June 04, 2021

100,000 Identifications on iNat

I can’t really describe how much I’ve learned from observing, identifying and interacting on iNaturalist (it's a LOT), but it has certainly deepened my appreciation for nature and how I view the natural world. My interest in plants really spiked after a short internship following my senior year of college, where I was tasked with identifying plant species growing in a natural area in 2018. Since then, I’ve done most of my learning on iNaturalist. It is undoubtedly the greatest tool I’ve used to learn about the flora and fauna around me.

Since joining in 2018, I’ve spent a good amount of time identifying others’ observations. This has really helped me nail down some identifiable characteristics for different species, and is a great place to learn from others’ comments and identifications. Some IDs are very simple and straightforward, while others require tagging and collaborating with other experts and piecing together small clues to arrive at an ID.

I recently reached 100,000 total identifications, and thought I’d share some stats (mostly for myself to look back on)!

I joined iNaturalist 958 days ago, on October 22, 2018. Since then, I made 104 identifications per day on average. This map shows the location of all of my identifications from when I joined up until today:

A whopping 90.3% of my identifications were made within the United States. About 19,100 identifications were made within my home state of PA, and 80,000 were made east of the Mississippi in the US.

My taxon breakdown is as follows:
0.70% mammals: 38 different species
1.59% birds: 130 different species
6.62% insects: 78% (~5,100) of these IDs were the Spotted Lanternfly!
89.91% plants: Clearly, I’m a plant person!

Of my ~90,000 plant IDs, over half (~48,500) were in the Order Sapindales (Maples, Sumacs, Ailanthus). I guess I like this Order!

Thanks to all who continually correct me and help me identify on iNaturalist!

Posted on June 04, 2021 05:57 PM by conboy conboy | 8 comments | Leave a comment

September 08, 2020

Spotted Lanternfly - The US' New & Dangerous Invasive Insect

Lycorma delicatula, also known as the Spotted Lanternfly, was accidentally introduced into the United States in 2014, and has slowly been spreading from Southeastern Pennsylvania into neighboring states. This insect feeds on fruit and hardwood trees as well as grapevines and poses many threats to our economy. Its favorite tree, Ailanthus altissima or the Tree of Heaven, is an extremely invasive plant found in many states all over the US. It has no natural predators here, so its populations are exploding, and you may see thousands of them covering your trees or backyards.

Being at the epicenter of this "outbreak" has been really interesting for me. I'm really fascinated by the insect, its behaviors and watching it spread on iNaturalist. In my opinion, it's super cool to observe native and naturalized wildlife "adapt" to a new insect. Lastly, I've enjoyed learning about other similar-looking planthoppers, such as those in the genus Pyrops - they are so unique, colorful and quite amazing!

To raise awareness about this insect and the potential damage it is capable of imposing, I've created an informative YouTube video. In this video, I cover their life cycle from egg to nymph to adult stages. I present on their diet and why they are such an invasive, dangerous insect that will inevitably spread throughout the country. Lastly, I show you all 7-8 different ways to trap, kill or get rid of them. A special thanks to many iNat users, who allowed me to use their beautiful photography in the video. Hopefully this helps and good luck combating them in your area!

Posted on September 08, 2020 09:49 PM by conboy conboy | 2 comments | Leave a comment

June 14, 2020

How to ID Sumacs (Rhus) - Dichotomous Key & Video

Hi, all!

In my ~1.5 years on iNaturalist, I've learned a great deal about the genus Rhus and how to identify the Sumacs of North America. For some reason, these species have piqued my interest since I was a kid and noticed red spiky fruit on the side of the highway.

I decided to try and make a comprehensive video guide and dichotomous key for Sumac identification in the United States. I am pasting my dichotomous key below, as well as the identification video. I would love some feedback on the key since it is my first time creating one, and on the video as well! Also, if you find an error in the video or key, please let me know!

I hope this helps you learn to ID new plants! @lisa281 has put together a very nice list of guides for plant identification that I find to be extremely useful. Check that out as well! Thanks, all!

Dichotomous Key
Dichotomous Key using leaf appearance US Sumac Identification:
1a. Simple, alternate leaves. Found on West Coast or Arizona (go to 2)
1b. Compound leaves (go to 3)

2a. Leaf folded along the mid-rib. Taco-shaped leaves or similar. Entire margins. Occurs on West Coast or Arizona = Sugar Bush (Rhus ovata)
2b. Leaf shape mostly flat, not folded. Sharp, holly-like teeth along leaf margins. Occurs only on West Coast = Lemonade Berry (Rhus integrifolia)
2c. Consistent taco-shaped or curved leaves with many teeth along leaf margins. Occurs in sympatric zones on West Coast = Lemonade Berry x Sugar Bush Hybrid - (Rhus integrifolia x ovata)

3a. Trifoliate compound leaves. Middle leaflet generally the largest. = Fragrant sumac / Skunkbush (Rhus aromatica / Rhus trilobata)
3b. More than 3 leaflets in the leaf (go to 4)

4a. 5-9 leaflets (go to 5)
4b. Mature leaves have greater than 9 leaflets (go to 6)

5a. Leaflets very small in size - 6-9 mm long, 2-5 mm wide. Leaves are winged. = Little Leaf Sumac (Rhus microphylla)
5b. Leaves are dark green, shiny in appearance. Leaves are not winged. Leaflets larger in size (1 inch). = Evergreen Sumac (Rhus virens)

6a. Leaflets are entire / smooth along margins (go to 7)
6b. Leaflets are serrated (go to 8)

7a. Leaflets are usually shiny, have large wings on rachis and are wide. Leaflets number anywhere from 9 to 21. Found in Eastern US from Texas through Missouri and up the east coast to Massachusetts. = Shining Sumac / Winged Sumac (Rhus copallinum)
7b. Leaflets lanceolate, curved and much more narrow. Found in the prairies of Texas with small populations in west Texas and New Mexico. = Prairie Flameleaf Sumac (Rhus lanceolata)

8a. Branches, fruit, stem and inflorescence ALL exhibit dense pubescence (go to 9)
8b. Branches, fruit, stem and inflorescence are smooth, exhibit no pubescence at all. Leaf petiole is typically pink. 9-31 leaflets. = Smooth Sumac (Rhus glabra)
8c. Pubescence not found on all features simultaneously. Hairs are sporadic, short and vary. See above links for more details = Northern Sumac (Rhus x Borealis, Rhus typhina x glabra).

