March 31, 2022

Changing Definition of Success

When I first started paying serious attention to invertebrates, and began going out into nature with the express purpose of finding them, I did not find very much, to put it simply. Many trips I would head out to seemingly perfect habitat only to find diddly-squat, which was always a disappointing experience. Thankfully, that being six years ago, I am now much more experienced and it seems rare when I don't find something, even in poor habitats. This doubtless is because as I gained experience I began to know what to look for, both in terms of habitat, microhabitat, and then the specimens themselves.

However, I have begun to wonder, as I have become more cognizant of the various invertebrates (and other life forms) around me, has my definition of success in a trip has changed, so that if I had had the same definition when I first started out, I might have "found", or at least remembered finding, a lot more?
To be sure I first became seriously interested in invertebrates when a Grammostola porteri tarantula was given to me; amongst animals there are charismatic life forms, most commonly the various mammals and some birds, but on a smaller scale there are many invertebrates that are charismatic in a sense too. Tarantulas, scorpions, big centipedes, Phidippus jumping spiders, and big beetles all capture the imagination far easier than a mite or a springtail. And so thus when I first began to hunt for invertebrates I believe I was very much prone to a charismatic invertebrate bias, so that if I did not find a tarantula or discover something "valuable" in a broad sense, I didn't find very much at all.

Now my interest has broadened, even as the size of the creatures I pursue seems to continue to shrink as I search for obscure, small species, and while finding a tarantula is nice, observing an Anystis mite feeding on an even smaller mite is almost, if not more, as exciting. I count seeing Harpogonopus confluentus in the wild for the first time as much as a success as finding multiple Bothriocyrtum californicum burrows. Ammopelmatus are cool, but did you see those Mrymecophilous??

Success hinges no longer on whether I find some impressive macroinvertebrate, but really whether or not I find something "interesting" in a much broader sense at all. And I wonder how many more successes I would have had if I had had this knowledge of other invertebrates going into my searches as a neophyte, or even the general desire to look for invertebrates that were not necessarily popular.

The world is far stranger, bigger (and smaller), and more fascinating than charismatic invertebrates would have you believe by themselves. Now, where are those Araeoschizus and palpigrades...



Posted on March 31, 2022 08:37 PM by arthroverts arthroverts | 0 comments | Leave a comment

January 09, 2022

Learning to Triple-Check Myself

Don't ya just love starting out on a new platform by making a great big mistake?
To be sure I have been on iNaturalist for a little while now, and been referencing it for several years, but for one of my first big identification projects I decided to tackle all the observations of millipedes in Southern California, where I am based. I say all, really I mean all the polydesmidan and spirobolidean observations as the julids, parajulids, cambalids, and other more obscure groups I am not so familiar with. Anyway, the majority of observations are, of course, of the widespread invasive species Oxidus gracilis. Some time ago myself and a friend had compared O. gracilis and Asiomorpha coarctata, as the two are very similar looking and easy to mix up if careful attention is not paid, and made a guide to differentiating them. To shorten a long story, I had misunderstood the criterion for telling the two apart; to be sure, the most obvious external difference is that on the middle segments (8th and 9th segments) the paranota are flared posteriorly and extend past the segments themselves on A. coarctata, while on O. gracilis this sort of exaggerated flaring only starts in the last five segments or so. See a photo comparison here:
BugGuide page for A. coarctata:
BugGuide page for O. gracilis:

However, I thought that the presence of flaring period meant that the specimen had to be A. coarctata. So after challenging 50+ observations of "O. gracilis" as actually A. coarctata, I began to get suspicious that there could be no Oxidus in Southern California at all. Further research revealed what I already noted above; flaring of the paranota is found on both species, just on O. gracilis it is largely absent until about the final 1/3rd of the specimen. Naturally this meant going back through all those observations and fixing the identifications on them, after which I contacted my friend, who unlike me had understood the difference, though since the subject had never really arisen again in our conversations (other than the both of us wondering how so many people could be wrong over this ID on iNat in our respective areas, ha ha) and our guide had already been a bit vaguely worded to start with my misunderstanding was never realized until now.
This is all after double-checking our original findings. Needless to say it was quite humbling for me to see how easy it is to be wrong, something I sometimes forget in the heat of the moment when I'm madly tearing through observations, and reminded me again of how important it is to triple-check your work.



Posted on January 09, 2022 08:25 AM by arthroverts arthroverts | 0 comments | Leave a comment


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