December 13, 2018

Why I'm giving to iNaturalist

iNaturalist connects people with nature and to each other.

I joined iNaturalist in September of 2013 when I was introduced to it by Derek Broman, a former Texas Parks and Wildlife Urban Wildlife Biologist. I just used the app... and well... I was a bit bored. I even thought it was kind of lame. I think I deleted it from my phone! I didn't really get the full effect of iNat by just using the app...

I returned to it later on by visiting and exploring the website. It didn't take too long, and I was totally hooked. Since 10 March 2015 (1,374 days ago), I've been making at least one iNat observation a day... I do this to make a point: each day we interact with nature! I interact with it by observing it.

The first word that some folks associate with me is "iNaturalist." I take this as a big compliment! A few of my professional colleagues put it as a "one trick pony" kind of tool, but I know what it really is -- a powerful network, extensive database, and valuable professional development tool.

First of all, I've learned a tremendous amount from using iNaturalist. I can identify lots of the bugs and plants and birds from around my area and beyond. This skill is not innate -- it's a learned skill by using iNat. I've also become a much more broad naturalist. When I worked in a herbarium, I was so narrowly focused towards plants that I became oblivious to all other organisms. With iNat, I finally appreciate the entire ecosystem. And, I've found out that I've got a lot more to learn! I love this.

I've used iNaturalist professionally a lot too. As I work with land managers (public and private), I show them just how many different critters and plants that use the land by what we've documented. BioBlitzes have extreme power in influencing management and policy decisions. I'm fortunate to be in a position as an urban wildlife biologist where I can translate the results of a bioblitz or of citizen science to the policy makers and land managers. I've been pleased to see some positive results.

I'll be totally honest: using iNaturalist makes me really happy. Like, seriously happy. It's just a tool that connects me with nature and with other naturalists, but for whatever reason, I really really REALLY enjoy using iNat. I think of the genuinely good friends that I've met (or haven't even met in person yet), and that's a cool feeling. As I've read some of the correspondence of naturalists of the past (Darwin, Audubon, Wallace, Lincecum, Lindheimer, etc...), I can feel what they feel when they write to their fellow naturalists and friends. It's the same sort of experience (with a modern touch) that I get through using iNat! It connects me with fellow naturalists that are curious and passionate about nature. What a cool feeling.

So, I'm giving a little bit back to iNaturalist financially. I'm really glad that iNat has this new feature: I'm not able to give as much as I'd want to (I do work for the State, remember?!?), but I'm willing to drop a few coins in the bucket.

Of course, there should never be an obligation in this, but if you've enjoyed using iNaturalist, I encourage you to write up a little journal entry on it. It'd be fun to read how you use and enjoy iNat. It's fun to read journal entries:

I'm extremely lucky to be part of this community. The nature is real, and the naturalists are real -- this tool connects us all. Woo hoo! :)

Posted on December 13, 2018 09:36 PM by sambiology sambiology | 8 comments | Leave a comment

November 21, 2018

Mark the calendars -- a TX bioblitz/gathering! 17-20 May 2019! Timberlake Field Station, Mills County, TX

So, what are you doing like 6 months from now? Let's gather for another fun TX bioblitz!

@pfau_tarleton had mentioned a fairly recently acquired piece of land by Tarleton State University in Mills County (central TX) that would be a nice spot for a bioblitz. Most importantly, Mills County has very few observations, so this will be a fun way to fill some gaps and document lots of stuff.

Russell Pfau has put together this document about the bioblitz/gathering:

Just in case, here it is copy and pasted:


Bioblitz @ the Timberlake Biological Field Station
May 17-20, 2019

Tarleton State University’s Timberlake Biological Field Station is an educational and research facility located on the Colorado River in the heart of Texas--midway between Austin and Abilene. The 790 acre property has approximately 2.88 miles of river frontage. Information about the facility can be found here:

Observations at the Field Station (within the polygon encompassing the property) can be found here:

The facility is correctly located on Google maps. Coordinates are 31.269722,-98.6245465.

Habitat varies considerably and includes bottomland forest and upland ecosystems. A recent paper is available describing the bottomland forest community.

For overnight accommodations, there is a bunkhouse on the property that sleeps about 6 people. There is plenty of room for tents, and restroom facilities are available. Goldthwaite is the closest town (16 miles away) and has a couple of small-town motels. San Saba is 30 miles away with more upscale hotel accommodations and B&Bs. Most of this mileage is on gravel roads (to both Goldthwaite and San Saba), so expect the drive to San Saba to take up to an hour.