9a. Leaflets number 9-31 and are generally longer and narrow. Commonly found in the Northern US and Canada, but can reach some southern states. = Staghorn Sumac (Rhus typhina)
9b. Only found in small regions of North Carolina, Virginia, Georgia, and South Carolina with reports of populations down to Florida. Rare species. Leaflets number anywhere from 7-13. Teeth protrude further out. Leaflets are more rounded, shorter and not as narrow. = Michaux's Sumac (Rhus michauxii)

Posted on June 14, 2020 05:19 PM by conboy conboy | 6 comments | Leave a comment

December 16, 2019

50,000 Spotted Lanternfly Wings

My friend at Penn State Lehigh Valley was recently involved in creating a very interesting and epic art piece that showcased 50,000 Spotted Lanternfly (Pennsylvania's newest and "hottest" invasive) wings.

For those that are unfamiliar, the SLF arrived to the USA by accident in 2014. This planthopper lays its eggs on the barks of trees, rocks and other smooth surfaces. Since then, this invasive has spread like wildfire throughout the area, entering many different counties and states. It will inevitably keep spreading despite the massive efforts to squash, collect or spray them. They pose a huge economic threat due to their feeding preferences - preferring grapevines, fruit trees, other agricultural plants, and hardwood trees whenever their host plant "Tree of Heaven" (Ailanthus altissima) is absent. Because they're a new invasive with bright red coloration, they lack natural predators - although native birds and insects are seemingly catching on.

Regardless, this art project at PSLV engaged the community through various events, ultimately educating local residents about the dangers of the pest while allowing them to help create cool art.

In total, this display of 50,000 SLF wings removed 12,500 insects from the local environment (each insect has 4 wings). If we assume a 50:50 ratio of male:female, 6,250 females were removed. Based on the low and high end of the egg-laying-range for females, it is estimated that this project prevented between 260,000 and 650,000 eggs from hatching next spring. A creative (and beautiful) way to stop these pests from spreading.

Here are some pictures of the final displays:

Posted on December 16, 2019 05:43 PM by conboy conboy | 1 comment | Leave a comment

June 18, 2019

Plant Blindness

I recently read an article about "plant blindness" -- a term I had never heard of before. It is a rather interesting concept; plant blindness is, via Wikipedia definition, "a form of cognitive bias, which in its broadest meaning is a human tendency to ignore plant species [in one's environment]". The article touches on different aspects of plant blindness: from younger kids being able to easily recognize animals but not plants, to how plant blindness is essentially built into our human biology. The author also mentions a few scientific studies and cites some conservation statistics. I found one of these statistics to be especially powerful:

"[I]n 2011 plants made up 57% of the federal endangered species list in the US. But they received less than 4% of federal endangered species funding."

Let's be honest - it's easy to go through life ignoring plants. They are stationary, they are all pretty much the same shade of green, and, on the surface, seem to offer very little to us. People often associate plants with "dirtiness" or something that needs to be "cleared out" -- essentially clustering most wild plants into one category: "weeds".

I, too, never really paid much attention to the plants in my surroundings up until the last year or two. Growing up in the suburbs, I wasn't exactly exposed to many forests or natural areas in my childhood and I definitely possessed the "they're all just weeds" mindset.

About four years ago, I switched to a vegetarian diet to lower my personal environmental impact, remove myself from animal-agriculture-driven deforestation, and to adopt a healthier and more compassionate lifestyle. My interest in plants 'sprouted' as my diet expanded to include more leafy greens, fruits, beans, grains and other veggies. Eventually, I switched to a completely plant based diet two years ago, and around the same time, I completed an internship studying the plant diversity at a local stormwater basin that was constructed to prevent the surrounding neighborhoods from flooding. My interest in plants began to deepen immensely.

Since I always had an interest in "going green" or helping mitigate the effects of climate change, I developed a particular interest in trees. I learned the importance of our forests in regulating our Earth's climate, biodiversity, and nutrient and water cycles, as well as their remarkable ability to sequester carbon dioxide in the carbon-carbon bonds in their wood.

Regardless, a year or two later, I love exploring forests, finding new trees or other plants, and reading about them. Plants have much more to offer than initially meets the eye. They have history - some plants are native, and some are dispersed around the world by humans for various reasons (food, beauty, etc). The same plants that were intertwined with Native American cultures, plants with medicinal properties, or edible plants are probably growing in your backyard right now. Invasive plants, like the Tree of Heaven, may have originally arrived across the pond for their beauty, but now have spread across the country, forever altering local ecosystems.

I could go on and on. If anyone is reading this, I'd love to see what your thoughts about "plant blindness" are. Why do you like plants? What do they offer to you? Do they help you find peace within yourself?

Posted on June 18, 2019 01:17 AM by conboy conboy | 11 comments | Leave a comment


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