Identifier Profile: @michelledelaloye

This is the fifth entry in an ongoing monthly series of blog posts highlighting the amazing identifiers of iNaturalist.

Born in the Neuquén Province of Argentina, Michelle Delaloye tells me “I have been interested in nature since I can remember.”

My parents can tell you how I used to go out to look for frogs in the stream, or how I collected bugs in jars. There is something about nature and its inhabitants that has always fascinated me, which is why I dedicated myself to learn about them. Fortunately, my parents always encouraged me, buying encyclopedias, taking me camping, or tolerating the jars with small animals that I had at home to observe them closely and then release them.

During my teenage years, thanks to a book very dear to me (El Gran Libro de la Naturaleza Argentina), I became fascinated with the landscapes and species of my country. Before that, documentaries and encyclopedias only told about species from other countries and continents, and I hadn't been able to learn much about native nature till that time.

After deciding to study biology, Michelle moved to La Plata, Buenos Aires, as there weren’t opportunities in her home region. She’s wrapping up her undergraduate degree in the Licenciatura en Biología con orientación en Zoología program at Universidad Nacional de La Plata (see her academic page here) and her current interest is “mostly Argentine butterflies; their distribution, diversity, habits, ecology, conservation and biology.” She’s currently the top identifier of butterflies in both Argentina and the continent of South America overall.

Butterflies, though, are a bit of recent interest for Michelle. In 2012 she started birding (see her eBird profile here) and tells me her classmates assumed she was going to study birds. Yet her partner (whom she met through a birding club) gave her the Mariposas de la Ciudad de Buenos Aires y alrededores field guide as a present. “I feel that it was there that my particular interest in that group of arthropods arose,” she says. 

Sometimes during birdwatching trips when someone asks me why I like butterflies, I always comment that they would be the equivalent of birds, but in insects. Not only do they have a diversity of colors and shapes, but they can also have territorial behavior, courtship, migration and other interesting behaviors. They are intimately related to the environment through their nutritional plants, and of course, have metamorphosis, one of the most fascinating processes in the natural world. It should also be mentioned that except for some naturalists such as Núñez Bustos, the study of butterflies has been very underdeveloped in the country for several decades, something that I consider raises my interest in the group, despite the difficulties involved in learning about them with the limited bibliography available.

After seeing a Facebook post for the 2018 City Nature Challenge (La Plata and Buenos Aires were the only Argentinian cities participating that year), Michelle signed up for an iNaturalist account. 

Although I uploaded very few photos to iNat for the CNC that year, I ended up staying for the infinite possibilities it allows. Among them the most interesting thing is to be able to create a database of local biodiversity at different scales, almost like a constantly updated online encyclopedia containing species, their common names, distribution, flowering times, life stages, etc. An absolute wonder.

Now, most of her iNaturalist activity consists of making identifications for other users. “Although I know about plants, birds, and other insects in addition to butterflies,” she explains, “the usual thing I concentrate on is butterflies, which is where I can contribute the most since there are not many users yet who are dedicated to identifying Argentine species.” She tries to add IDs daily (except during exam times) and often starts through her Mariposas y Polillas de Argentina project but will also search for butterflies in other parts of the continent as well as review and correct (if necessary) Research Grade observations. “As I expand my expertise,” she says, “I also expand the map of southern South America a bit more to review.” Sometimes she’ll let observations of difficult genera or tribes accumulate, then she’ll pore over specific literature as she goes through them, and she’s also created notebooks to help her with making identifications (below).

“There is something enjoyable about helping other people name what they observed,” Michelle says, when asked why she identifies observations on iNat.

Even more so when I see, over time, that they learn to recognize many of these species, and begin to add their own identifications. I consider it almost a duty to transmit the knowledge that one possesses to other people, it is something that I always embrace in the birdwatching outings - and as a would-be biologist - and anyone who wants me to explain how I came to the identification, I will always comment on it…

On the other hand, I also learn by identifying the observations of other people: there are entire groups of species that I do not know in person yet, or that are in places that I have not visited yet, and thanks to the observations that other users upload, I can practice recognizing them. In truth we learn both, the observer and the identifier. Finally, thanks to the observations that users upload (and that I and other users identify), not only do I learn more about Argentine species, their distribution, life stages and host plants, but we all learn, and contribute to our knowledge of the country's biodiversity.

(Photo of Michelle taken by Natalie Dudinszky)

- Michelle will be part of a panel discussing insect observations this Wednesday, October 6th, at 6 pm Buenos Aires time. This a series of videos being created by ArgentiNat in the run up to the Great Southern Bioblitz. Check out their blog post for more information and links to recordings of past tutorials.

- When asked what her favorite butterfly taxa are, Michelle replied “It's hard to pick, but I do find interesting the myrmecophilous species, such as Aricoris arenarum, fed and tended by Camponotus ants. Morpho epistrophus is the southernmost Morpho species, reaching as far south as General Madariaga Partido, in Buenos Aires Province, away from any tropical forest (as one would typically expect for a Morpho). Itylos titicaca is one of the smallest butterfly species, with only 10-16 mm of wingspan; it flies in the High Andes, between 3000-4500 m. I find stunning the silver color of Argyrophorus argenteus and the golden one of Argopteron aureipennis. I like Ancyloxypha nitedula, Doxocopa laurentia, Cissia phronius, Heliopetes americanus, Panca subpunctuli and the Butleria and Dardarina species. It's really hard to choose!”

- In addition to her notebooks, Michelle uses both websites and printed guides, as well as a collection of PDFs, checklists, photos, and such. She also uses Butterflies of America’s lists, which she notes are sometimes out of date but are still very useful.

- ArgentiNat is the Argentina node of the iNaturalist network, and it’s managed by Fundacion Vida Silvestre Argentina. You can read more about it here.

