July 20, 2018

(Belated) Observation of the Week, 6/1/18

Our (Belated) Observation of the Week is this group of Phallus luteus mushrooms, seen in Thailand by dawanofmemories!

iNat users have busy lives so sometimes it can take awhile for them to respond for Observation of the Week - and sometimes it can take awhile for me to post it - so here are some cool fungi from Dawan in Thailand!

While we often imagine cool nature finds occurring in exotic, pristine nature preserves, one thing that iNaturalist has proven, which the above photo illustrates, is that you can come across amazing organisms anywhere, even during our decidedly non-nature-centric jobs.

Dawan Kraithong (@dawanofmemories), who found these mushrooms, tells me that her interest in nature stems from her childhood, taught to her mainly by her father. “I am interested in the names...of everything that lives and grows,” she says. A receptionist for a swimming pool in Bangkok, Dawan noticed the Phallus luteus mushrooms “sprouting from the ground” near a patch of bamboo her employer had planted.

The genus name Phallus is, of course, derived from the phallic-looking fruiting bodies of these remarkable fungi, which belong to the family Phallaceae - commonly known as stinkhorns. Unlike most of the mushrooms we are familiar with, which release their spores into the air, stinkhorns instead have a sticky gleba, or spore-producing mass, on the cap. No airborne spores here. Instead, they rely on insects such as flies and ants to land or amble on the gleba and transport the spores which have now stuck to their feet. And one of the best ways to attract flies is to smell like putrefying flesh. Thus, their common name.

The distinctive lacy, net-like structure hanging from the cap of the mushroom is called the indusium. No one is quite sure exactly what its evolutionary purpose is, but one hypothesis posits that it helps crawling insects like beetles and ants find their way to the sticky cap and cover themselves in spores.

Although a recent member of iNaturalist, Dawan (above) has contributed some pretty great finds, like this Blue Crested Lizard. “I use i Naturalist to improve my own interest and learn more about what I see in nature,” she says. “It is my hobby.”

- by Tony Iwane

- Here’s some cool footage of flies and other insects walking all over the glea of a Phallus duplicatus mushroom.

- Before they attain their distinctive shape, young fruiting bodies of Phallus fungi look like little eggs, and if cut open the jelly-like glea can be seen. There’s a nice photo of it here.

Posted on July 20, 2018 10:59 PM by tiwane tiwane | 0 comments | Leave a comment

July 19, 2018

National Moth Week, July 21-29, 2018

Their relatives the butterflies usually get all the attention, but moths make up the vast majority (about 90%) of species of the insect order Lepidoptera and their abundance, diversity, and beauty are pretty staggering.

Even cooler is that many moths are famously attracted to lights (although nobody really knows why), which makes “mothing” - yes, mothing - an easy and fun way to see a bunch of cool insects and make some iNat observations. And now is a great time to do it because National Moth Week is coming up from July 21st - 29th and there are mothing events all over the world, so see if there’s one near you. If you can’t find one in your area, here are some tips for finding them, and iNat users @finatic and @damontighe have also shared their own DIY moth light set-ups here and here.

All moths observed during National Moth Week will be added to the main National Moth Week project and any relevant regional project. Big shout out to @jacobgorneau for taking the time and effort to set these all up!

And as if you needed more motivation, the iNat team always sets up moth lights during our retreats and we saw a beautiful Ceanothus Silk Moth this past March, a lifer for nearly all of us! Above is footage of @kueda taking some photos of it as well as a close-up up the moth the next morning.

If anyone has any mothing tips or stories, please write them in the comments below!

Posted on July 19, 2018 05:55 PM by tiwane tiwane | 2 comments | Leave a comment

July 18, 2018

Join Our Team!

Folks, we are hiring, not one, but two positions on our team of nature nerds, and we'd definitely like to see some applicants from our own community.

UX Designer

Alas, Joelle decided to move on to greener pastures this summer, so we are looking for someone to fill her shoes. Our designer works with our team on a variety of tasks, including visual design, interaction design, user research, and visual asset development (e.g. icons, logos, promotional material). In the past, our designer has worked closely with engineers to develop and refine new features, and, like all members of the team, our designer participates in new product development discussions. Ideally, we're looking for someone with at least a few years of professional experience, and we'd prefer someone based in the San Francisco Bay Area (but will consider folks from elsewhere). Experience with visual and interaction design for software is a must, strength in information visualization and iconography a big plus.

