Pete Zani

Unido: 17.ene.2021 Última actividad: 12.jul.2024 iNaturalist

I consider myself an integrative biologist interested in the intersection of ecology, evolution, physiology, and behavior. I've been conducting scientific studies (mostly on reptiles and pitcher-plant mosquitoes) since 1990 with graduate education focusing on comparative biology of lizards of the Neotropics (Brazil, Ecuador, Nicaragua) and North America (desert Southwest, Pacific Northwest). For the past two decades I've focused mostly on the integrative biology of Common Side-blotched Lizards (Uta stansburiana) as a model system. My goal is to develop long-term datasets that reflect the current biology of Side-blotched Lizards over their geographic range in order to understand the impacts of ongoing climate change on these lizards, especially as related to life-history evolution, activity behavior, physiological limitations, and ecological interactions.

I try to add field photos from my own work so if many of my lizard observations seem exhaustive that's why (I'm using these photos for data collection and you get to peer in at that as well). I also try to add pictures I take while in the field when I see something that catches my eye...a pretty flower or interesting insect.

Beyond just observing on this site, I recently realized the hook of identifying. It began by identifying all Uta stansburiana and I try to keep current identifying that species...50,000 or so and counting. Doing so is furthering my understanding of seasonal activity in this and other lizards as well as revealing interesting aspects of their biology. However, once I ran out of Side-blotched Lizards to identify, I moved on to some of my favorite other lizard species (e.g., Leopard Lizards, Zebra-tailed Lizards, Tree Lizards, Collared Lizards, etc.), some of which I'm still working on reviewing (I finally finished Urosaurus so life is good). And while it didn't start this way, the goal now is to aid this community by identifying all of as many species as I can manage. In the process, I have discovered that removing mis-identified observations from the photo pool has greatly improved the Computer Vision used by iNaturalist to make suggestions. [note: if you don't already use the Chrome extension for iNaturalist, I highly recommend it].

Somewhere along the way I ran out of North American lizards that I wanted or felt qualified to identify and moved into identifying lizards in the Neotropics, where I spent many countless days and nights developing the IDing skills I try to share now as part of my main project, Lizards of the Amazon Region. I have done a first pass at identifying all of the lizards observed in the Amazon and try to stay current there as well. My dream for that project is to develop a series of observation hotspots into a network to monitor ongoing persistence of lizards over time. Recent papers have suggested that 50-80% of lizards will go extinct by the end of the century with those occupying the tropics among the hardest hit. So, in a sense, I dream of having data from this site sufficient to watch that happen in real time, as depressing a thought as that might be.


In my profile picture I am in the act of snaring a Common Side-blotched Lizard (Uta stansburiana) perched atop a small rock. Many others prefer fishing poles, but catching these lizards usually involves going straight through a bush from above while I tap my toes or wiggle my fingers, so grommets are a nuisance. My preferred method is a 1.0-m long hollow carbon-fiber poles, with a very large paper clip (bigger the better) straightened out, but bent over at one end to fit into the hollow pole, and bent into an eyelet at the other with a string snare (4-0 surgical silk thread has the best action and durability) that I work over the head and life the lizard off the ground. The vertebrate eye is really attracted to motion, so by moving super slo mo (what I call 'lizard yoga') but simultaneously wiggling the fingers in the off hand off to one side, the target's attention is invariably directed to the fast moving thing (things moving fast in a lizard's world are usually bad news....think: birds, snakes). One way to learn the meaning of the word 'patience' is to learn to be very good at catching lizards this way.

Finally, you can find my professional publications at ResearchGate or Google Scholar. If any of my papers are of interest and you want to read a paper, by all means shoot me a message and I'll send you a pdf of the paper (assuming I have it). If you go this route be prepared for me to request your e-mail address for this exchange.

