Animals that are surprisingly rare

Since using Inaturalist, I have noticed how rare certain things are in my environment! Of course, I knew certain things were rare, but it has been a surprise for me how many things that I would take to be “common” are actually rare to observe.

Here are three examples:

  1. Spiders. I have observed some spiders, but before I joined inaturalist, I remember every walk in the woods as being beset with webs, and big fat orb weaver spiders in between all the trees, and wolf spiders on the ground, and miscellaneous spiders falling down on me every few steps. But even though spiders are still not that rare, they aren’t common, either…I have to go looking for them! I can spend a lot of time outside, and see only signs of spiders, or small spiders, and getting observations of them is difficult.

  2. Fish. I live close to the ocean, and in a place with a lot of fresh water, as well. On an average day, I can go out and get dozens of observations of crustaceans, cnidarians, and mollusks. But over months of travelling to the ocean, I have so far gotten one observation of a fish. A tidepool sculpin. I know that observing fish presents some difficulty, because they usually like open water, not the shore, and that there are probably many fish just out of range of my camera, but it is surprising how hard they are to observe.

  3. Mammals. From our viewpoint, mammals are the default setting for animals… because we are mammals. So it is odd, with a variety of environments around me, I can go weeks without seeing a wild mammal. There aren’t even wild squirrels in my town! Obviously, this changes from place to place, other places have more small rodents, and when I was in Montana, I had several types of megafauna, but mammals are very difficult to observe.

So that is my list. What have been surprisingly absent from your observations? What animals, plants, or other would you have thought was a normal part of your environment…but is very difficult to observe?


In my experience, i found it difficult too find ground mushrooms, although wood mushrooms seem pretty common


I dunno, your examples are more likely is because things are hard right see, e.g. I bet if in a right season you’ll go out at night spiders will be everywhere. Mammals are just overall hard to find, I don’t know about squirrels, but some places lack them naturally.
Our memory plays tricks with us about how abundant things were before.


One of my favorite examples is the Contrasting Jumping Spider. It is so hard to find, but also could be extremely widespread in North America, lurking below our feet.

I personally have never found one, it is my personal goal. Someday!


Night time makes a lot of hard-to-find-during-daytime things easier to find :)

And I think we have a memory of how we used to find things when we were younger, and as adults (or just “older people”) we don’t have the same perspective and ability to spot things. I think we “learn” how to filter our vision, so things that were easily spotted as children become part of the “background picture” as adults, even when we are actively looking!


I’ve observed over 30 different species of fish but all except one (a freshwater drum) were caught while fishing. Some groups of organisms definitely require you to go one step beyond in your pursuits.


Oh man, I wish I could go weeks without seeing a mammal! Ofc in a place that all mammals are invasive…

My favourite example of the ‘surprisingly rare’ is the kuaka-diving petrel. They’re one of the most abundant birds in Aotearoa NZ and virtually no one sees them- 61 observations around the country and 37 of those are beach-wrecks! The most extreme case is their huge colony on the nature reserve island Tiritiri Matangi, where tens of thousands nest and they are by far the most abundant bird- but they aren’t even included in the guidebook and no guide I’ve spoken to had seen one, many not even knowing they’re on the island.

They hit a cross-section of being tricky to find by being nocturnal on land, burrow-nesters, nesting on the sides of cliffs, being small and even when at sea being tricky to see because they immediately dive under a wave the second you see them. If you know the time and place to see them it’s unbelievable, having thousands of tiny little seabirds crashing into the cliffsides and scuttling to their burrows, but come back a couple hours later and you might not realise they’re even there.


Insects, obviously plentiful, surprisingly many moths species are only found locally and can be uncommon to rarely found. Sometimes I get lucky and seen an uncommon moth out in the open like the Clymene Moth, Haploa clymene. I have also seen a few S1/S2 moth in Ontario, like the critically imperiled Indigo Stem Borer Moth, Papaipema baptisiae. Due to their nocturnal nature, viewing moths require setting up a moth light sheet and trap. You can also occasionally see rare moths on or under leaves.

1 Like

I agree with @kiwifergus that night time helps! Some of my better mammal observations have come from trail cameras that do late night “observing” on my behalf along wildlife paths, pond edges, or near road kill. Speaking of which, probably my next best source of up close animal photos is stopping to observe road kill (including a gorgeous Cedar Waxwing, something I’ve never seen live and in person!)

Back to trail cameras, I have enjoyed the pictures even from a $20 trail camera from my local outdoor store. If you don’t have any forest edge of your own, I’ve had good luck asking if I could place the camera on someone else’s tree/post/etc. for wildlife observation. I’ve had willing encounters with park maintenance staff of a local park, a store manager of a walgreens with a more naturalized drainage pond, and a staff member of a church that has a nature trail. The only thing they requested was that I angle it so it doesn’t photograph people/cars using the area and as payment the Walgreens store manager wanted a copy of the pictures out of curiosity!

To answer the question, I was overjoyed to catch a coyote among the more non-threatened but “rare” sightings. It’s still the only sighting posted to iNaturalist in the county and one of the few in the state of Delaware.


Welcome to the Forum, @goodlordbird !

1 Like

If I was to go by my area in Winnipeg, I would say that Grackles are essentially extinct. I know that they are not, and are found in abundance in other areas of the city. Why don’t they hang around where I live - who knows? BTW, the only fish I have ever seen is a dead catfish floating in the Red River

1 Like

Bats. They are the most diverse mammals, yet at best I see their silhouettes shortly after dusk. I can think of only three occasions when I could identify them: one was road kill, the others I just happened to come across a roost.


If you can make one quiet open room without lighting and waited for maybe one to three month
You will see some bat hanging around in that room

This only works if you live near a forest though


Bats are difficult. Wish there were better ways of IDing them. Good ones out there for sure! But someday it will be easier I know.

1 Like

There was a discussion on some years ago about how the common house fly Musca domestica has become quite rare, largely replaced by Musca autumnalis. Ireland was mentioned in particular. I think bin liners were suggested as a cause, as rubbish tips full of bin liners keep the decomposing refuse out of reach of the flies.


Fascinating! During quarantine, I started to realize and document the biodiversity even within my own home! 3-5 species of flies depending on the day, a few hemiptera, two species of ants, one day a wasp got it, at least 4 different types of spiders and a couple cricket species in the basement. All that without even stepping outside (I know, I should probably insect-proof my home better!). I won’t even list what showed up under the porch light at night! Maybe not “surprisingly rare”, but I was very surprised by the biodiversity once you start to really observe what’s going on right under your nose!


Drought a huge factor there!


I’ve found lots of mushrooms growing in my area this year, both out of the ground and on wood (BC, Canada)

1 Like

I can get a pictures of (invasive) European carp in a local man-made lake in a nearby park. Prolly, lost goldfish, or descendants of such.

But, I recall my former boss made a simple underwater viewer. It was a wide tube, maybe 6-8” in diameter into which he glued a plastic lens at one end and handles at the other. When you lowered it into the lake, it gave a small, but fairly clear viewing area (depending on water clarity).

Quote kiwifergus: “And I think we have a memory of how we used to find things when we were younger, and as adults (or just “older people”) we don’t have the same perspective and ability to spot things. I think we “learn” how to filter our vision, so things that were easily spotted as children become part of the “background picture” as adults, even when we are actively looking!”

When I was a docent for some local nature Centers, I would take classrooms of kids on nature hikes. it was usually the little kids that spotted creatures; I relied on explaining plants and nests or animal markings (as I already knew where to look for the deer rubs, turret spiders, and woodrat nests). Kids really are observant.