For more information, contact Russell Pfau.
iNaturalist: @pfau_tarleton


Also, in the bioblitzes of the past, we've gone to several locations, and there are some nice other spots nearby: Colorado Bend State Park and Lake Brownwood State Park aren't too too far away. But, I'm planning on staying at Timberlake to document as much as possible. Should be a blast! :)

If you want to see the bioblitz from last year, enjoy what @tiwane put together:

Please let me know if you can make it, or if you have any questions/concerns. :) Oh, and tag other folks that you want to include.

Posted on November 21, 2018 07:16 PM by sambiology sambiology | 40 comments | Leave a comment

November 11, 2018

"iNaturalist as a tool to expand the research value of museum specimens"

A wonderful paper that folks should print out and read! (or just read...)

Big time kudos to @jmheberling @huntingbon and @mmwebb for publishing this. As someone who worked in a herbarium (BRIT) for just a few years, I too really appreciate iNaturalist as a supplemental tool to the natural history collection of plants. Now, I'm using the tool as a supplement to public engagement on land management and public policy. Faults it may indeed have, but there's a tremendous amount of benefit that this tool gives all of us.

It's a great article! Well done.

Heberling, J. M., and B. L. Isaac. 2018. iNaturalist as a tool to expand the research value of museum specimens. Applications in Plant Sciences 6(11): e1193. (8 pages)

Posted on November 11, 2018 04:29 PM by sambiology sambiology | 9 comments | Leave a comment

November 06, 2018

Schools using iNaturalist... What do you think?

I do adore iNaturalist -- those that know me know that I'm totally bonkers about iNat. I learn so much personally, I use it a lot professionally, and it's great fun. :)

Venting alert!

I know this is a magnificent tool, but it drains me when a school uses it without LOADS of guidance from the teachers/professors. iNat has a wonderful teacher's guide, and I wish wish wish that more teachers would use it.

This is not to say that some students don't totally run with the tool and provide some magnificent records. However, for that to happen, lots of stewardship of the data has to come from the teachers.

I'm putting all of this in a journal entry to let you know how I typically deal with student observations. It's fairly easy to see a student observation -- it's around a school, and it's usually a cultivated plant or classroom pet. :) I usually spam lots and lots of the observations with something along these lines:


If you would, please tell your teacher/professor to give some extra guidance on how to use iNaturalist properly. Some of these observations could use some extra help.
He/she should look at all of these observations, give some pointers on the difference between cultivated/captive and wild organisms, and assist with how to properly take pictures for identification.'s+guide
Also, if there is a great getting started page that you should check out too:


In some cases, I'll even create a place all around the campus of the school and link to that so that the teacher could use it to watch all of the observations coming in...

By all means, feel free to copy and paste this message (or modify it as you'd like to) and post it as much as you'd like on student observations! :)

Posted on November 06, 2018 08:35 PM by sambiology sambiology | 6 comments | Leave a comment

September 25, 2018

BioBlitz events in DFW this fall! Toss them on your calendar!

So, there are quite a few bioblitz events going on in and around the DFW area this fall. I had been meaning to put together this list for a while, and hopefully it's not too late to toss some of these on your calendar.

If you know of others, please comment with the details!!!

Saturday, September 29
5 - 9:30 PM
Overton Ridge Park, Keller
Happy birthday bioblitz to Kimberlietx! (and Brentano the day before)
Lots of details here:

Wednesday, Friday - Saturday, October 10, 12-13
Various times
Lewisville Lake Environmental Learning Area
Please join me for some blacklighting on Wednesday and Friday evenings, and then lots of various events and objectives for Saturday! Details:

Saturday, October 20
1 - 3 PM
Harry Moss Park, Dallas
After a volunteer project to work on removing invasives in the AM, folks are going to document some of the pollinators around Harry S Moss Park in Dallas. This will be with the TPWD Pollinator BioBlitz.

Saturday, October 20
7:30 - 9:30 PM
Dogwood Canyon Audubon Center, Cedar Hill
Blacklighting and documenting some of the nocturnal critters at Dogwood Canyon.

Saturday, November 3
9 am - noon
Oliver Nature Park, Mansfield

Saturday, November 10
9 am - noon
Rockwall (location TBD) -- more details coming!

BioBlitzes are fun. :)

Posted on September 25, 2018 07:59 PM by sambiology sambiology | 14 comments | Leave a comment

August 23, 2018

Visiting Florida in January -- suggestions? Advice? Places to visit?

