Surprising things you have learned on iNaturalist / the forum

Oh man, the field guides - so much misery right there.


Not misery for me. I still have two bookcases full of field guides but, admittedly, I don’t look at them much anymore. But they were once my main sources of information when trying to learn and ID organisms in my area, right through my college days and during my first jobs in biology. I’d often have 2 or 3 different guides in my vehicle on field trips and a big clunky plant guide (which were several different paperback guides taped together) in my backpack…




Since joining iNaturalist, it really has broadened my understanding of nature in so many ways, and has led me to meet interesting people whom I would never have met otherwise!

In terms of deepening my understanding of nature - I recall my first impressions were that nature was more resilient in the area I live in than I had thought, with more native species living and surviving in the city itself, when before I had mistakenly though that the majority of weeds and geckos were non-native. Not the case!

The second deepening of understanding were the ecological structure and make-up of species in the natural vegetation of my region. I had already known that the fynbos were dominated by the protea, restio and erica plant families, but what I hadn’t quite understood until iNaturalist is that several other plant families could stake an almost equal claim to what makes up ‘fynbos’ - the daisy family, geranium family, the pea family, etc.

The other aspect was my deepened understanding of the quirks and habits of certain animals.

For example, I have found so far that the local chameleons like to hide out in the reed-like restios and are, ironically, easier to spot at night with a torch. Some local frogs bury themselves in the ground when it’s dry and only come out at night when it’s wetter.

The Spotted Eagle Owl tends to like to hang out in 5m-10m tall (so about the height of a giraffe, or three llamas end to end) alien trees or palms. Some bird species can be found in somewhat unlikely and surprising spots, such as the Barn Swallow and more often Rock Martins that I’ve observed at the coastal Sea Point promenade, or the Reed Cormorant I photographed in the middle of the Company Gardens.

I’ve discovered that at the office building which the company I work for recently moved to, if it is a cloudy day, I have a much higher chance of seeing the local peregrine falcon (and sometimes its mate) swoop past the building. I never tire of seeing them each time!


Learned by accident that while entering a subspecies observation you can accept the computer vision suggestion of genus and species then click in the box again and sometimes get a list of suggested subspecies. Sometimes. Can save a lot of typing when it works.


I still use mine. I’ll even break them out while doing IDs on iNat. There are observations at RG today which are there because I still refer to my field guides.


Doing IDs just now – choosing a taxon but not a location – I was surprised to learn how much salal (Gaultheria shallon) has been observed in Britain. That’s a Pacific Northwest native shrub.


8 posts were split to a new topic: Print vs. Digital Field Guides

I think besides improving my knowledge on certain taxa, I think there is one key takeaway that I can apply to my life in general: stopping to appreciate the world around me more.

I’ve observed almost 800 species since I started using inat about a year ago, most of which I had never even seen or heard of before. Its not that most of them are rare or anything, its that I had never stopped to appreciate or care about them until I started using inat. Before inat, I would just go “oh, thats a seagull” or “oh, thats a ladybug” and carry on. There is so, so much diversity that goes unnoticed by the average person. What I once thought of as “seagull” is actually 3-4 different species.

Its definitely opened my eyes to all the incredible organisms we share our planet with, even in areas that may seem devoid of life at first. You don’t need to visit some far flung corner of the world to make a cool discovery, it could just be in your backyard if you take the time to look.


Just how amazingly diverse insect life is even in urban areas! iNat got me interested in weird bugs (for whatever value of weird my brain feels that day).


Isn’t it great to have a native yard! This was true for me when I lived in my old house, in a part of town which was quite casual. My front yard was all wild / mostly native plants. People used to bring their kids by to show them, especially when the California Poppies were blooming. I brought bugs, bumblebees and butterflies back to the neighborhood, and, after a few years, the neighbors also started allowing their yards to go “unkempt” with natives also. Alas, now I have moved to a quite lawn centric neighborhood and have to start all over. I just wish I had the energy.


Many things… :)

But the biggest surprise for me was:

I am an Insect Person!



It is the nature of life to grow.

I wish you all the best on your newfound challenge!

One really surprising thing I learned is that these tiny wild cucumber-like things that I have been calling “golden globe cucumber” – no more than 3–4 cm in diameter:

– are the same species as muskmelons and cantaloupes!

I never would have thought so, but the number of RG observations that look just like these is undeniable, and none of the other Cucurbitaceae recorded from the Dominican Republic look at all similar.

So – similar to the way feral tomatoes revert to a wild type with berries even smaller than cherry tomatoes – I guess this is the reverted, wild-type muskmelon. So the next question is whether they are still edible.

Observation is here.


That recording moths is dangerously addictive when you use Inaturalist, currently I have a little moth bucket with a 16w blacklight that I got from eBay for the grand total of £20 which has worked ok but currently trying to get a skinner moth trap for an eye watering price of £250 around late December. All this because I love getting the dopamine rush from finding a cool new moth in the trap ( just a few days ago I was unreasonably ecstatic about seeing a very dull and boring winter moth near my light) and seeing my species count of dinky British moths go up by a few extra.


I learned that I need to clean my fingernails before taking a picture of something I’m holding.
Also, because of the map and search in the explore feature, I have discovered several animals that live nearby that I had no idea were here.


you can do whatever you like! there are many, many among us whose hands get muddy or scarred in the field. people like me who bite their nails. people whose hands are shaky or veiny or whatever. It’s all part of being human. If you wish, however, to keep your hands clean and fabulous, you may of course make that effort.


the fingernail thing was an attempt at humor. (mostly)
Although, I do get a very strong urge to scrub my fingernails excessively when I see dirt under them. Which is funny because I am a gardener and do ceramics and am constantly working on projects. Keeping my nails clean basically can’t be done.


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