Posted on October 04, 2021 08:17 PM by tiwane tiwane


Que barbaro Michelle!

Posted by egordon88 over 1 year ago (Flag)

Great work, Michelle!

Posted by susanhewitt over 1 year ago (Flag)

What a great example. I copied in my notebook your words: ' I consider almost a duty to transmit knowledge that one possesses to other people". Congratulations!!

Posted by paularomano over 1 year ago (Flag)

Congratulations to Michelle, one of our most beloved curators and volunteers, for this nice recognition. Thanks to @tiwane and the iNaturalist team for this!

Even when we talk on an almost daily basis, I didn't know about the influence of the book (El Gran Libro de la Naturaleza Argentina), and I am surprised by its mention: it was published by Fundación Vida Silvestre back in the early 90s, when a book was one of the few available things to do to connect people with nature. What we are doing today with ArgentiNat is the spiritual successor to that work and we're proud of having Michelle on board!

Posted by carancho over 1 year ago (Flag)

So impressive! Thank you Michelle for sharing. I loved learning about your background and the little things that led to big things!

Posted by muir over 1 year ago (Flag)

Congratulation on your accomplishments and being iNat's Top Identifer of South American Butterflies!! Like you I collected frogs and insects, but around the Hurricane swollen streams in North Carolina, USA when I was a boy. As our family moved frequently around the world, I unfortunately lost my passion of collecting fauna, until I joined INaturalist a couple of years ago. I was fortunate to visit your country, as my wife, a Spanish teacher, was giving a talk at a literary conference in Buenas Aires, which is a great cultural center.

Best Regards,
Ramon Evans

Posted by bugornot over 1 year ago (Flag)

Thanks Michelle! I had a satyr from the Bariloche posted on iNat that languished for quite a while, with myself and a few other folks offering competing taxonomic ideas ... until Michelle finally swooped in set us all straight!!

Posted by twillrichardson over 1 year ago (Flag)

Muy bien, Michelle. As a child of Argentine immigrants to the USA, I used to read about nature in Argentina through the magazine Billiken and also through special supplements and books published by El Clarin newspaper. I’m glad that your parents encouraged your interest in nature!

Posted by adirado over 1 year ago (Flag)

Enorme el trabajó y que gran historia!
Que sean largos años de éxitos y felicidad en la naturaleza!!!

Posted by aztekium over 1 year ago (Flag)

Amazing observations,great work

Posted by karthikeyaeco over 1 year ago (Flag)

Thank you for all the hard work. Many may not realize the passion and persistence it takes.

Posted by williamwisephoto over 1 year ago (Flag)

Spectacular!! Thanks for all of your dedication, Michelle. :)

Also, what a treat to scroll through those books that shaped your interest:
I really enjoy seeing the books that molded us as naturalists, especially from a young age.

Posted by sambiology over 1 year ago (Flag)

Congratulazioni Michelle !!

Posted by mirko_tomasi over 1 year ago (Flag)

Felicitaciones Michelle, y mi mayor agradecimiento: sos la principal identificadora de mi colección fotográfica de mariposas!

Posted by hhulsberg over 1 year ago (Flag)

Michelle, your work has been a big help to me, and thank-you. I am glad that inaturalist noticed what a hard-working expert you are. Muito obrigado, Michelle!

Posted by stephen_wv over 1 year ago (Flag)

This is so wonderful, Michelle!!

Posted by robinellison over 1 year ago (Flag)

Felicitaciones Michelle ! Gran colaboradora para la región, desde Uruguay también nos beneficiamos con tus aportes <3

Posted by flo_grattarola over 1 year ago (Flag)

Congratulations Michelle!! You have made a substantial contribution to knowledge of your country's fauna and you are so young! I can only imagine what else you will do with your life ahead. The Great Southern Bioblitz sounds FUN!! I have never been but would love to travel to S America someday, and when I do I will definitely be planning to see some wonderful natural areas of Argentina. I look forward to putting some dots on the map there in iNaturalist! Prior to traveling there, I will try to see if there are any particular projects going on at that time which I can possibly contribute information (observations), and I will definitely check some of the links mentioned above. Best regards-

Posted by jugbayjs over 1 year ago (Flag)


Posted by amin_ghaffari over 1 year ago (Flag)


Posted by pinitha_dissanayaka over 1 year ago (Flag)

Congratulations Michelle!!

Posted by mzamoner over 1 year ago (Flag)

Thank you all for your kind words!
I'm really happy to be part of this community, I have always loved learning new things about the natural world, and iNaturalist is just the perfect place for endless learning :) It's awesome to see how the platform grows, especially in Argentina, where observers from different corners of the country are joining (thanks a lot to Fundación Vida Silvestre and ArgentiNat's team for this!). I hope to continue contributing to the knowledge of biodiversity for many more years.
Fun fact: I didn't know I was the iNat's Top Identifier of South American Butterflies till this post! Certainly, time flies when one identifies :)

Posted by michelledelaloye over 1 year ago (Flag)

Congratulations Michelle! You are a great role model for the rest of us!!

Posted by cammie over 1 year ago (Flag)

Felicitaciones Michelle por el reconocimiento y gracias por las identificaciones!

Posted by trekman over 1 year ago (Flag)

Hermosa nota amiga... mis Felicitaciones y mi agradecimiento de siempre!

Posted by r-a-p over 1 year ago (Flag)

Nice work, Michelle! You will be a GREAT lepidopterologist influencer ahre<3

Posted by nazarena_ over 1 year ago (Flag)

Excelente !! Es genial compartir lo que sabemos, y esta plataforma nos abre nuevos horizontes! Felicitaciones!

Posted by marreginas over 1 year ago (Flag)

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