March 18, 2018

Observation of the Week, 3/18/18

Biting midges feast on the hemolymph of a Giant Golden Orb-weaving Spider while it in turn sucks the juices from a wasp - this is our Observation of the Week! Seen in Singapore by @budak.

Parasites are, as we all know, a fact of life. And while we don’t often think of spiders as having them, budak’s photo shows that our eight-legged friends do have to deal with blood-sucking hitchhikers - just like the rest of us.

budak is a self-taught naturalist, who “grew up near forests, rivers, [and] mangroves in Malaysia” and has volunteered at the Lee Kong Chian Natural History Museum in Singapore as well as participated in citizen science activities like Seagrass-Watch and the Comprehensive Marine Biodiversity Survey. He’s also the top iNaturalist observer in Singapore, having logged over 4,700 observations of 670 species! He uses iNat “as a 'repository' and an aid for identification/education thanks to the many experts for different taxonomic groups.”

Of course, one way to up your observation and species count is to find situations like flies feeding on a spider feeding on a wasp. budak recalls coming across this scene while on a photo walk in the Labrador Nature Reserve. “These large but harmless spiders are fairly common by trails/forest fringes in the region,” he says. “I saw this individual feeding on a scoliid wasp and wanted to take a closer look/shot, which revealed many biting midges on the cephalothorax.” His observation was originally published here, “although Art Borkent later shared that he believes the midges are Atrichopogon not Forcipomyia” explains budak.

One of the largest orb-weaving spiders in the world, female Giant Golden Orb-weavers can grow to body sizes of about 5 cm in body length and 20 cm if you include the legs. Males, however, are tiny - maxing out at 5-6 mm body length! Immensely strong, the silk of this spider is golden in color and females use it to build webs over a meter in diameter. Not only can they be parasitized by flies, but small kleptoparasitic Argyrodes spiders steal small prey from the large golden webs.

Whether the flies on this spider are Atrichopogon or Forcipomyia, they would be classified as biting midges of the family Ceratopogonidae. Called “no-see-ums” in North America and “midgies” in Scotland, biting midges are often considered pests to humans, as their bites can cause itchy welts. It is unknown if the spiders get itchy when bitten...

- by Tony Iwane

- Golden orb-weavers are just so cool. Some males deposit silk on the female when courting, and some females have been known to kill and eat birds.

- Golden orb silk has been woven to make an incredible textile that was on display at the Art Institute of Chicago. It was quite a process.

Posted on March 18, 2018 11:51 PM by tiwane tiwane | 3 comments | Leave a comment

March 12, 2018

Observation of the Week, 3/12/18

Our Observation of the Week is this amazing look at a Sahara Sand Viper, taken by @abdellahbouazza in Morocco!

Sand dunes present both an interesting challenge and an opportunity for legless predators like snakes. In order to move swiftly across the loose and often hot surface, vipers from both the old world and new world evolved the sidewinding form of locomotion. And for ambush predators like the above Sahara Sand Viper photographed by Abdellah Bouazza, the sand provides excellent opportunities for hiding.

A PhD a Marrakech University, Abdellah is a herpetologist who’s currently focusing “on some ecophysiological (thermoregulation, reproduction) and biogeographical aspects (distribution and conservation) of amphibians and reptiles in Morocco and others Mediterranean areas.”

In the spring of 2017 he and some friends traveled to southern Morocco in search of snakes. They visited the sandy areas of Khenifiss National Park and, after finding some other reptiles, also chanced upon the “beautiful small sand viper, Cerastes vipera (30 cm) during the first hours of the night” Abdellah explains that the coastal population of this snake differs morphologically from others, “with contrasted or dark brown colour patterns and bright orange eyes. It lives in coastal dunes from southwestern Morocco in sandy plateaus on the edge of the Atlantic Ocean.”

With most of its body buried, the Sahara Sand Viper can both protect itself from the heat of the day and lie in wait for prey. However, it isn’t just a passive hunter: it lures prey by twitching the tip of its tail above the sand, then strikes when the rodent or lizard (or bird) is close enough. Like all vipers it is venomous and has retractable fangs. You wouldn’t want to get bitten by one, but its venom is not typically considered fatal to humans.

Abdellah (above, holding a snake) explains that “[when teaching] I enjoy showing students nature, her importance, and I hope to pass on my knowledge and passion to the next generation. I try to combine scientific research with creating awareness about the biodiversity around us.”