Apply to be an iNaturalist UX designer

Software Engineer

We're looking for a coder with Javascript experience, particularly with React and React Native. This person would be pioneering the use of React Native for new mobile projects (particularly Seek), and most likely working on front-end React applications on the website. Knowledge of native iOS and Android development environments would very useful too, as would basic web development experience. Again, our preference is for candidates in the Bay Area, but we'll certainly consider folks from elsewhere (we all work from home most of the time, two of our staff are in the eastern US, and @budowski is an international man of mystery, so we're pretty comfortable with remotes).

Apply to be an iNaturalist software engineer

Anyway, if this sounds like you, please apply, and if it sounds like someone you know, please tell them to apply! And of course, please share on social media!

Also, the elephant seals barely visible in the background of the photo are not on the team. You don't get to work with elephant seals, sorry.

Posted on July 18, 2018 08:12 PM by kueda kueda | 14 comments | Leave a comment

July 17, 2018

A Snail with a "Bubble Raft" - Observation of the Week, 7/16/18

Our Observation of the Week is this Violet Sea Snail, seen in Brazil by @deboas!

Ben Phalan (deboas) is currently residing in the Brazil, where he is a visiting professor at the Federal University of Bahia, but he’s taken quite a route to get there. Originally from rural Ireland, Ben says “I’ve been a naturalist for as long as I can remember...I was free to spend the entire day out exploring woods, fields, ponds and a large garden. My parents were very supportive, and were unfazed when I filled my bedroom with fungi, ferns, jars housing tadpoles and caterpillars, old skulls, discarded fragments of birds’ eggshells, and whatever else captured my interest.”

While his interests covered nearly all taxa, Ben says he “found it most satisfying when I could put a name to what I had found...and I think I ended up focusing most on birds because of the satisfaction of being able to identify them to species level.” He joined what is now BirdWatch Ireland and eventually learned to band birds, even venturing to Bird Island off of South Georgia to band albatrosses. Ben thanks his many mentors over the years, including John Marsh, the late Oscar Merne, and Alyn Walsh.

Switching gears to study “the effects of agricultural expansion and intensification on biodiversity in Ghana, West Africa” for his PhD, Ben has travelled to West Africa several times, “recently to lead an expedition in search of the enigmatic Liberian Greenbul (a species that was described in the early 1980s, but which – partly thanks to blood samples I collected in Liberia – we now know was never a valid species).”

And after stints in Cambridge, England and Corvallis, Oregon, Ben has found himself in Salvador, Brazil, where he says “the incredible biodiversity of the Brazilian Atlantic Forest and Caatinga is sure to keep me occupied for years!” And that biodiversity includes, of course pelagic snails that might wash up on the beach:

I was walking with my wife and dog along a beach in Salvador and started to notice beautiful little blue sea snails (Janthina) washed up along the tideline. I’d left my smartphone at home for safety, but luckily my wife had hers and I was able to document a few of the snails. I had heard about these ocean wanderers, but this was the first time I was lucky enough to see one...There were also some small Portuguese Men o’ War washed up, which is one of the prey species of Janthina, and some shells which I took to be from a gastropod. In fact, the shells were from a deep-water, bioluminescing squid-like creature called Spirula, which is the only member of its Order.

Look closely at Ben’s snail photos and you will notice a mass of bubblies by the shell’s opening - this is its “bubble raft,” which the animal uses to stay afloat in the open ocean. It “collects” the bubbles in transparent layers of chiton and, as Ben notes, “incredibly, for a species that spends its life on the open sea, the adults can’t swim. If they get detached from their bubble raft, they’ll sink and die.” The snails do feed on hydrozoans like the Portuguese Man o’ War and By-the-wind Sailor and like many other marine life are countershaded - one side of the shell is dark purple, the other whitish.

“The feeling of contributing to something bigger is the main thing that attracted me to [iNaturalist],” says Ben (above, checking out some large fungi in Oregon). “I like being able to learn more about the species I encounter, and it makes me especially happy to know that my observations become part of GBIF and can be used by researchers worldwide.” He’s also begun adding old observations from his time in Africa and admits “I spend probably more time than I should adding identifications. I tend to focus on birds in Brazil, but occasionally dabble in other taxa and regions as well. It’s especially satisfying to find and correct misidentifications. I have definitely learned a lot through doing this.”

