newest member of the iNaturalist Network. iNaturalistFi is part of the Finnish Biodiversity Information Facility (FinBIF), a national data infrastructure which harvests, collects and shares Finnish species information from many sources as open data. FinBIF is hosted by the Finnish Museum of Natural History (Luomus), under the University of Helsinki.

Finland has a long tradition of citizen science-based nature monitoring, starting from winter bird counts in the 1950’s, and for the past decade FinBIF and Luomus have been responsible for data collecting in many research and long-term monitoring projects. However, an easy-to-use tool for anyone to collect species occurrence data has been missing. iNaturalist fills this gap perfectly with its mobile and online tools, and can help to attract a wide range of nature enthusiasts to post and share their observations. Finnish Creative Commons-licensed observations from iNaturalist are directly harvested by FinBIF and are available for researchers, local authorities, and anyone interested as open data through the national biodiversity portal species.fi. Meanwhile, FinBIF can focus its efforts on building an observation system for projects and communities needing more specific and custom-made tools for standardized studies.

iNaturalistFi is the second member of the iNaturalist Network that is supported by the national node of the Global Biodiversity Information Facility (GBIF). iNaturalist research-grade observations are shared with GBIF once per week, which provides another level of data accessibility for research, conservation, and management. iNaturalist is currently the single most-cited dataset in GBIF with 645 citations to date. The Atlas of Living Australia, which supports iNaturalistAU, is the other member of the iNaturalist Network that is also the national node for GBIF. These national nodes play an important role in making biodiversity data available nationally and internationally.

We encourage anyone from Finland to affiliate your account with iNaturalistFi in your account settings. By affiliating with your local network site, you can receive updates about relevant iNaturalist-related news and events. Affiliation is also important for sharing data for research and conservation purposes. iNaturalistFi will have periodic access to the exact locations of some observations that are not otherwise visible to public:
-True coordinates of observations that you have chosen to make obscured or private (via user-selected “geoprivacy”), if you have affiliated your account with iNaturalistFi.
-True coordinates of sensitive species from Finland, which are otherwise automatically obscured from public (via “taxon geoprivacy”), even if you are not affiliated with iNaturalistFi.

The iNaturalist Network now has eleven nationally-focused sites that are fully connected and interoperable with the global iNaturalist site. The sites are: Naturalista Mexico, iNaturalist Canada, iNaturalist New Zealand, Naturalista Colombia, BioDiversity4All (Portugal), iNaturalist Panama, iNaturalist Ecuador, iNaturalist Australia, ArgentiNat (Argentina), iNaturalist Israel, and now iNaturalist Finland. Any iNaturalist user can log in on any of the sites using their same credentials and will see the same notifications.

The iNaturalist Network model allows for localizing the iNaturalist experience to better support communities on a national scale and local leadership in the movement, without splitting the community into isolated, national sites. The iNaturalist team is grateful to the outreach, training, translations, and user support carried out through the efforts of the iNaturalist Network member institutions.

We look forward to welcoming many new members of the iNaturalist community from Finland!


Tervetuloa iNaturalist Suomi Finland!

Tänään julkistamme virallisesti iNaturalist Suomen, joka on uusin jäsen kansainvälisessä iNaturalist-verkostossa. iNaturalist Suomi (iNaturalistFi) on osa Suomen Lajitietokeskusta, kansallista tutkimusinfrastruktuuria, joka kokoaa, tallettaa ja jakaa avointa tietoa luonnon monimuotoisuudesta lukuisista eri lähteistä. Suomen Lajitietokeskusta kehittää ja hallinnoi Luonnontieteellinen keskusmuseo Luomus, joka on osa Helsingin yliopistoa.