He only recently joined iNaturalist, but says that it “contributed my interest in sharing records of my observations and paying attention to my research subjects and biodiversity around me. Also, I can share my observation with several experts who are happy to help in determining some unknown species for me.”

- by Tony Iwane

- Abdellah has his own website and Flickr page. Check them out!

- On this trip Abdellah went with some friends from Atheris. They captured incredible video of a Sahara Sand Viper from Morocco here.

- On a personal note, I was lucky enough to see some perfect Sidewinder rattlesnake tracks in the Mojave Desert a few years ago. When sidewinding, the part of the snake touching the sand does not actually move, leaving impressions like these.

Posted on March 12, 2018 09:38 PM by tiwane tiwane | 0 comments | Leave a comment

March 04, 2018

Observation of the Week, 3/3/18

Our Observation of the Week is this Giant Pill Millipede (not a pillbug), seen in Madagascar by @damontighe!

This observation is one of over 1,800 that Damon Tighe made on a recent trip to Madagascar, currently more than any other iNat user. Armed mainly with his iPhone, a cheap clip-on macro lens and a small DIY moth light, he documented quite an array of wildlife and even spread some iNaturalist love to the guides there.

“Madagascar is vast country with varied topography and is a little larger than [my home state of] California,” says Damon. “Its early break-off from Africa 160 million years ago and subsequent isolation after breaking off from the Seychelles and India 66–90 million years ago has allowed for a diversity of organisms that is incredible. Famous for lemurs and chameleons, the country offers so much more than these iconic charismatic critters.”

And one of those charismatic critters, of course, is the bizarre Giant Pill Millipede. Damon recalls,  

I saw my first Sphaerotheriida my second night in Madagascar at Andasibe and I spotted it while cleaning up from an all-nighter with a moth light that just before dawn brought in one of the largest moths in the world, Argema mittrei...The last thing I expect a millipede to do is roll up into a tight unopenable ball, but in Madagascar millipedes in the Order Sphaerotheriida do just that!

Giant Pill Millipedes range from Southern Africa into Asia and to Australia and New Zealand, but the largest ones reside on the island of Madagascar, where island gigantism has caused some species to achieve the size of an orange when rolled-up! Like other millipedes, they are detritivores who feast on rotting plant matter, but because of their unique defensive posture these many-legged creatures don’t excrete toxic substances to ward off predators, as most other millipedes do. When rolled-up, the dorsal plates on their second and last segments interlock, allowing the millipede to relax its muscles and still maintain its posture.

Guides are compulsory in Madagascar’s national parks and reserves (“They have a wealth of knowledge, especially around charismatic fauna.”), and Damon (above, sporting an Argema mittrei moth) introduced a few of them to iNaturalist:

I met a few guides who had smartphones and I brought along a handful of clip-on macro lenses to give them. I showed them the basics of iNaturalist and with these two tools in hand some of them turned into passionate explorers, reveling in all that they could document, and all that they still had to learn about organisms right around them. I'm working with one guide in Isalo National Park to be the point person for the distribution of a bunch of macro lenses and little cards that explain how to use iNaturalist since the park receives the most visitors of any in Madagascar and wifi access is readily available at a number of places in the adjoining town.

- by Tony Iwane

- A different order of millipedes, Glomerida, also roll-up into balls, but these live primarily in the Northern Hemisphere and are much smaller, reaching lengths of about 20 mm (0.79 in).

- Here are a few Giant Pill Millipedes in various states of defense.

- Slugs of the family Chlamydephoridae are known predators of Giant Pill Millipedes.

Posted on March 04, 2018 01:15 AM by tiwane tiwane | 0 comments | Leave a comment

February 24, 2018

Observation of the Week, 2/23/18

Our Observation of the Week is this multi-colored wonder, an Anoplodactylus evansi sea spider! Seen in Australia by @sascha_shulz.

“I was snorkeling with the Shelly Beach Swim group (many of whom also contribute to iNat), and was photographing a Sand-diver species [See if you can spot it! -Tony]...when I noticed something crawling on my hand,” recalls Australian freediver Sascha Shulz. “And it turned out to be the first sea spider I have ever seen in 24 years of diving in Australia and other locations around the world!”

The sea spider Sascha found, Anoplodactylus evansi, is more colorful than any I’d personally seen (here in California they’re usually pretty drab), and the colors along with its spindly pretty-much-legs-only construction make it a striking organism. In fact, the lack of a “body” means that internal organs like those of the digestive system reside partially in the legs of the beast, and the high surface-area to volume ratio allows respiration to occur directly through the exoskeleton. While sea spider taxonomy is somewhat in flux, they are currently in the subphylum Chelicerata, which also contains arachnids and horseshoe crabs.