- by Tony Iwane. Photo of Ben Phalan by Luciana Leite.

- You can find Ben’s publications here

- You want to watch a Janthina snail make a bubble raft, right?

- Ben still manages BioBlitz projects in Corvallis, Oregon from Brazil, like this one

Posted on July 17, 2018 01:43 AM by tiwane tiwane | 1 comments | Leave a comment

July 13, 2018

An Interview with @greglasley

If you have posted a bird, dragonfly, or damselfly observation to iNaturalist, odds are that former law enforcement officer and lifelong nature enthusiast Greg Lasley (@greglasley) has added an identification to it. With over 262,000 IDs made for over 13,000 users, Greg is iNaturalist’s current top identifier (@aguilita is a close second) and he has shared a lifetime of knowledge and experience with our with iNaturalist community. The humility and generosity of many in the iNaturalist community really is wonderful.

I had the opportunity to interview Greg this past April during the “Southwest Texas iNat-a-thon” and we discussed his experience with nature photography, how iNaturalist has changed the way he photographs wildlife, and about his ID contributions. A humble man, Greg didn’t have too much to say about that last topic but it was great to hear how he has found a home for decades worth of photographic slides and how documenting species for iNaturalist has changed his habits and objectives when out in the field. Check out the interview below, and look for @briangooding, iNat’s top Odonata identifier, in a brief cameo).

An Interview with @greglasley from iNaturalist on Vimeo.

And here are some related links:

- Greg’s professional nature photography page.

-  An Observation of the Week post we wrote about Greg in 2016.

- A Texas Parks and Wildlife video that features Greg at about 3:30.

Posted on July 13, 2018 10:10 PM by tiwane tiwane | 25 comments | Leave a comment

July 10, 2018

“My break time is the time for iNat! ;-)”: Observation of the Week, July 10, 2018

Our Observation of the Week is this Clown Stink Bug, seen in South Korea by @wongun!

Sometimes iNaturalist users ask us, or members of our Google Group, if they should take down observations which no one has identified to a family, or genus, or species level. I always tell them you never know who might come along and be able to identify their observation at a later date, and the reason I say this is because of users like wongun.

The insect order Heteroptera, also known as “true bugs,” contains tens of thousands of species and, for a long time on iNaturalist, it would be tough to get IDs on many observations of Heteropterans. Then one day last year I saw that all of a sudden a new user named wongun had started adding identifications, at least to family and genus level and sometimes to species, to many of my languishing bug observations. Others were experiencing the same thing, and it was a great feeling to see some of your older observations get some attention. It’s kind of magical when a stranger halfway across the world helps you learn just a little bit more about what you had observed. And we almost missed having him as an iNaturalist member.

“I accidentally found iNat [while] searching for something,” recalls WonGun Kim.

I used to upload my photos to a local site, but once or at most a few times for each species. Recently, I needed data on when and where I found the species, and I thought iNat was a suitable place...After beginning iNat, I have been studying Heteroptera from over the world for identifying other observations, and such activity in iNat made my knowledge on the Heteroptera broader and more systematic.

In just over a year, WonGun has become an invaluable member of the iNaturalist community, adding nearly thirty thousand identifications to other users’ observations - an incredible number for a difficult taxonomic group. It’s this kind of dedication and generosity that makes iNaturalist run.

And how does he find time to make all of these IDs? Simple: “My break time is the time for iNat! ;-)”

In what has become a common theme among Observation of the Week users, WonGun says he was interested in nature as a child, but that interest until he procured a camera.

Although I was born and grown in the city, I often went to and stayed with my grandparents in the outlands. I learned the names of the plants from my grandfather, a farmer. But I lost my interest in nature after my family lived together in the city. My interest in nature began again about ten years ago due to the development of the digital camera. I began to take photos of flowers and plants, and then my interest moved to the insects. Now, I am mainly interested in true bugs, particularly in the plant bugs.

He was in the field with a colleague and it was his colleague who caught the stunning Clown Stink Bug at the top of the page. “[This] beautiful species has two color forms and is very common in Korea,” he says.