Suomella on pitkät perinteet kansalaistieteeseen perustuvasta luonnon seurannasta, alkaen esim. talvilintulaskennoista 1950-luvulta, ja viimeisen vuosikymmenen aikana Lajitietokeskus ja Luomus ovat olleet vastuussa monien tutkimus- ja pitkän aikavälin seurantahankkeiden havaintotiedon kokoamisesta. Valikoimasta on kuitenkin puuttunut helppokäyttöinen väline, jolla kuka tahansa voi kerätä ja kirjata luontohavaintoja. iNaturalist täyttää tämän aukon mobiili- ja selainkäyttöisillä työvälineillään, ja auttaa innostamaan monenlaisia luontoharrastajia tallentamaan ja jakamaan havaintojaan. Lajitietokeskus kokoaa iNaturalistiin tallennetut suomalaiset Creative Commons -lisensoidut havainnot Laji.fi-portaaliin, jonka kautta ne ovat tutkijoiden, viranomaisten ja kenen tahansa luonnosta kiinnostuneen käytettävissä. Samalla Lajitietokeskus jatkaa oman Vihko-havaintojärjestelmän kehittämistä erityisesti sellaisia tutkimushankkeita ja yhteisöjä varten, jotka tarvitsevat täsmällisempiin tarpeisiin mukautettuja työkaluja.

Kannustamme kaikkia Suomessa havainnoivia valitsemaan iNaturalist Suomen kotiverkostokseen oman käyttäjätilin asetuksissa. Näin saat päivityksiä iNaturalist Suomeen liittyvistä uutisista ja tapahtumista. Liittyminen on myös tärkeää havaintotietojen jakamiseksi tutkimus- ja suojelukäyttöön. iNaturalist Suomi pääsee käyttämään tiettyjä julkisuudesta piilotettujen havaintojen tietoja:
Tarkat koordinaatit niistä havainnoista, joiden näkyvyyden olet merkinnyt yksityiseksi tai karkeistetuksi, mikäli olet valinnut iNaturalist Suomen kotiverkostoksesi
Tarkat koordinaatit arkaluontoisista havainnoista, jotka muuten automaattisesti salataan julkisuudesta (vaikka et olisi valinnut kotiverkostoa)

iNaturalist-verkostoon kuuluu nyt 11 kansallista jäsentä ja sivustoa, jotka toimivat kiinteästi yhdessä kansainvälisen iNaturalist.org-sivuston kanssa. Nämä ovat Naturalista Meksiko, iNaturalist Canada (Kanada), iNaturalist New Zealand (Uusi-Seelanti), Naturalista Columbia (Kolumbia), BioDiversity4All (Portugali), iNaturalist Panama (Panama), iNaturalist Ecuador (Ecuador), iNaturalist Australia (Australia), ArgentiNat (Argentiina), iNaturalist Israel (Israel) ja nyt iNaturalist Suomi. Kaikki iNaturalistin käyttäjät voivat kirjautua omalla käyttäjätunnuksellaan mille tahansa näistä sivustoista ja nähdä kaikissa saman sisällön ja ilmoitukset.

iNaturalistin verkostomallin avulla iNaturalist voidaan mukauttaa tukemaan paikallista toimintaa paikallisen tahon ohjaamana, ilman että käyttäjäyhteisöä täytyy jakaa toisistaan eristyneisiin sivustoihin. iNaturalistin kehittäjäryhmä on kiitollinen kaikista verkoston jäsenten työstä viestinnässä, koulutuksessa, kielenkäännöksissä ja käyttäjätuessa.

Toivotamme kaikki uudet käyttäjät tervetulleiksi iNaturalist Suomen yhteisöön!

Posted on May 14, 2020 18:44 by carrieseltzer carrieseltzer | 14 comments | Leave a comment

May 11, 2020

Mother & Daughter Naturalists Come Across an Orbweaver Hiding in a Moth Cocoon! - Observation of the Week, 5/10/20

This Larinioides orbweaver spider, hiding out in a moth cocoon, is our Mother’s Day Observation of the Week! Seen in the United States by @wildcarrot while she was out withher mom. 

“My earliest memories in nature are of my mom taking me out in the backyard in, what seemed like, the middle of the night with flashlights (though it was probably more like 9pm),” recalls Meghan Cassidy (@wildcarrot). Meghan and her mom watched in wonder as cicadas made their way out of the ground and then out of their nymphal shells. “My mom is the biggest reason I’m in love with and eternally curious about the natural world.”

