10 Great Science Hashtag Games You Can Play

October 23, 2017

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Photo credits (left to right): Kudu © Tim Boucher, Crow © Scott Copeland, Hornbill © Tim Boucher, Deer Skull © Mark Godfrey / The Nature Conservancy, Quartz © Charlie Ott, Tracks © Kent Mason, Cougar © Janet Haas, Dam © Mark Godfrey / The Nature Conservancy

As long as I can remember, I’ve loved learning about wildlife. I spent long car rides playing animal trivia games back when hand-held games had real cards in them. Now there’s something better.

Twitter houses a lively community of scientists and science communicators who have invented fun ways to engage with the science-curious public. David Shiffman, A Liber Ero Postdoctoral Research Fellow at Simon Fraser University studying shark conservation, wrote for American Scientist that even though hashtag games might be silly, they can be an important tool for public education. He cites David Steen, a research ecologist who became famous for #NotACopperhead. This hashtag educates people about which snakes to be more careful around and why it’s best not to kill a snake (even if it is a copperhead or a cottonmouth).

As a trivia fan, my favorites tend toward games that show a picture and ask the public to guess what it is before a final reveal. You can follow @SciCommGames or watch the calendar to keep up with the latest. Please let us know what we’re missing and share your favorite science hashtag games in the comments.

  1. Who Hosts the Game?

    Jason Ward, writer and educator for the Audubon Society


    Timing is variable, check the hashtag for tweets about the time of the next round.

    What Are the Rules?

    Ward shares photos of birds that are tough to ID – recent examples include a female cerulean warbler, an immature prairie warbler, raptors in flight from a distance, and a goliath heron native to Africa. Once a player correctly IDs the bird, Ward shares a congratulations message with the correct ID. Great photos and fun GIFs are part of the charm of this game.

  2. Who Hosts the Game?

    Matt Davis, a conservation scientist who studies elephants and other herbivores.


    Watch for the challenge on Friday and answer on Monday. 

    What Are the Rules?

    Ungulate is the general term for a hooved animal. Davis shares an image with a part of the ungulate, like the forehead of a markhor or the flank of a mouflon. He shows just enough that it’s difficult, but possible to guess correctly. Users can submit guesses from Friday through the reveal on Monday. It’s a good challenge and you can learn about some seriously cool ungulates – there are around 450 ungulate species in the world, so chances are that there are some you’ve never heard of.

  3. Who Hosts the Game?

    Stephanie Januchowski-Hartley, conservation scientist evaluating impacts of dams and other man-made structures on freshwater fish


    Join in on Tuesdays at 4 PM EST. 

    What Are the Rules?

    At the appointed time, Januchowski-Hartley tweets an aerial image of a river. Players have 25 minutes to tweet back the type and number of structures that are crossing the river. Once players have correctly identified the structures and made guesses as to their benefits and impacts, Januchowski-Hartley shares an image with all structures highlighted. She then explains impacts on fish and river health. You’ll come away with a much better sense of why there are so many man-made structures over rivers and why it matters for people and wildlife.

  4. Who Hosts the Game?

    Nadine Gabriel, an intern at the Grant Museum of Zoology with a master’s in geology


    Gabriel shares the image on Mondays at 9 AM EST and the answer at 4 PM EST.

     What Are the Rules?

    Simple – guess if the mineral in the image is quartz. The name comes from the chemical formula for quartz, SiO2, silicon dioxide. But the rules make it sound easier than it is, there are many forms of quartz and quartz doppelgängers. Gabriel shares the answer and then several facts about the mineral in the image, such as the chemical formula, the crystal structure, how it forms, and the variety of colors it appears in.

  5. Who Hosts the Game?

    Mark my Bird, a team of bird evolution researchers based at the University of Sheffield


    Scans of beaks are posted at 7 AM EST on Wednesdays.

    What Are the Rules?

    Mark My Bird shares a 3D rotating scan of a beak as a GIF. Players respond with the type of bird they think the beak is from. Adding to the challenge, there is no size indicator with the beak. Once someone gets it right, Mark My Bird responds with the name of the winner and a photograph of the bird. Beyond the game, you can help Mark My Bird learn more about bird evolution by “landmarking” scans of bird beaks online.