Like most arachnids, sea-spiders can only eat liquids, and a long proboscis allows them to pierce and suck out the insides of soft-tissued animals like sponges, gastropods, and hydroids. According to Sea Slug Forum, one of Anoplodactylus evansi’s favorite prey items are juvenile Sea Hares (among other Opisthobranchs), which are young enough to not have accumulated an amount of diet-derived compounds to deter predators. They’ll also eat around an organ where these compounds are kept, like the digestive gland of Aplysia parvula.

Sascha grew up partly in Germany, and says he was “heavily influenced by the German TV series Expeditionen ins Tierreich.” He moved to Australia when he was still a child, and started freediving when he attended the University of Wollongong, where he received a Marine Biology degree. He’s worked for the Australian Museum and still collects specimens for its fish section when he can.

“The amount of valuable data and knowledge that is accumulating due to the people who contribute to iNaturalist is truly stunning,” says Sascha, but “to avoid iNat becoming a ‘problem’” he uses it to record mostly marine species, explaining “I have found myself interrupting conversations to get a photo of a bug crawling past!...’I can stop anytime I want’ I tell myself!”

- by Tony Iwane

- Most sea spiders are tiny, but at the Earth’s poles, there be giants.

- Sascha, among many other iNatters, contributes to the Australasian Fishes and Seaslugs of the World projects, which are amazing.

- Over 150 sea spider observations have been upload to iNaturalist, seeing them all together is pretty amazing.

- Sea spiders don’t just walk, some of them swim!

Posted on February 24, 2018 12:35 AM by tiwane tiwane | 2 comments | Leave a comment

February 18, 2018

Observation of the Week, 2/18/18

Our Observation of the Week is this Yellow Treefrog that found a perch on the back of a Lethocerus Giant Water Bug, seen in Colombia by @estebanalzate! (Oh, and don’t forget the small insect on the bug’s back as well).

Insider info: I generally look for Observation of the Day possibilities by searching through recently faved observations, and when I saw the photo shown above, I thought it was a nice photo of a beautiful frog - and then I saw the Giant Water Bug! Thanks to our amazing users there are many stunning photos on iNaturalist that immediately grab your eye, but it’s also cool to come across images that continue to reveal beyond a first glance.

Esteban Alzante teaches herpetology and ecology at CES University in Medellín, Colombia, and says he’s been interested nature ever since he was a young boy in the 1980s, “when I was living in a very small town in the middle of the jungle and I could catch lizards, snakes, frogs and turtles in the backyard of my house and my mother would let me do that.” He’s currently studying frog ecology in Colombia, especially the antibacterial molecules found in the skin exudations of some frogs.

“We are looking for new molecules in 16 different species that belong to nine different families, these species had never been evaluated before, as there are many species in Colombia,” explains Esteban. “We found antibiotic activity in nine species, but just one of them has a more powerful activity than the commercial antibiotics.” He’s working on three separate papers, and is currently looking for a grant to identify the compounds in these secretions and submit his doctoral proposal.

Esteban takes his students into field with him, and he observed the above treefrog while on one of these outings:

...we found this puddle with hundreds and hundreds of Dendropsophus microcephalus [Yellow Treefrogs] (my wife says that I tend to exaggerate, but believe me), and they were in the reproductive period, it was so loud... and I found this little guy with his vocal sac inflated but when I was going take its picture it jumped on a branch, then i took the picture and that is when I realized that it had been on a bug's back.

Giant Water Bugs, members of the family Belostomatidae, are “true bugs,” meaning they’re part of the order Hemiptera, and have tube-like mouths for piercing and sucking. Often called “toe-biters” in the US, Giant Water Bugs are known to inflict a painful bite in self-defense (due to the injection of digestive enzymes), but the bite is not medically significant. In most genera, the female lays her eggs on the back of her male partner, and he will guard them, but in the genus Lethocerus, the female lays her eggs on vegetation near the water, which the male then guards. Lethocerus bugs are the largest of all true bugs, with some species growing to 12 cm (4.75 in) in length!

To give you a sense of scale, most Yellow Treefrogs reach about 25-31 mm (.98-1.2 in) in length, so this is a mighty large insect. The frogs range from Central America into the norther part of South America and onto some islands in the Caribbean, and are commonly seen. They are nocturnal, and come together at pools to breed. Eggs are laid on leaves overhanging the water, and tadpoles will drop from them when they hatch.