Lately, that curiosity has been mainly directed at spiders. “My free time in the last few years has been devoted to learning about these fascinating, yet vastly misunderstood, creatures,” Meghan explains.  

iNaturalist has immensely helped me with learning more about the beautiful spiders all around me, and has enhanced my passion for these little ones. I’m able to not only learn by assisting with identifications on iNat of the variety of spiders living in the US, but also by forming connections with those users on iNaturalist who are much more knowledgeable about arachnids than myself!

I was able to iNat with Meghan a few years ago in Texas, along with others in the Texas iNat crew. But while she lives in Texas, Meghan decided to stay with her family in the northeastern state of Delaware during the lockdown, where she and her mother Rose (@wild_irish_rose) participated in the City Nature Challenge. “Since we were both off from work,” Meghan explains, “my mom and I planned some fun outings to natural places in Delaware we’ve never had a chance to explore before.” One of those places was Killens Pond State Park, where the two spent several hours exploring. Meghan focused on finding as many spiders as possible. “I always check man-made structures for spiders and other arthropods, and I’m so glad I did!

I noticed in the corner of the sign an odd looking cocoon with a hole in the top. I had my mind set on finding spiders this weekend, so I took a quick picture to document to iNat and was getting ready to move on until something dark moving quickly by the cocoon caught my eye. I slowly moved in closer and that’s when I spotted not a moth, but this beautiful young orbweaver using the dried cocoon as a shelter! As I got closer, she closed her legs nearer to her body, trying to disappear and protect herself from view of the giant predator (me)! After our photo shoot, I let her be to do what spiders do.

The spider she photographed is a member of the genus Larinioides, part of the orbweaver family (Araneidae). They’re well known for inhabiting structures - for example, Larinioides sclopetarius is commonly known as the “bridge spider” - and Meghan tells me “They will usually hide in a silken retreat (typically of their own making) during the day, and come out to build their large orb webs in the early evenings to capture food...It seems this one was taking advantage of the real estate left behind by the moth.” While not native to the new world, Larinioides spiders are quite widespread across North America.

Meghan (above, with her mother) says that iNaturalist has “vastly changed my perception of the world around me! I talk it up to everyone I know and lots of people I meet while in parks, and I wear my new iNaturalist shirt frequently because I love getting questions about it!

Now, I am always on the lookout for new life that I’ve never documented before, or organisms that I have no knowledge of so I can learn more about them. I can’t begin to quantify the amount I’ve learned in the last 5 or 6 years solely because of iNaturalist, and also because of the valuable relationships I have been able to make with other “nature nerds” on the platform!

- by Tony Iwane.

- You can check out Meghan’s photos on Flickr and Instagram!

- A Larinioides cornutus spider dines on a crane fly in this video.

Posted on May 11, 2020 01:10 by tiwane tiwane | 13 comments | Leave a comment

April 27, 2020

It's a Small-headed Fly from South Africa! - Observation of the Week, 4/26/20

Our Observation of the Week is Psilodera fasciata small-headed fly, seen in South Africa by @cecileroux!

Cecile wrote a wonderful little piece for this week, so I’ve decided to publish it here in full. I’ve added some links to her text and appended a paragraph about this remarkable family of flies. Enjoy! - Tony

I was lucky to be born into a family that loves nature. I have always loved being immersed in nature, watching, listening, appreciating. My mother studied Entomology, but I only started following in her footsteps when my husband gifted me a camera with a macro lens. I was immediately hooked! 

Shortly after getting the camera, I was introduced to iNat by a botanist friend, @steve_cousins, who has since sadly passed away. He was doing his doctorate on our critically endangered Renosterveld, and while he studied the vegetation, I followed and started to record the infinite variety of insects and spiders in some of the few remaining veld remnants in the Swartland. We talked about pollination, and the importance of bees, and as I watched the flowers, I was amazed to see the variety of pollinators. I realised that not all that buzzes are bees, and started to look closely, and that is how I first came to know the small-headed fly, Psilodera fasciata. Along with the Bombyliidae family, they are some of my favourite flies, and I am grateful that they seem to like my rather unkempt indigenous garden, where I found this one. One needs patience to photograph these flies, they take ages to decide where to settle down. But the patience and sore knees and dirty elbows are always worth it!  Lockdown is made better by the company of all the insects and spiders in my garden.