So, in mid January, Elizabeth and I are going to go to Florida! I mostly want to go see the Manatees, but I'd sure like to see some of the other neat stuff in Florida... I know that January may not be the most opportune time to see some of the flowering plants, but perhaps some of the tropical climate will still allow for a few plants to bloom. :) I checked out the species list for Florida in January:

So, anyone have any advice of where we MUST go?!? Again, I'm hoping to see the manatees, and I've been told that Three Sisters Spring is a good place to see them on the west coast of FL:

Anyone else have suggestions?
@gcwarbler @alisonnorthup @susanhewitt @jaykeller @joemdo @tpalmer @marykeim @gaudettelaura @lorax32 @ryancooke @j_appleget @javierahr @vijaybarve

Posted on August 23, 2018 05:47 PM by sambiology sambiology | 16 comments | Leave a comment

July 06, 2018

Palo Pinto details

Hey all,

Let’s talk about the Palo Pinto gathering on Friday, July 27 and Saturday, July 28.

First of all, the state park is CLOSED to the public, so you MUST let me know if you are going to attend – you can do this either through a comment in that last journal post, or on a comment below. Or, you can toss me a little message too. All groups going into the park have to be less than 25 people for whatever reason…? Anyways, if you want to come, please let me know. :)

Secondly, the fires in Palo Pinto are still a bit north of the park, so hopefully they are contained sooner before later:
On the google map, the fires are here (about 4500 acres):'44.5%22N+98%C2%B021'37.9%22W/@32.7613403,-98.4277843,12.5z/data=!4m6!3m5!1s0x0:0x0!7e2!8m2!3d32.7623692!4d-98.3605143

OK, now for some details on the gathering!

I’m planning on being here at like 4:00 PM on Friday afternoon:'03.7%22N+98%C2%B033'41.3%22W/@32.5343705,-98.563673,888m/data=!3m2!1e3!4b1!4m15!1m8!3m7!1s0x0:0x0!2zMzLCsDMyJzM4LjAiTiA5OMKwMzInMjEuNiJX!3b1!7e2!8m2!3d32.5438836!4d-98.5393394!3m5!1s0x0:0x0!7e2!8m2!3d32.5343659!4d-98.5614794
GPS coordinates: 32.534366, -98.561479
This area has a little circle and some places to park. This place is pretty dang secluded, so everything should be safe here – vehicles can be left here as well as tents being pitched here. This is going to be “headquarters.” For the physical directions… From Hwy 16 in Strawn, go west on Hwy 2372. It’s at the end of Hwy 2372.

We can explore a bit around here for a while, and then I’m planning on going to Mary’s Café in Strawn at 5:30 PM. Chicken Fried Steak is good here. No obligations on coming to Mary’s Café – if you want to just explore around the lake some, cool.

At like 6:30 or so, I’m planning on coming back to ‘headquarters,’ explore a bit and scope out where to set up black lights! Now, NO electricity, no water, no nothing out here… So all has to be powered by generators or batteries. Just FYI. If you have a generator or access to one, please bring it! I’ll try my best to get ahold of something, but I’m a bit doubtful.

We’ll moth until we drop.

Elizabeth and I are staying at this hotel: Super 8 by Wyndham Eastland for $50 a night.
It’s a bit of a trek away from the park, but that’s about the closest one, and I want to stay somewhat close to get there earlier the next day!

On Saturday (July 28), we can meet at “headquarters” at like 7:30 AM and explore the park some more. All of the exploring should be on foot – there aren’t really roads in the park, and I don’t feel comfortable creating roads throughout the park with our vehicles while we’re there!

I have to leave at around noon to get back to Fort Worth (to take a nap before mothing at the Heard Museum in McKinney that night!).

If you have questions or concerns, let me know! Also, if you have access to a generator or are bring some mothing gear, comment. Looking forward to this event! Should be a blast! Now, let’s keep our fingers crossed for ‘reasonable’ weather.

Also, save my phone # 817 771 8793 – I’m not sure what the cell reception is like out there – doubtful… but save it on your phone so you have it.

Posted on July 06, 2018 08:14 PM by sambiology sambiology | 47 comments | Leave a comment

June 08, 2018

Mothing in DFW for National Moth Week (July 21 - 29) -- mark your calendars!

So, National Moth Week is a pretty fun time. It's a time where we can really focus on the nocturnal critters that come to lights! DFW has quite a few moth species documented so far too:,47654

We've got quite a few meet-ups planned for the DFW metroplex (well, in the proximity of DFW)... Hopefully you can come to some of these! All of these will start at around dusk (8:30ish) and end whenever they end -- usually like midnight or a bit before.

Saturday, July 21 - Acton Nature Center ( This is a public event, and the natural area is pretty nice. Not too much light pollution here, so I predict it will be some great mothing!

Wednesday, July 25 - Parr Park in Grapevine ( Another public event, and Parr Park has some really interesting plants, so I'm thinking there will be some nice moths.