  6. Who Hosts the Game?

    Lisa Buckley, paleontologist at Peace Region Paleontology Research Centre 


    New photos are usually posted Tuesday mornings with a reveal in the afternoon, but times vary.

    What Are the Rules?

    Buckley posts a photo of a track or trace from any creature, any time period – she has recently posted a modern mouse nest and the fossilized tracks of an Early Cretaceous bird. Players have five hours to guess what made the tracks or left the sign (and sometimes additional questions like where in the picture are the tracks, how many toes do they have, and so forth). When the time is up Buckley reveals the answers along with additional details about the tracks, the creature that made them, and ichnology (the study of traces that help scientists decode the behavior of organisms).

  7. Who Hosts the Game?

    Michelle LaRue, an ecologist who uses technology to study wildlife like cougars 


    Join starting on Fridays at 12:30 PM EST. Answers are revealed at 2:30 PM EST.

    What Are the Rules?

    This game is not what I expected when I first saw the hashtag — it’s a million times better. LaRue shares a camera trap image and players respond with whether it is a cougar or not. Cougars are most active at night so the camera trap pics are often difficult to make out and sometimes only contain part of the cougar. You’ll be surprised how much a bobcat or even a housecat can look like a cougar! When she reveals the answer, LaRue explains the traits that help identify the animal.

  8. Who Hosts the Game?

    Simona F.B., archaeologist researching the apotropaic (turning away evil) and magical uses of animals


    You guessed it, Sundays (at 3 PM EST). The answer is revealed on Monday at 3 PM EST. 

    What Are the Rules?

    The first tweet will include multiple images of the skull from different angles and a hint about the type of animal (e.g. mammal or mustelid) or continent that the skull comes from to help get you started. Players respond with guesses until the species is revealed on the following day. It’s the perfect science game to try out this Halloweeen.

  9. Who Hosts the Game?

    Kaeli Swift, a PhD student studying crow death behaviors 


    Watch on Wednesdays at 2:30 PM EST with answers revealed at 8:30 PM EST. 

    What Are the Rules?

    If you thought the other games were too easy, you’re ready to step it up a notch with #CrowOrNo. Telling the difference between corvids and similar bird species takes a real eye for detail. Swift shares an image and players respond with what species they think it is and why. In the reveal, she shares the details (like rictal bristles and eye color) that confirm the identification of the bird.

  10. Who Hosts the Game?

    Created by Katie Hinde and now hosted on March Mammal Madness 


    March Mammal Madness coincides with NCAA March Madness. 

    What Are the Rules?

    I know it’s early to think about March Mammal Madness, but I’m already excited to see the 2018 lineup. Like a sports tournament, March Mammal Madness has a bracket and matches. There is no audience participation, but scientists share the play by play of imagined epic battles between the selected mammals. In 2017, short-faced bear became the champion after defeating honey badger in a shocking upset. Though these battles may never be possible in real life, they are educational with scientists basing the moves on the traits and behaviors of the creatures.

  11. Who Hosts the Game?

    It’s not exactly a game and it doesn’t have a host, but if you are passionate about birds or fish or both, you should check out #birdsvsfish. Some notable participants for team fish are Solomon David and Luiz Rocha and for team bird Patrick Doran and Jordan Rutter, but many more have joined the debate.


    Any time, any place, anyone on #TeamBird or #TeamFish might try to start something – usually by sharing a GIF of a bird eating a fish or vice versa. 

    What Are the Rules?

    Whether you are a scientist or a fan, you can join in with celebration of your favorite team and the prowess or beauty of our finned and feathered friends. Bring your sense of humor and your favorite puns.

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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What's Your Favorite?

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  1. Hi Lisa! (I’m fellow Badger PhD alum too, in Wildlife Ecology!) I just started a game last week called #namethatbirdsong

    It starts at noon central on Weds, where I post a bird song, and I ask tweeters to submit their own mnemonics that they’ve made up for the song (#altmnemonic). They can submit until 11:59 PM and/or can vote on other submissions with “likes.” By 10:30 AM the next morning, I’ll pick 4 finalists for a poll that’s open until 3:30 PM Thurs. Then the winner is announced! The hope is that it gets people thinking creatively about how to remember bird song and thereby increases auditory learning.

    1. Thanks Jessica! I’m looking forward to playing – I could definitely use help remembering bird songs.