Currently some friends and I are endeavouring to record the abundance of life on Kasteelberg, the mountain guarding over our village. The renosterveld and fynbos vegetation, the birds, small mammals, reptiles and invertebrates. I am at my happiest when I am out in the veld, discovering and observing. My main interest is spiders, but I am captivated by every small thing that moves! The best part of observing the small life around me, is being amazed and excited almost every day, a wonderful privilege in a jaded world. So much to discover still! Apart from my own pleasure, I also hope to teach people through my photos that insects are not pests, and spiders are not to be feared.

I am not a scientist, and field guides, although invaluable, can go only so far. I find iNaturalist a wonderful site where like-minded and knowledgeable people from all over the world become teachers. I am learning so much, and appreciate every ID and discussion.

Psilodera fasciata is a member of the Acroceridae family, known commonly as small-headed flies or spider flies, which contains about 500 species around the world. While the inspiration for “small-headed” is obvious from Cecile’s photo, “spider flies” refers to this family’s predilection for parasitizing our eight-legged friends. Female Acrocerids lay hundreds or even thousands of eggs. Hatchling larvae seek out spiders and make their way to the host’s insides, consuming it from within then pupating outside of the host’s depleted body. Adults feed on nectar and often possess enormous proboscises, as Cecile photographed here. When not in use, the fly tucks this proboscis under its body, and you can sometimes see it protruding past its rear end.

- Speaking of egg laying, check out an Acrocerid doing just that - in slow motion!

- Here’s one with an insanely long proboscis, photographed by bernardo_segura.

Posted on April 27, 2020 04:56 by tiwane tiwane | 21 comments | Leave a comment

April 19, 2020

A See-Through Triplefin Blenny on the Coast of India - Observation of the Week, 4/19/20

Our Observation of the Week is this see-through Triplefin Blenny, observed in India by @g_patil!

Gaurav Patil fell in love with nature as a youngster, inspired by the books of Jim Corbett. He decided on marine biology as the focus for his post-graduate research and, after working with sea snakes, he now works with coastal marine mammals and fishes. “But,” he tells me, “there is something else as well which lured more than anything, the intertidal zone

I got introduced to the intertidal zone exploratory walk in my college curriculum, but sadly I never took it seriously, until 3 years ago when I ended up being a part of ‘Marine Life of Mumbai’ (MLOM). Through MLOM, I got a chance to explore different shores around Mumbai, doing outreach activities like shore walks, talks, workshops etc., which helped me learn and express the intertidal habitat to a larger audience in a much better way.

Gaurav has been exploring the intertidal areas of Mumbai since 2017, and while he’s observed quite a few fish communities, he has never seen a triplefin blenny there, despite it’s “being one of the most common intertidal fish.” Nope, it was on a research trip down to the coast to Maharashtra where he photographed the fish you see above. Much of his time was spent at sea studying dolphin acoustics, but whenever he had the chance, Gaurav would explore the intertidal zone at low tide.

While I was focusing on photographing nudibranchs in the tidepool when some sudden movement happened in the neighbouring tidepool. I tried looking at the movement using my torch, but there was nothing. Again something moved and this time I went closer and took a look. For a few seconds I was speechless. I looked at it for a couple of minutes, moving in the tidepool and settling on the bottom (goby like swimming behaviour). It was a fish, as clear as the water in the tidepool, moving on the mat of zoanthids (soft corals).

I haven’t observed anything like this before, thus I rushed with my camera. But as the tide was already turned I managed to click a couple of photos, after which a wave hit me, making me wet as well as submerging the tidepool in which the fish was.

Gaurav eventually uploaded it to iNat a few weeks ago and top iNat fish identifier @maractwin identified it as a member of the triplefin family of blennies! “It was not only the long awaited first ever triplefin blenny for me,” says Gaurav, “but a memorable observation as well because of the fish’s unique appearance.”

