Tired of being inside all day? Looking for a way to keep the kids entertained without the TV? It’s time to take a break and get outside. Immersing in nature has many health benefits including reducing stress, anxiety, and blood pressure. And a breath of fresh air always feels good!
So step outside and look around. What do you see? Bees buzzing your lantana, and an anole sunbathing on the brick siding? What about that flowering vine you don’t recognize or the frog you found in the garden? Let me introduce you to the wonderful world of iNaturalist.
What is it?
iNaturalist, a FREE app that can be downloaded on your phone (iPhone and Android), tablet or computer, allows users to identify what they’re seeing and share their observations with others. iNaturalist is also a citizen science tool, with the collected data supporting research projects and conservation initiatives. Citizen science is when curious or concerned people collaborate by contributing the data they have collected to increase scientific knowledge. Those contributions have totaled nearly 33 million observations, and identified 250,000 species thanks to the 1.1 million people collecting data.
If you have kids at home under the age of 13, note that iNaturalist does not allow for accounts to be created for those younger ages. Check out Seek, a companion to iNaturalist that works in a similar way, but does not require an account. Drawing on images and information from iNaturalist, Seek encourages taking and sharing pictures to earn badges as a way to track your observations.
I downloaded it, now what?
Keep track and record your observations and encounters. You can upload photos, sound, tracks, nests and more. Not sure what you are looking at? Post that photo and a detailed description and the iNaturalist community will help you identify what you’ve found. iNaturalist has many video tutorials here, to help learn the functions of the app.
What else can I do in iNaturalist?
Build your knowledge and discover something new. You can look at observations made by others in your area, gaining a better understanding of the web of life that surrounds us. Challenge yourself, family and friends to see who can post the most pictures or who can identify the most observations. Once you’re comfortable identifying multiple species, have a friendly competition to find the most interesting animal or plant, or see who can identify the most birds by their call only.
However you decide to use iNaturalist, you’ll probably learn something new, develop your wildlife identification skills, and certainly spend more time outdoors. And you’ll likely find yourself inspired to make a difference. If you didn’t observe any bluebirds nearby consider building a bluebird house. If its March or April and you haven’t recorded many monarchs, plant native milkweed. By learning about the wildlife around your home, you can take educated actions to encourage more visits by providing the food and shelter that they need.