iNaturalist is a thriving online community in which people user their phones to snap what they see and upload the images for identification, providing invaluable data for conservation efforts. It’s a great way to connect with nature for World Environment Day (read more here). A good example of its impact is the Andinobates frog (pictured), an entirely new species that was identified on the community’s site. iNaturalist boasts hundreds of thousands of examples of rare and beautiful creatures caught in the wild. Here are just some of them.
The natural world often throws up organisms stranger than science fiction, and the Zombie Ant Fungus is perhaps the cream of the crop. This fungus parasitizes its insect host and controls its brain, making it climbs the stem of a plant and use it mandibles to latch on as it dies. Fruiting bodies of the fungus grow out of the host and release spores back into the forest. National Geographic Explorer Jonathan Kolby snapped this exciting example of the fungus in action in Cusuco National Park, Honduras as he was chasing a frog as part of his efforts to combat the global amphibian extinction crisis.
Seen on Corsica, the dew on the web of this Sheetweb or Dwarf Weaver Spider caught the eye of school teacher David Renoult. “It was several weeks before Christmas and this spider seemed to be arranging its Christmas balls in its sticky tree,” he says. There are over 4,000 species in the Linyphiidae family of spiders, which are famous for their mass “ballooning” behavior: young spiders migrating through the air on silk strands caught by the wind.
Katy Johns spotted these Lesser Flying Squid off the Kermadec Islands, a remote archipelago about 800 km off New Zealand’s North Island, and part of a 620,000 km2 protected area. They are the only flying molluscs, and pictures of them taking flight are rare. Katy travelled to the islands as part of a campaign to bring attention to the area. “The sanctuary will protect a significant portion of the world’s longest underwater volcanic chain and the world’s second deepest ocean trench,” she says.
The Langaha pseudoalluaudi snake, or leaf-nosed snake, is rarely encountered, so this picture taken in Madagascar by biological sciences student Victoria Jackson generated a lot of excitement on iNaturalist. Little is known about these bizarre-looking but wonderfully cryptic snakes, which hang from branches and vines in the forest, waiting for reptile and amphibian prey.
Most observations on iNaturalist are of creatures observable with the naked eye, but Sarka Martinez, who documents plankton for SoundToxins.org, specializes in microscopic photography. She took a shot of this exquisite and fragile Merismopedia colony in Florida. Ancient organisms, cyanobacteria are photosynthetic and are believed to have been the first microbes to begin producing oxygen at the start of The Great Oxygenation Event 2.3 billion years ago, creating oxygen that accumulated in the atmosphere.
On a trip to Sumatra, Indonesia, to carry out a threat assessment on national parks that are refuges for tigers and rhinos, Matt Muir snapped this Hestiasula mantis in his hotel garden. These creatures’ large eyes help them spot prey, their flexible necks – rare in the insect world – help them look around without moving and betraying their camouflage, and their large forelegs allow them to hold prey while they feast.
This beetle, again seen in Indonesia, is one of iNaturalist’s most-viewed pictures on social media. It’s easy to see why. Nicknamed the Power Ranger beetle and the Iron Man beetle, Aspidimorpha sanctaecrucis is found throughout eastern and southeastern Asia. Amateur naturalist Patrick Reteng found this creature while waiting for a bus, which just goes to show that you can connect with nature anywhere, at any time.