Carry on and keep up the good work.
Pete (July 11, 2024)

On Observing and Philosophy

Observers post evidence for observation in the form of images and sounds
Identifications are hypotheses as to the identify of that observation
Sounds and photos are the evidence provided to support the hypothesis
Hypotheses change as understanding of the evidence changes
Extra-ordinary claims require extra-ordinary evidence

Sometimes I ID only to genus or subfamily if I can't convince myself the evidence warrants otherwise. Sometimes my hypotheses are educated guesses and I can't always verbalize why it looks like the species it does. I call this the "gestalt" of the thing. But usually my ID's are based on characters or information presented only by the observation itself. For me, location is a must and I generally won't attempt an ID without it. Beyond that it helps to see clear scalation, body outline, color/pattern/behavior), and views from the top and side, perhaps bottom as well, but that depends on the species involved and I understand many observations are from an animal that might not want to cooperate with your photography. For some species, I now have 11 or 12 different ways to distinguish one species from look-alikes (e.g., Common Side-blotched Lizards). For others, I only know of one or two ways to distinguish genera (e.g., Amazonian Mabuyinae skinks are a pain). Others still are my kryptonite (e.g, most Aspidoscelis, Enyalioides, Enyalius), and I usually only go as far as genus in those groups. My preferrence is to have at least three traits, and then use the preponderance of evidence to make my identification. However, with experience, I have slowly learned whom I can trust to make a good identification if I cannot. To me, that's the value of leaderboards....someone you can call on who has seen a lot of that thing and might be in a position to help. At least, this is how I view my own position atop those a ready resource willing to share my knowledge.


Someone made a geo-guessing game (iNatGuesser for U.S. Reptiles & Amphibians) from its observations

A list of my iNaturalist lizard observations that still need ID. Feel free to help out.

My iNaturalist mavericks. I have a lot of these so feel free to have a look.

Identifications I've made at genus (or above) level. I revisit these periodically to see if I can refine ID's or to find certain taxa that I may still be trying to ID (e.g, Enyalioides, Enyalius).

A color heat map for the 2023 observations of Common Side-blotched Lizards (Uta stansburiana).

A color heat map for all lizard observations. You can change the species ID in the URL to tailor it to your own needs.

Things I have learned using iNaturalist

Community observations and identifications both play critical roles in documenting and confirming where and when lifeforms occur....the site needs both to operate effectively.

Observations are hypotheses as to the occurrence of an organism...hypotheses can be revised, updated, or overturned on the basis of the evidence presented.

Even observations of marginal quality have value if properly reviewers can often identify on rather scant evidence.

A vibrant community exists of enthusiasts all contributing to the ideal embodied by the phrase "community-science:...the community consists of professional biologists (many of whom are academics), para-professionals (front-line conservation workers, land managers, park rangers, etc.), and amateurs (those interested in natural history, but not employed in the field, including many retirees).

Generally speaking, the addition of academics to the process is of immense value in evaluating the mountain of unidentified organisms...yet academics are relatively rare on this site.

There are untapped research questions waiting to be discovered...for example, knowing when and where things are being observed means extirpations, extinctions, invasions, and range extensions might be observable in real time with the help of a vibrant community of observers.

The Computer Vision (CV) model using by iNaturalist is an effective cutting-edge tool for identifying unknown organisms given a pure enough photo pool on which to train the model...not every species is in the model, so evaluating unknown unknowns can be a real challenge for the typical identifier.

There are amazing natural history observations waiting to be discovered and appreciated by the wider world if open to the possibilities...examples include novel predator-prey interactions, unique or rare color morphs, and cryptic diversity hiding in plain sight.

There are an amazing number of people (young and old) interested in natural history who have already contributed an astounding amount of both observations and identifications on a nearly all-volunteer basis...many of these are eager to be involved in some meaningful project if given the proper guidance.

My photo library wasn't doing anyone any good merely sitting on my computer, and would likely pass when I do if I hadn't had my first epiphany regarding the importance of observations.

Decades of academic work on my study organisms has provided me not only with the ability to identify many observations at a glance, but also the ability to more easily figure out how to identify an unfamiliar organism.

Finally, using iNaturalist enabled me to become much better at distinguishing life forms as well as internalizing thing like areas of allopatry or sympatry and species' ranges...that is, by using iNaturalist I have become a noticeably better biologist (to myself if to no one else). It's always a great day when someone tags me in an observation of a species that I don't know yet and am able to actually help figure out its ID. Likewise, it's a great feeling to rescue an observation that inadvertently went down the wrong ID pathway and to get it into the proper bin. It might seem like the inconsequential sorting of buttons, but sometimes those buttons are obviously this species and not that species and finding those is a good feeling.

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