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The endangered scorpion species Paruroctonus tulare that Galen Freed-Wilhelm, a Sugarloaf volunteer, spotted at Kern National Wildlife Refuge. His observation of the species was uploaded onto iNaturalist and used by scientists to understand the scorpion’s habitat range.

Sugarloaf Ridge State Park has long been more than just a park. Managed by Sonoma Ecology Center, Sugarloaf is a community gathering space where nature enthusiasts, researchers, and citizen scientists can come together and learn about and contribute to our understanding of the natural world. Galen Freed-Wilhelm, a Sugarloaf volunteer and an avid participant of citizen science, made an observation of a new scorpion species on iNaturalist that was featured in a peer-reviewed, scientific journal called ZooKeys.

While visiting Kern National Wildlife Refuge, high school senior Galen used his experience participating in citizen science and understanding of local species to spot and post an observation of an endangered scorpion species, called the Paruroctonus tulare on the crowdsourced biodiversity mapping platform iNaturalist. This observation was then used by scientists to determine the habitat range of this species. Galen’s observations of the species were the only ones in the area.

One of the most important factors in conserving and conducting scientific research of the natural world is the identification of where different species live. By knowing which creatures call certain places home, scientists and local residents are better able to study and advocate for their protection.

Left: A Graemeloweus iviei. Right: A Western Forest Scorpion (Uroctonus mordax). Both were found at Sugarloaf Ridge State Park and these pictures were uploaded by Galen onto the iNaturalist platform for public viewing and scientific studies. Photos courtesy of Galen Freed-Wilhelm.

“I’ve been going to Sugarloaf since I was about three years-old because my Mom has been a docent at the Robert Ferguson Observatory. I got to know several naturalists involved with Sugarloaf and the Sonoma Ecology Center and was invited to participate in species collection and identification efforts. While the particular species featured in the article does not live at Sugarloaf, I have observed three different scorpion species at Sugarloaf: the Western Forest Scorpion (Uroctonus mordax), Sawfinger Scorpion (Serradigitus gertschi) and Graemeloweus iviei. On iNaturalist, I am the top snake observer in Sonoma County, with 109 snake observations,” Galen shares how his experience at Sugarloaf encouraged his participation in citizen science.

At Sugarloaf Ridge State Park, we host a variety of events that aim to promote participation in citizen science, the collection and analysis of nature’s data by the public. Citizen science allows ordinary people to engage with the natural world and contribute to the broader knowledge of different creatures that inhabit our part of the globe.

Anyone who comes to Sugarloaf can participate in citizen science by taking pictures of different species and posting it on the iNaturalist platform. If you would like to join other nature enthusiasts in bolstering our understanding of the creatures that call Sugarloaf and the broader community home, consider joining one of our many City Nature Challenge Events this year, taking place April 26-29, 2024.