Members of the Tripterygiidae family, triplefin blennies have three dorsal fins instead of the usual long single fin of most other blenniform fish. They spend much of their time resting on rocks or corals (in this case zoanthids) and eat mostly small invertebrates. 

Gaurav (above, exploring the intertidal) tells me he was introduced by @shaunak and @ajamalabad of MLOM, and that “iNaturalist has helped us (me and the entire MLOM team) a lot, in documentation as well as in identification. 

I had a habit of documenting natural world, but apart from just filling my hard drive it actually never helped me. Today, whatever intertidal data I have, I post it on iNaturalist and tell other people to upload their observations as well. Posting this data on such a platform is not only creating a baseline of data about this diversity but also in the future it might help several science students and scientists who work on not much explored topics from coastal India.

- by Tony Iwane. Some quotes have been lightly edited for clarity and flow.

- MLOM data were used to (at least temporarily) halt the construction of a coastal road in the Mumbai area. 

- We wrote a blog post about MLOM and their use of iNat back in 2018.

-  Take a look at the nearly 3,000 triplefin blenny observations on iNat, they’re a diverse and beautiful family.

Posted on April 19, 2020 21:03 by tiwane tiwane | 6 comments | Leave a comment

April 16, 2020

Temporary freeze on large places, life list updates, and taxon changes during April 22 - May 4

In preparation for increased iNaturalist activity during the upcoming City Nature Challenge, iNaturalist will implement a few temporary changes. Starting on April 22, we will temporarily pause any changes to a few lesser-used types of content on iNaturalist that are more intensive. Most users will not notice these changes because they do not directly impact observations, identifications, comments, or projects. However, for anyone planning to use the features below, we want to give advance notice so you can plan and prepare accordingly.

Large places cannot be created or edited
Creating or editing large places that contain many observations can slow down the site. Normally, if you have more than 50 verifiable observations, you can create a new place as long as it’s smaller than the size of Texas and the kml file used to create it is under 1 MB (curators can add places up to 5 MB). Starting on April 22, places must be smaller than roughly the size of West Virginia (~24,000 square miles or 62,361 square km). New places must also contain fewer than 50,000 observations (the threshold has been 500,000 observations). If you try to do this, it will give you a warning message like it currently does with the larger thresholds.

Life Lists will not be updated
Every iNaturalist account has a Life List that is updated asynchronously as your observations change (with variable speed). We're also aware the Life List updating isn't perfect and doesn't do a good job of cleaning up older data as observations are removed or taxa change. This approach has not been scalable as iNaturalist grows, so we’ve been working on a new Life List feature. Stay tuned for more on that. In the meantime, we’ll be temporarily suspending the updates to Life Lists as they currently exist.

Taxon changes paused (applicable for curators only)
No taxon changes or edits to taxon ancestry (including grafting taxa) can be implemented starting April 22. If you try to do this, you’ll get a message that such changes are temporarily unavailable. You can still draft taxon changes and save them to be committed after the restriction.

These temporary limitations will be in place through May 4, which includes the observation period of the City Nature Challenge as well as the upload/identification period. During the 2019 City Nature Challenge (which generated nearly a million observations made over just four days in the participating cities alone), notifications (e.g. about identifications and comments) were delayed up to several days due to high activity. The site, mobile apps, and API remained functional, but some aspects of iNaturalist (especially notifications) were slow. Limiting the features above will reduce the delays.

With much of the world under a variety of stay at home, shelter in place, social distancing, or quarantine orders, we are not sure what this year’s City Nature Challenge will look like. However, based on last year’s event, we want to be prepared. This is a set of tools that we could also implement in the event of a similar spike in activity, even if without advance warning.

Other things we don’t recommend during this anticipated “peak time”:
-csv uploads: If you are uploading a csv of observations, expect considerable delays.
-csv data downloads: If you are trying to download a csv of observations, expect considerable delays.

We’re grateful for everyone who is able to make iNaturalist a part of their life during these unusual times. Please stay safe!

Posted on April 16, 2020 18:40 by carrieseltzer carrieseltzer | 47 comments | Leave a comment