The Clown Stink Bug belongs to the family Scutelleridae, which are also known as “jewel bugs”. While not true Stink Bugs (family Pentatomidae), they can emit an unpleasant odor when threatened, much like their relatives. And like other true bugs they have tubular mouthparts, which they use for feeding on the saps and juices of plants. The Clown Stink Bug’s remarkable iridescence is caused by structures in its exoskeleton which refract and scatter the light. Awesome.

Not only a photographer, WonGun has also written some papers on Korean Heteroptera and is the second author of an illustrated guide to terrestrial Heteroptera of Korea, containing around 490 species. It will be published in a few days.

- by Tony Iwane

- Check out more Clown Stink Bug observations on iNaturalist, which show off both color forms of this species as well as the quite different-looking nymphs!

Sweet footage of a Clown Stink Bug walking around and doing its thing.

Posted on July 10, 2018 11:26 PM by tiwane tiwane | 20 comments | Leave a comment

July 06, 2018

Identify Suggestions on Obs Detail Page

We're running a test of using the Suggestions from the Identify tool on the observation detail pages on the web instead of the Identotron (click the button at the bottom of any obs detail page). On the plus side, you don't have to leave the page, you can look at options from observations and vision in addition to just checklists, and you get a little more info about each taxon. On the minus side, no more quirky name, can't peruse a lot of maps at once, no color filtering (not that that was really working). Mostly just posting here as a way to solicit bug reports.

Anyway, if nothing really bad turns up in a few days we'll make this the default. Holler if you find any problems.

Posted on July 06, 2018 11:38 PM by kueda kueda | 10 comments | Leave a comment

June 30, 2018

An Eyelash Viper in Costa Rica - Observation of the Week, June 30, 2018

Our Observation of the Week is this well-camouflaged Eyelash Viper, seen in Costa Rica by @adrims12!

“Ever since I was a child, I became interested in animals, always asking my parents to buy me every National Geographic magazine and spent hours reading the articles, seeing the photos and dreaming of becoming a photographer for the magazine someday,” recalls Adrián Montero Salguero.

But in college Adrián “became very interested in the study bacteria and parasites, so I put aside larger animals observation for a while,” and he is now a member of the Faculty of Microbiology at the University of Costa Rica. However, he bought his first camera three years ago and “started taking pictures of landscapes and wildlife, [and] although I'm still a beginner, it makes me immensely happy to be able to capture and share my country’s beauty to the world.” He’s currently into reptiles and amphibians “and because of my career, I am obsessed with photographing small species of insects and arachnids as well.”

Back in March, Adrián and a few of his friends were hiking to a waterfall in the Alajuela province of Costa Rica. He recounts,

I was crossing the La Vieja river with two of my friends and I was like 25 meters ahead of them, when I heard: Snaaaaake!!! I immediately returned to the place they were and my friend pointed nervously to a rock. He told me that he was jumping barefoot on the rocks by the river, he jumped to one of them, he detected a small movement near his foot and it was the snake, just a little less than a foot away, so he quickly moved away. This beautiful Bothriechis schlegelii, incredibly camouflaged in the mossy rock, was totally relaxed sunbathing in the morning, so I took my camera and got at least 5 good pictures before it decided to leave. That was my first encounter with a poisonous snake in the wild!

Bothriechis schlegelii, commonly known as the Eyelash Viper, are more commonly encountered on tree branches and shrubs, although almost always near a water source, much like the individual Adrián and his friends came across. They are ambush predators and will take nearly any type of vertebrate as prey, as long as they can subdue and eat it without much labor. The pit viper above is mostly colored green, but there are other natural color morphs, such as yellow.

This species gets its common name for the large “eyelash” scales over its eyes (keep in mind that snakes lack even eyelids, so these are definitely not lashes!), which scientists believe help to break up the outline of the snake’s body. Like other pit vipers, Eyelash Vipers have two large heat-sensing pits below their nostrils and retractable fangs for envenomation. They are not considered to be an aggressive snake.

Adrián (above) learned about iNaturalist from a friend about one month ago and says:

I’m impressed by the amount of species I’ve never seen in my country before and [it] motivates me to explore it much more now. My motivation to share my photographs in iNaturalist is that other people in my country can see the beauty of its biodiversity and that many people in the world come to visit Costa Rica and fall in love with my small country as I am.

- by Tony Iwane

- You can see more of Adrián’s photography on Instagram!

- Sir David Attenborough narrates footage of an Eyelash Viper hunting a hummingbird. Wow. 

