Citizen Science

iNaturalist: What’s in Your Neighborhood?

January 27, 2015

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Shiras Moose (Alces alces shirasi) in Grand Teton National Park. Photo © Al_HikesAZ/Flickr through a Creative Commons license.

Citizen Science Tuesday connects you with opportunities to be a part of conservation science with outdoor projects around the world and online projects to try from the comfort of your own home.

What Is iNaturalist?

Scientists have cataloged around 1.6 million species on Earth, from Dendrobaena octaedra (an earthworm) to Haliaeetus leucocephalus (Bald Eagle) to Crotalus adamanteus (Eastern Diamondback Rattlesnake) to Ailurus fulgens (Red Panda).

But, there are an unknown number yet to discover.

“Our knowledge of what organisms exist and when and where they occur is woefully limited, and it’s hard to conserve things if you don’t know what they are, where they are, and when they’re there!” says Ken-ichi Ueda, naturalist, web developer and founder of iNaturalist.

But now, there’s iNaturalist and anyone with a little curiosity and an internet connection can help scientists answer the whats, wheres and whens. The program recruits legions of citizen scientists and naturalists to record observations of all kinds of species (plants, animals and any living things you can capture with a camera) and their locations, all over the world.

Are you going for a walk in your local park? Did you notice a strange bug in your back yard?

Snap some photos of the plants and animals you see as you go about your day and submit them to iNaturalist.

“Scientists like our colleagues at the California Academy of Sciences,” explains Ueda “are constantly working to address these gaps, but there aren’t enough professional scientists in the world to give us the breadth of data collection we need to get a comprehensive view of Earth’s biodiversity.”

Why Is iNaturalist Important?

In today’s frequently rushed, increasingly urban societies, people sometimes lose track of their connection to nature.

iNaturalist is working to reverse that trend by reminding people to pause and look closely at the natural world and to share those moments.

“Every single iNat observation represents a moment when someone spent just a little more of their time considering the natural world than they would have otherwise, and as a result they have a record of that experience they can share and discuss with the world,” says Ueda.

Lichen on a Branch (Parmotrema chinense). Photo © Colin Brown/Flickr.
Lichen on a Branch (Parmotrema chinense). Photo © Colin Brown/Flickr through a Creative Commons license.

Maybe you’re not the only one who admires the many varieties of lichens? Do you visit a natural area to see birds, but wonder about all of the amphibians around you?

Whatever your naturalist passion or your curiosity, chances are that iNaturalist can connect you with others who share your fascination. Once you put up an observation, other iNaturalist members can comment on it or suggest an identification.

For instance, a member interested in lichens could search within Observations just for Beard Lichens and comment on posts by other lichen aficionados. Fans of a specific place, like Cumberland Marsh, could find one another by searching under Place.

“I’m slowly teaching myself to recognize land snails, largely because I know there are other people on iNat who are into them (yes, land snails!),” says Ueda. “Same goes for lichens. I’ve learned that there there’s always someone somewhere who shares your interest in some strange aspect of life.”

iNaturalist is not a science project (though it can provide data for one) or a mapping tool (though it displays recent observations on maps).

It is an invitation to take note of the natural world, to enjoy nature, interact with it and be in awe of it.

How Can You Get Involved In iNaturalist? 

iNaturalist got it’s start in 2008 and it has grown into a flourishing, ever expanding community of naturalists.

To join them, create an account on iNaturalist or sign in with one of the myriad social media options.

Then get outside and take some pictures, record some sounds, or simply write down what you see and where you see it.

A bronze shoulderband snail (Helminthoglypta arrosa). Photo © Ken-ichi Ueda.
A bronze shoulderband snail (Helminthoglypta arrosa). Photo © Ken-ichi Ueda.

Have a picture, but don’t know what it is? Submit it to iNaturalist and ask the community for help identifying it. Multiple people can submit identifications to build a community consensus.

If you’re using your phone, it’s helpful, but not required, to have the geotagging enabled.

You can share this data most easily through the free iPhone and Android apps, but if you’re semi-old-school, record your observations on the web.

“We can’t conserve everything in a constantly changing world, but I think it’s vital that we maintain our ability to observe, appreciate, and ultimately love the world we were born into,” Ueda remarks.

If you don’t have any observations yet, see what other people are finding; curiosity will inspire you to get outside!


Is there a citizen science project that you think deserves more attention? Contact Lisa Feldkamp, lfeldkamp[at]tnc.org or leave a comment below with a link to make a recommendation for Citizen Science Tuesday.

Lisa Feldkamp

Lisa loves all things citizen science and enjoys learning about everything that goes on four legs, two wings or fins - she even finds six and eight-legged critters fascinating at a safe distance. She has a PhD in Classical Literature and Languages from the University of Wisconsin - Madison and enjoys reading Greek and Roman literature or talking about mythology in her spare time. More from Lisa

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2 comments

  1. During camping I found a whole place full of millipedes that have yellow spots. It has many names but one of its names is the Almond scented millipede. There near triangle Lake.