As Esteban (above, with a snake) continues his studies and field ventures, he’ll use iNaturalist to “share the biodiversity, mainly here in Colombia; we have hundreds of species that nobody knows, and my idea is do something for the people can identify them and to know as many species as I can.”

- by Tony Iwane (As English is not his first language, some of Esteban’s quotes have been lightly edited.)

- You wanted to hear what these frogs sound like, yes? They’re pretty loud.

- A Giant Water Bug takes down a garter snake in Arizona. Video here!

- Frog slime might be antiviral as well.

- Does the frog’s choice of perch remind anyone else of Han Solo’s similar maneuver with a Star Destroyer

Posted on February 18, 2018 11:59 PM by tiwane tiwane | 5 comments | Leave a comment

February 16, 2018

Citizen Science and iNaturalist at the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County

Our own Citizen Science department here at the California Academy of Sciences (led by 2017 Bay Nature Environmental Education Award Winners @kestrel and @rebeccafay) does a great job of implementing iNaturalist in their work, and so do our friends (and City Nature Challenge co-organizers and friendly rivals) at the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County (@natureinla). So last year I traveled south and interviewed members of their Citizen Science (now called Community Science) department as well as some researchers who are using iNaturalist, all of whom graciously gave up part of their day to talk with me on camera.

I made videos and blog posts about specific projects and researchers over the past few months (links at the bottom) but wanted to create one more video that sums up their overall approach to using iNaturalist as a way to build community and generate great biological data in an urban environment. They’re game to keep up engagement with the public and do so in a positive, approachable way, even making the effort to meet some iNat users in the field to gather specimens and confirm sightings. Data from their projects have been used to petition the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service for Endangered Species status, study Alligator Lizard mating behavior, and map squirrel range expansion.

If you or your institution are thinking of using iNaturalist for outreach and for gathering data, they provide a great model to start with.

Many thanks to @lhiggins, @smartrf, @gregpauly, @jannvendetti and @mordenana for speaking with me and for doing great things with iNat.

If you’re a part of NHMLA’s Community Science endeavors, or know other examples of excellent iNat use, please share in the comments!

- Tony Iwane

  • Herpetologist Dr. Greg Pauly discusses iNat use to collect urban range and behavioral data.

  • Wildlife biologist Miguel Ordeãna talks squirrels and the importance of staying engaged if you’re running a project.

  • Malacologist Dr. Jann Vendetti makes the case for the importance of mapping snails, and meeting iNat users to collect specimens.

(Photo by @alex_bairstow, depicting a rare sinistral (”left-handed”) Garden Snail with a dextral (”right-handed”) one. The sinistral one was donated to NHMLA.)

Posted on February 16, 2018 11:35 PM by tiwane tiwane | 0 comments | Leave a comment

February 10, 2018

Observation of the Week, 2/9/18

Our Observation of the Week is this Myrmecophila christinae orchid, seen in Mexico by @thibaudaronson!

“I am generally more interested in things that move, but I have long had a sweet spot for orchids,” says Thibaud Aronson. “In fact, it was my mother who first took me out to look at Ophrys species in the Mediterranean prairies when I was about five or six years old. And when I was a bit older, I traveled to a few far-flung places such as Ecuador and Borneo, and honed my tree-climbing skills to look specifically for orchids.”

Those tree-climbing skills were not needed to find and photograph the plant shown above, however. Thibaud was on a scuba diving holiday on the Mexican island of Cozumel after a spell as a research assistant in Yucatan (studying spider monkeys) when he found it.

I saw the Myrmecophila christinae at the Mayan ruins of San Gervasio. It was pretty common in the area, but mostly high up in trees. This individual was pretty low on a branch (I figure it might have fallen in a storm and then been stuck back in the tree by someone, as I have done myself on many occasions).

Thibaud points out that this genus of orchids are particularly fascinating as they are “one of the few orchid genera (off the top of my head, I can only think of Caularthron as another example) to form a mutualistic association with ants.” In fact, the genus name derives from myrmecophily, meaning “ant love.” And ants are almost always found in the hollowed-out “pseudobulbs” of these orchids, where they find shelter. The ants are able to obtain nectar from the plant’s flowers and in return fight off herbivores that might damage the orchid. Fascinatingly, researchers have documented ants residing in Myrmecophila tibicinis plants depositing detritus such as arthropod carcasses and decaying plant matter in the pseudobulbs. That decaying matter can be absorbed by the orchid, giving it crucial minerals in the often nutrient-poor substrate of the trees on which they grow.

