Pete Zani

הצטרפ.ה ב:ינו' 17, 2021 פעילות אחרונה: דצמ' 7, 2023 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 and sometime in 2023 finished identifying all 40,000 or so Uta stansburiana. I have kept up to date on that species as a means of furthering my understanding of seasonal activity in this and other lizards.

Once I identified all the Side-blotched Lizards I moved on to some of my favorite species (e.g., Leopard Lizards...yes, believe it or not Uta is not my favorite lizard), some of which I'm still working on reviewing (Urosaurus is taking forever). And while it didn't start this way, the goal now is to aid the community by identifying all of as many species as I can manage looking for masqueraders (my term for a subject hiding out under an alias). I think this will better train the Computer Vision used by iNaturalist and already I've noticed an improvement in the suggestions for some species. [note: if you don't already use the Chrome extension for iNaturalist, I highly recommend it].

I find myself expanding my identifying from the deserts of western North America and going back to the Neotropics, where I spent many engaging days and nights developing the IDing skills I try to share now. I am nearly done with IDing the lizards of the Amazon and as a result of that project I am more and more appreciative of the photos people upload to this site as well as the amazing diversity of adaptive capacity of life on Earth.


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 hindrance. My preferred method is a 1.0-m long hollow carbon-fiber poles, with a very large paper clip (bigger the better) straightened out to fit into the hollow pole, and a string snare (4-0 surgical silk thread has the best action and durability). 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). One way to learn the nature of patience is to learn to be very good at catching lizards.

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 (November 28, 2023)

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 (location is HUGH, clear scalation, body outline, color/pattern/behavior). 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 some, I only know of one or two ways to distinguish genera (e.g., Amazonian Mabuyinae skinks). My preferred is to have at least three and then use the preponderance of evidence to make my call.


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.

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 unintentionally 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).

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