Posted on June 30, 2018 08:58 PM by tiwane tiwane | 2 comments | Leave a comment

June 26, 2018

iNaturalist: now jointly supported by the National Geographic Society!

We are excited to officially announce that iNaturalist is now jointly supported by both the California Academy of Sciences and the National Geographic Society!

National Geographic has been collaborating with iNaturalist since 2013, especially on BioBlitzes with the United States National Park Service (NPS). The first big National Geographic-NPS BioBlitz to use iNaturalist was in 2014 at the Golden Gate National Recreation Area, just down the road from the California Academy of Sciences. Our biggest collaboration with National Geographic was the NPS Centennial BioBlitzes in 2016 to celebrate the 100th birthday of the National Park Service. We coordinated to support over 100 BioBlitzes in National Parks all across the United States (you can see the NPS Servicewide project and 100+ NPS BioBlitz projects). From 2014-2015, National Geographic managed a portal to contribute observations to iNaturalist for the Great Nature Project.

You may notice we just added National Geographic to the site and apps. We will be updating the terms of service and privacy policy soon to reflect this change and other relevant developments. We are working with folks at National Geographic to boost iNaturalist participation on their travel expeditions and with their intrepid explorers and grantees. In time, we look forward to growing the community through National Geographic’s wide reach. If you want to read more, check out the press release from the California Academy of Sciences.

Posted on June 26, 2018 02:46 PM by loarie loarie | 1 comments | Leave a comment

Observation of the Week, 6/25/18

Our Observation of the Week is this female Red-tailed Spider Wasp dragging a paralyzed huntsman spider, seen in India by @rajibmaulick!

In the animal world, motherhood manifests itself in many ways, and as humans we tend to think of direct, nurturing care, such as bathing, holding, and feeding (in the case of humans, with food produced within the mother’s body). It all takes sacrifice, however; the mother has to give something of herself to ensure her offspring’s success. The same goes for insects, and in the case of spider wasps this can involve herculean tasks. Rajib Maulick witnessed and documented this, which you can see in the photo above.

“Nature and its activities always attracted and amused me since my childhood,” says Rajib. “[But] I only started recording my observations since 2014, when I had bought a digital camera.” He has added nearly 2,000 observations and over 11,700 identifications to iNaturalist since he joined in 2016, making him one of the top observers and identifiers in India.

A resident of Durgapur in West Bengal, Rajib says the area is “very rich in biodiversity as some parts of it are a part of Chotanagpur Plateau. There are a mixture of alluvial soil and laterite soil rich in iron.” He was “loitering in the Deul Forest” when he saw and photographed the Red-tailed Spider Wasp with her paralyzed spider (she paralyzed it with her stinger) and watched her “[drag] the spider for about 100 metres to its nest. It took rest for four times during the process.” Considering female Red-tailed Spider wasps are about 2 cm long, this means she dragged the spider about 5,000 times her body length - incredible!

So why would she expend so much energy and make herself so vulnerable to predators? Well, assuming no other females were laying in wait to steal it from her, she will deposit her eggs on it - in wasps, the ovipositor is the same organ as the stinger, so only female wasps sting -  then cover it over. When her larvae hatch from their eggs, they will consume the nutritious (and, one assumes, delicious) still-living spider, saving its vital organs for last so they can keep it alive. When they have eaten enough, the larvae will then pupate in the nest and eventually emerge as adult wasps. Their mother’s hard work will have paid off with a beautiful, healthy brood.

Raijb (above, with his family in Buxa Fort, Alipurduar, West Bengal) says “I am thankful for iNaturalist and its involvement with learned individuals on almost all areas of flora and fauna. It is a wonderful platform for recording and refining one's observations. Man is mortal but our observations remain immortal in iNaturalist.”

- by Tony Iwane (Note that Rajib’s primary language is not English so his quotes have been lightly edited and condensed.)

- Check out Rajib’s short video of this wasp dragging her spider. It was not just doing this over flat ground!

- Red-tailed Spider Wasps often go after Huntsman spiders, also known as Giant Crab spiders. One species of Huntsman spider actually uses a unique “cartwheeling motion” to escape from predators! 

- Spider wasps, or pompilids, are often quite beautiful. Here are the most-faved pompilids on iNat!

Posted on June 26, 2018 05:33 AM by tiwane tiwane | 2 comments | Leave a comment