What’s that bug? What’s the name of this flower? What kind of bird just flew by? How many times have you asked these questions while out hiking or walking?
You can get all your answers about nature identification when you download and use the free iNaturalist app, a community science project and social network of naturalists, citizen scientists and biologists from around the world.
It’s simple and easy to do – and your observations will help provide valuable field data that scientists might not get on their own which will help them better understand and protect our natural world. Who knows? Your discovery could be a rare sighting or the first of its kind. Think of the glory and fame.
Launched in 2008, iNaturalist is one of the world’s most popular nature apps; more than 750,000 scientists and naturalists have uploaded observations – either directly in the field via smart phones or from another device at a later date. It’s a joint initiative by the California Academy of Sciences and the National Geographic Society.
The iNaturalist platform is easy to navigate. Users create an account to begin uploading images that are tagged with location and date. Community experts examine the photos and confirm or correct a species designation; when three experts agree, the image is deemed “research grade” and it’s uploaded to the Global Biodiversity Information Facility (GBIF) used by scientists around the world.
Most participants contribute information to an existing project, although it is possible to create your own. In the Los Angeles area, you may want to consider uploading your findings to these projects: RASCals (Reptiles and Amphibians of Southern California), Biodiversity of Griffith Park, and Wildlife of Santa Monica Mountains. There are also specific species projects (flying squirrels, fungi, stinkbugs, mule deer, etc.). Even with the convenience of the iNaturalist app, most observations are uploaded via the website; hard-core photographers rely on the quality of a SLR camera lens not a smart phone for details.
But iNaturalist is not limited to photos; users can upload sound (although limited capacity) which can help identifying frogs, birds and other vocal critters.
Recently, by integrating Image Recognition software into the iNaturalist experience, a likely species identification is suggested! If you are prepping to explore a new area, you can search beforehand to see what kinds of flora and fauna have been documented.
Download the iNaturalist app or visit www.iNaturalist.org and get started!