Friday, July 27 - Palo Pinto Mountains State Park (FM2372, Strawn, TX 76475). This is a private event, and I've got special permission to get onto the area. I'm limited to only like 20 or so folks that can come to this, so PLEASE let me know if you want to come. Some of us are getting here earlier this day to explore some of the park too. There's like NO light pollution here, so it should be really interesting to see what comes to the lights at night. Also, a few of us are going to stay the night here -- either camping or nearby hotels.

*Saturday, July 28 - Heard Museum McKinney ( A wonderful spot with lots of diversity of plants, so again, I foresee some nice mothing. Notice: this is a fund raising event, so tickets will need to be purchased! Details in comments below...

Be sure to comment if you plan on coming to some/any of these! I'm planning on going to all of these. Also, if you know of others in the DFW/North Central TX area, let us know! :)

Posted on June 08, 2018 07:58 PM by sambiology sambiology | 40 comments | Leave a comment

May 21, 2018

Moth and privet...

So, I was just flipping through my new favorite field guide, Moths of Southeastern North America by Seabrooke Leckie (@seabrookeleckie ) and David Beadle, and I stumbled upon the genus Palpita — these are really pretty moths, and I’ve only seen a few.

Well, I noticed a particularly interesting comment on the host plant for the species Palpita atrisquamalis (“Gracile Palpita”) on page 224... “HOSTS: Can be a pest on ornamental privet.” I’ve searched around a little bit, but I can’t seem to find a source for this specific species... Another species of Palpita has been documented in China as wonderful pest of Ligustrum quihoui:

Hmmm... I wonder if these caterpillars eat all species of privets? We have a major issue with privet in Texas as an invasive species (4 species), and I wonder if this moth can be raised on the various species we have... And, if they can be raised on our invasive privets, I wonder if they could be used as a mechanism of control (if not complete control, perhaps they can be used as assistance control).

It does beg the question: privet it amazingly abundant here, so why isn’t the moth? If there are plentiful resources, wouldn’t there be an overabundance of this species of moth? I’m not sure... Perhaps it doesn’t use the privets we have if offered other species to eat... Or, there may be so many predator pressures that keep this species in check...

So, who wants to do some experiments with me? :)

First of all, we need some adults... Now, I only seen a single one, so I’m really going to start keeping an eye open for more. Quite a few folks here on iNat have observed them. And I know that even a few folks have quite a bit of experience raising caterpillars of various species...

Here are some websites that show the adults:

If you do see one, try to collect it alive, put it in a container with some meshing (for air) and toss in some privet with it. If you’re able to get various species of privet, cool. If you can just find one species of privet, try just that one. See if the adult (well, only females, although I’m not sure how to tell the sexes apart) lays her eggs on the privet. You don’t have to raise the caterpillars unless you want to — if you’re able to hold on to the eggs, I can perhaps come by and pick them up...

If nothing else, we can at least add a caterpillar image onto bugguide for this specific species! :) Maybe we can try this with the other species of Palpita too…

I’m just kinda thinking out loud on this journal post. Please chime in with some other ideas and suggestions — and let me know if you want to experiment with this! :) This is an iNat-driven project, so let’s do it together (again, only if you want to!).

Posted on May 21, 2018 04:02 PM by sambiology sambiology | 30 comments | Leave a comment

April 15, 2018

Influx of observations, trust in suggestions feature, extra curation needed!

I love the new autosuggestion feature of iNat -- I keep reminding myself that it's 'learning' as more and more species are added to the algorithm... In the meantime, I've noticed quite a few observations (just in my area of Dallas/Fort Worth) that have been ID'ed as things that area way out of the natural distribution.

As the city nature challenge gets closer, I predict that there will be an influx of observations from new users that trust solely on the visual suggestions given by the app.

I also know that there are many students that are forced to use iNat for some project under duress, and many of them may not care about the quality of their observations... I wish it were different, but I do think that's the reality of it!

Most of all, I'm extraordinarily grateful for the folks that devote their expertise and knowledge to adding in ID's and curating the observations. Know that each time you add an ID, you're actually welcoming someone to the naturalist community -- validating their observation and letting the observer know that we value the observations in the database (even if they're super blurry!). :)

So, I'm curious -- what's the best way to deal with the influx of new observations? I try to add in ID's, but I tend to focus JUST on my region of Texas -- I'm sure there are lots that are popping up from other parts of the world that need the same or more curation... I also use some copy and paste messages, but I may have to modify them a bit...

What do you think?

Posted on April 15, 2018 04:56 PM by sambiology sambiology | 15 comments | Leave a comment