Thibaud (above, in Bhutan, where he’ll upload observations from soon!) researched mate choice in birds for this Master’s degree, and is currently deciding on his career path. He’s been contributing his photos of flora and fauna to Flickr and JungleDragon, and recently joined iNat on the recommendation of some friends in Mexico.

The algorithm that suggests likely IDs for photos still amazes me, and has been a tremendous help, in particular with butterflies. I am also incredibly grateful for the very involved community of experts who have helped ID many of my photos in groups I know nothing about, such as hard corals, and even correcting some of my bird identifications! Plus, I greatly appreciate the citizen science aspect of it, and the incredible wealth of information that is being accumulated. And, since I am lucky to travel to some fairly unusual places...I am now happy to do my part, and contribute observations of things that aren’t in the database yet!

- by Tony Iwane

- Several people pointed out this flower’s resemblance to cuttlefish. Do you agree?

- Check out the more than 600 orchid observations have that have been faved by iNat users!

Posted on February 10, 2018 02:08 AM by tiwane tiwane | 0 comments | Leave a comment

February 03, 2018

Observation of the Week, 2/2/2018

Our Observation of the Week comes to us from @andriusp, and it’s this Cloudy Snail-eating snake with a (what else?) snail on its snout! Seen in French Guiana.

“I grew up in Lithuania with biologist parents and I’ve been an avid chaser of all things moving as far as I can remember,” recalls Andrius. A biologist now himself, Andrius is a research fellow at the University of Vienna (Austria), studying the behavior of Neotropical frogs. “My biggest passion remains chasing animals in the field and I’m extremely lucky that my research allow me to do just that. I spend prolonged periods of time in the field in South and Central America where I mostly study the spatial behavior of the so-called poison frogs. Actually, I just arrived in French Guiana for another 2 months of frog tracking!”

Andrius found the above snail and snake in his favorite research station in the Nouragues Nature Reserve, located in the tropical rainforest in French Guiana. Andrius recalls “we happened to find this beautiful small snake (first time for me) right on our kitchen table!” He thought the snail looked like a beret, which was fitting for a French research station, and furthermore

The scene was even more absurd and intriguing because [Cloudy Snail-eating snake]  is primarily a snail-eating snake! We kept discussing whether it was a smart trick from the snake to keep the dinner for later or whether that was a daring escape strategy of a sneaky snail. We released the two “companions” on a bush next to the kitchen where I snapped these pictures.

More commonly found in trees than on kitchen tables, Cloudy Snail-eating snakes range from Mexico into South America and even onto some islands in the Caribbean, like Trinidad and Tobago. They’re nocturnal (check out those huge eyes!) and do like to hunt snails and slugs, as well as worms and other prey.

Andrius (above, with a mantid on his face) says

iNaturalist rebooted my interest in keeping records of my observations and paying attention not only to my research subjects but to all living things around me. I realised that over time I started ignoring plants, fungi, and animals that I didn’t know much about and had no easy way to identify. I was also never good at keeping well organised notes and photo catalogues of my various travels and observations. Now I’m happy once again to snap photos other very ordinary as well as extraordinary plants, fungi, and animals! iNaturalist takes care of the rest.

- by Tony Iwane

- You can follow Andrius on Twitter and check out his photos Facebook.

- Members of Pareas, genus of gastropod-eating snakes from Asia, have more teeth on their right jaw than left jaw, allowing them to eat “right-handed” snails more easily. In areas where they occur, “left-handed” snails are found to occur more frequently. How cool is that?

- Two Cloud Snail-eating Snake vidoes, a wild one climbing, a captive individual hunting and eating a snail.

Posted on February 03, 2018 12:26 AM by tiwane tiwane | 3 comments | Leave a comment

January 26, 2018

Observation of the Week, 1/26/18

Our Observation of the Week is this Celaenia excavata spider, seen in Tasmania, Australia, by @simongrove!

Simon Grove is all about sharing. As the Senior Curator of Invertebrate Zoology at the Tasmanian Museum and Art Gallery (TMAG), Simon’s main duty is to care for the museum’s collections, but he says “I'm also interested in outreach, which is one reason I take photos of living insects and spiders.” Not only does he post them on Flickr (and is currently importing his Flickr photos to iNat), he shares them on two Facebook Groups and his own Facebook page as well as on the TMAG’s A Field Guide to the Fauna of Tasmania mobile app. “It's also one reason I signed up to iNaturalist, in that I can help identify or validate others' Tasmanian nature observations,” he explains.

