08 July, 2023

Mysteries of the night

New York City is the most populous urban agglomeration in the US or Canada, with 20 million people, and an "urban landmass" sprawled over 4,669 square miles, the most of any city in the world, per the nice people at Wikipedia.

But for all the efforts of homo sapiens to dominate this landscape, there are many spaces where strange and delightful creatures continue to thrive. Some of these spaces are geographic — the sea, steep hillsides, or parks — and some are temporal. As humans go to bed at night, many other creatures awaken. There is a strange and wonderful world of biodiversity for those willing to hang out in a patch of woods at night.

Recently I've gone mothing three times, once with @zitserm and twice alone, and in just a few hours added almost 70 species to my life list. Many of the creatures I have photographed on these expeditions were among the first iNat observations in New York City, in Queens County, or in one case, in all of New York State.

Here are a few interesting ones. While in theory we were looking for moths, in general I found the beetles and wasps to be just as fun. So many surprises.


Cymbiodyta bifidus, first in NYC. Having seen two of them that night, I now get to be the leading observer for all of New York state. Small trophies.
Hydrochara beetle
Contacyphon, which was smol, lke 2-3mm long.
Apenes? Rare if true.
The incredibly smol Anisotoma, almost as smol as the Contacyphon
Synchroa punctata Maybe a first iNat in Queens.
Dircaea liturata Another probable first iNat in Queens.


The 2nd, 3rd and 4th New York state observations of Teucholabis flies. The first one was carrying a mite, as noted by Neville Park on Mastodon.
Apparently a Anopheles malaria mosquito in Queens. There is another but I don't think it's an accurate observation.
A Triaenodes, a long-horned (actually long-antennaed) caddisfly, maybe the first spotting in Queens. Insanely long antennae.


Mesochorinae, first sighting in NYC
Ophion wasps, a kind of inch-long ichneumonid wasp, which bumble around hilariously and are huge and beautiful and it's truly bizarre that they aren't spotted more often.


Nallachius americanus, one of the strangest and most beautiful moths I've ever seen
Lithacodes fasciola (Yellow-shouldered Slug Moth), which apparently I had seen before in its ridiculous larval stage.
Pubitelphusa latifasciella (White-banded Pubitelphusa Moth), though I gotta say I don't see the white band
Eudonia strigalis Striped Eudonia Moth
Chytonix palliatricula Cloaked Marvel
Macaria pustularia (Lesser Maple Spanworm Moth)
Phalaenophana pyramusalis (Dark banded owlet)
Can you believe the Apogeshna stenialis (Checkered Apogeshna Moth)
Nematocampa resistaria (Horned Spanworm Moth)
Leucomele miriamella (First within 50 miles)
Olethreutes connectum First "bunchberry leaffolder moth" in NYC
The comely Desmia funeralis
Acleris moths including this Oak Leafshredder Moth, a possible Red-edged Acleris Moth and a Blueberry Leaftier Moth

Ten of the 36 Acleris observations in NYC have been in the past three weeks, a sign that mothing is a growing hobby. And did you know that July 22-30 is NATIONAL MOTH WEEK? I am looking forward to seeing what people find in the dark!

Posted on 08 July, 2023 03:52 by steven-cyclist steven-cyclist | 2 comments | Leave a comment

Making iNat more welcoming

After my May 7 post about the intense concentration of iNaturalist observations among the "top observers" in my region, several of those top observers made wise and incisive comments. They have gotten me thinking about how to make this place more welcoming to newcomers, so as to retain more of the millions of people who come through, make a few observations, and leave forever.

The first thing that comes to mind is there should be a "beginner mode" that walks you through the steps of posting. Modern websites often have these sorts of guides pop up for new users or for everyone after major updates. Microsoft's are sometime annoying but have gotten quite informative and useful.

