Public Domain

Project of the Week 20: iNaturalist

It's the end of April and the City Nature Challenge is starting, so what better time to make sure you're equipped with the friendly wildlife app iNaturalist?

What does this project do?
It's a phone and computer app that allows volunteers to upload photos of wildlife, and state the location and the species. This wildlife can be anything - plants, animals, insects, fungi, lichen, etc.

What do I have to do?
Open the App Store or Google Play Store, depending on your make of phone. Find iNaturalist; it'll be free and look like this:

It's free, so you can sign up - it'll ask you for a username and e-mail. (If you don't get an e-mail, check your Junk folder.) You'll need to allow it to have access to your camera.

When you find something you want to record, open iNaturalist and find the "Observe" button, which is at the bottom on iPhones and the side on Android phones. That will go straight to the camera. (Your picture will also automatically save in your Photos.) You then tap "Next" and will be asked what you think it is. The app uses artificial intelligence based on millions of observations already made to try and guess the species, but it is not always right! You can choose from its list of suggestions, or make your own guess, or leave it blank. If you are not sure at all, you can write a general species, such as "butterfly", "plants", "animals", etc (for some reason it does not like "tree"!).

You can also enter some more optional data, for example write any notes - a description of the shape and colour of the leaves of a plant, for example, or more about the place in which you saw it - and decide if you want to reveal where you found it. If you found it in your own garden, for example, although the app won't know or tell anyone it's your garden, you may still wish to hide the location to some extent. There will be a "geoprivacy" option, and you can leave it open so the address or latitude and longitude are revealed, or hidden, or obscured. You will also be asked if your find is "captive or cultivated". Such a creature would be a flower in a flowerbed or pot that was grown or transplanted by a human, or a pet, or a zoo animal. However, even a plant that is normally planted by a human might spread by itself to unintended areas, and thus be wild.

It is well worth having a play around with the interface. "Explore" will show you a map around your observation of what other people have been doing; "Activity" will be a list of your finds and other people's comments on them, and "Me" (and then tapping the cog icon) will find your account where you can make changes about your privacy, account name, etc.

Where can I find out more?
iNaturalist's website
Wikipedia page

What’s the Citizen Science Project of the Week?
Citizen Science Project of the Week is a regular Monday feature at Doing It Together Science. What project would you like to see featured? Please let us know on the contact form, Facebook page or email us at Please put "Project of the Week" in the subject line and send us a link to the project, some information about it and why you'd like it featured. If you want us to, we'll credit you and tag you on Facebook!

More details
iNaturalist creates a lot of open data and any project, database or individual can access it. If you're in the UK, for example, it is uploaded to the National Biodiversity Network. It cannot provide exact numbers of species, since it's largely untrained humans observing without scientific controls on timings or locations - though it certainly gets you thinking, "Why did I choose to photograph and upload this tree, but not this other tree next to it?" It is extremely educational, with every suggestion for your observation offering links to more information about the suggested species, and many iNaturalist volunteers being extremely willing to look at people's observations and identify them.

We're focusing on iNaturalist at present because of City Nature Challenge, which starts today and is written up in more detail here. We've been partnering with the Natural History Museum, as have several other organisations, to create an event involving three cities. After seeing a lot of grassroots activity for "Into the Night" last year and wanting to encourage more local activities like this, we'd like to thank several parks in London who agreed on quite short notice to - for example, Burgess Park is doing a bird count, Wimbledon Heritage Park are putting up posters, Hampstead Heath are tweeting encouragements and Oaks Park have put up an announcement on their website. (Have we missed out your park? Let us know.) Many more have expressed an interest in holding an event next year, when we have more experience running such an event and can give them a bit more notice. Thank you all!

Anyone using iNaturalist can create a project, perhaps to focus on finding more information about a specific species or location. We've created projects for City Nature Challenge. However, if you're taking part in this, while you can join the project, please do not try to add your observations to this project - strange as that may sound! Your observations will automatically be added to City Nature Challenge during 27th-30th April if you are in Greater London, Plymouth, or Bristol and Bath. Technology still being something that evolves (and frustrates) rather rapidly, several of us have just had a worrying morning of error messages, but we think we've fixed them now!

If you can, do please come along to Hyde Park this Sunday. Alice from DITOs will be at the helpdesk in case iNaturalist gives you or your phone any trouble, and Christian from UCL ExCiteS will be interviewing anyone who wishes to talk about their experience.