Oh, and

My 'research-grade' observations on iNaturalist, and the accompanying photos, will also find their way onto our national recording platform, the Atlas of Living Australia, where the photos will help others identify their own observations while the observations will augment museums' specimen-based records in helping us better understand what lives where around Australia.

The Celaenia excavata spider you see above is one of Simon’s older photos that he recently imported from Flickr. He found in April of 2015, sitting on a ripening almond at a community garden in Taroona. “It's a common species in suburban Hobart and elsewhere in Tasmania and southeast Australia,” says Simon, “but seldom spotted because of its close resemblance to a dollop of bird poo.” During the day, this spider rests and hides, utilizing its camouflage as protection, but at night it preys on moths, especially those commonly found in orchards.

But how does this tree-climbing but non-web-spinning spider capture its prey? Well, Simon says “[they] waft chemicals into the air which mimic the pheromones of female moths. When a male moth comes to investigate the source of the smell, the spider has a chance of grabbing it.” You can see another iNaturalist observation showing a Celaenia excavata eating a moth here. The myriad ways in which spiders have evolved to capture prey is astounding.

Here’s to more amazing observations from Simon’s archive!

- by Tony Iwane

- Bolas spiders also look like bird droppings (or snails) and use pheremones to draw in moths. However they use a “bolas” made of silk and glue to catch their prey. Check it out!

Posted on January 26, 2018 09:31 PM by tiwane tiwane | 0 comments | Leave a comment

January 20, 2018

Observation of the Week, 1/19/18

Our Observation of the Week is this hoarfrost-encrusted Gray-headed Coneflower, seen in Illinois by @bouteloua!

“I started undergrad wanting to be a human doctor, but now I’m sort of a prairie doctor,” says field botanist cassi saari. “I work in the field of ecological restoration where I design and monitor habitat restoration projects and help people inventory and manage their natural lands, from ponds to woods, streams, dunes, marshes, prairies, or savannas.”

Lucky for iNat, when cassi isn’t tending to the prairie’s needs, she’s taking care of things on iNaturalist as one of our most active Curators. She’s enjoyed “stepping up my...curator activities on iNaturalist: maintaining the taxonomic database, helping new users, resolving issues, and improving the quality of the data.” Keeping up with taxonomy and our community is a huge job, and our noble Curators, like cassi, are people who spend some of their free time helping out in the many ways cassi mentioned. They’re a vital part of iNat.

Now back to that frosty flower. cassi spotted it on

a foggy but very cold morning drive to the office [above]. The drive is quite dull - all city, then suburbs, then long, flat stretches of harvested fields of corn and soy…[it’s] always a stark reminder that 99.9% of the prairie lands in Illinois have been destroyed by farming, grazing, and development.

But the land around cassi’s office (pictured above) is “a little oasis of wetland and prairie with hundreds of species of native plants...part remnant, part restored.” When she pulled up in her car, she says “I saw the hoarfrost clinging to plant stems and couldn’t help but stop and make some observations.” One of which, of course, was the Gray-headed Coneflower you see at the top of the page. “Working year-round as a field botanist is a fun challenge in winter botanizing. One of my favorite things about iNaturalist is adding to the growing database of plant photos when they’re not flowering (which is usually when I need to be able to identify them),” she explains.

When describing Gray-headed Coneflowers, cassi first mentions their distinctive shape, calling them “one of several prairie sentinels that forms a charismatic silhouette at dawn and dusk at any time of the year.” Like other member sof the Asteraceae or “sunflower” family of plants, their “flowers” are actually inflorescences made up of many tiny  florets, with about 15 of them on the outside growing the large petals we recognize. “The flowers and fruits are easily recognized and its frequent use in prairie restorations makes it one of the first native wildflowers that people learn around here,” says cassi.

An iNat user since 2012, cassi has mainly focused on plants, but says “this year I’m aiming to be a 100% naturalist by observing more animals, fungi, and other creatures, since sometimes I seem to have the opposite of plant blindness…”

- by Tony Iwane

- You can check out cassi’s personal website here.

- In 2017 the Illinois Native Plant Society held its second annual Illinois Botanists Big Year and cassi came in at number one, contributing over 900 species.

Posted on January 20, 2018 12:11 AM by tiwane tiwane | 1 comments | Leave a comment