So a new user posting for the first time could be told things like:
"Take the clearest photos you can by using bright light and holding your hand still"
"Take as many photos as you can of different parts of the organism"
"Show the parts that you might not always look at, like the underside of a mushroom cap or the stems of a flower"

Second, it should be easier to crosspost observations to social media, especially to Instagram, Flickr, and other visual sites. There is currently no way to feed specific images from a post over to Instagram, Mastodon, etc! That's a huge loss. Many people would probably use it. And while you can use a Flickr photo to populate iNaturalist, you can't do it with Instagram. As a result, people just choose one place or another to post. Since there is less social prestige from iNat posting, it's less attractive for many people. They will keep posting on addictive media. This deprives iNat of valuable observations and deprives them of learning more about biology. One simple fix would be to just make the "Share" button automatically populate the share with a bit of descriptive text in addition to the URL. Like:
"Pileated woodpecker observed by @xris on August 13, 2024 in Brooklyn, New York. http://..."

Third, there could be a clearer path from posting to deeper knowledge and connection. As @matthew_wills said, "The system doesn't explore or explain" what it means to be "a naturalist." As he said, "Focusing a camera, after all, is different from focusing a mind." That could come in the form of suggested readings, book clubs, meetups. The NY Mycological Society has weekly Zoom meetings to identify difficult specimens. There is no reason that iNat couldn't support something similar across a local bioregion. It would be great if a mix of experts and beginners could gather each week to show off and ask what

Fourth, it would be nice if scientists using iNaturalist data could alert observers who provided data, to let them know when their observations are being used for scientific discovery. This is a rare joy that none of us really get, because there is no way for a scholarly investigator to provide such feedback.

I have voted for some of these ideas in the forums.

Posted on 08 July, 2023 02:43 by steven-cyclist steven-cyclist | 0 comments | Leave a comment

07 May, 2023

NYC Inaturalist

New York City is a hotbed of iNaturalist activity. We are coming up on our 1 millionth observation, with 35,660 observers taking part. But it's clear that most people are very casual users, and the great bulk of the observations are from a few people.

@susanhewitt alone is responsible for 9.5% of all New York City observations.

She and the next nine observers — @danielatha @nycnatureobserver @zitserm @elharo @spritelink @matthew_wills @xris @irag @elizajsyh — account for 26% of all NYC observations.

The top 88 observers account for 50% of all observations in NYC, so the other 50% of posts are from 35,572 other observers. Similarly, a full two-thirds of NYC observations are by just the top 452 people, meaning that the remaining 35,208 people who have uploaded something to this website account for just 1/3 of all observations — an average of just 9 observations per person. Nine!

I think this is because iNaturalist is still sort of hard to use. It's easy to make an observation. But it's hard to edit and it's hard to learn how to really take part in the community. There are a few ways to solve this. The usual Silicon Valley way is by gamifying and simplifying the app. And sure, the user interface could use a little love. But the best way to do it would be for us to talk to one another. Something I really appreciate about iNat users is that when we see one another on the street, taking photos of leaves or insects, we often converse. This is good! I would just suggest that next time you're talking with someone, maybe ask if they understand the app or if they have any questions. They probably do.

Posted on 07 May, 2023 21:42 by steven-cyclist steven-cyclist | 17 comments | Leave a comment

14 October, 2020

A single tree in Jackson Heights

This tree (Japanese cherry?) looks perfectly healthy. Leaves are fine, bark looks ok. But for some reason, it's home to an incredible number of fungi, as well as some moss. Here are the ones I saw in a few minutes. The bark mycena (Mycena corticola) has apparently not been spotted before in Queens.

Posted on 14 October, 2020 01:56 by steven-cyclist steven-cyclist | 19 observations | 1 comment | Leave a comment

05 August, 2019

Museo Nacional in Bogota

I spent a week staying across the street from the Museo Nacional. I was working and had little time to explore and observe the city. But in the museum's front yard, I made a few observations. Almost all were on this tree:


This “chinche” was walking on the bark.

Probably the same kind of chinche had been caught by a spider in a nearby tree

This larva was on the bark

There were many of these gastropods all over the bark

The tree is infested with scale insects, including females
and males.

These pale lady beetles are probably eating the scale.

This spider was on a leaf of the tree and this larva was on another leaf.

Right nearby, also in the front yard of the museum, I saw flies, a weevil, and a caterpillar

There were also a couple of typical North American weeds in the lawn:

Posted on 05 August, 2019 15:28 by steven-cyclist steven-cyclist | 14 observations | 1 comment | Leave a comment