Citizen Science and You!

Seth Patterson

Embrace your inner scientist and get out in your yard! Document the curious critters and plants you see and share them with others via the iNaturalist app.

Regardless of what walk of life we’ve chosen for ourselves, there has always been a time or two when we’ve paused to ponder a curious plant or animal. But most of the time we continue on our way, letting the moment slip from our mind. Surprisingly though, the power to “know” is quite literally at our finger tips.

Between impressive new algorithms and robust communities of citizen scientists (not to mention professional scientists), there’s a very good chance of finding out exactly what you’re looking at by simply snapping a photo. And with the iNaturalist app, our smart phones make it even easier.

Within the app, simply point your phone camera at a plant or animal and it instantaneously begins analyzing and identifying whatever is in the frame. Using complex photo recognition and a database of millions of other observations, the app does a remarkable job of narrowing down as close to a species as it possibly can. If for some reason its automatic identification cannot settle on one in particular, you can share your photo with iNaturalist’s army of users to help identify it.

But more than identifying what plant or animal is residing in your yard, using platforms like iNaturalist allow you to contribute to the scientific community as a citizen scientist! Every observation you make to iNaturalist — or eBird, ProjectNoah, Frog Watch USA, Monarch Watch, Audubon’s Christmas Bird Count, etc. — is available to and utilized by scientists and policy makers.

Your observations become data points for species and when combined with thousands of others this data helps the scientific community identify trends and distribution information, and can further our understanding and conservation efforts for that species.

So embrace your inner citizen scientist and get out there where the wild things are — just remember to be safe about it and follow the City of San Antonio’s Stay Home/Work Safe order by maintaining a 6-foot distance from others. Document what you encounter in your yard, neighborhood or wherever you roam. Worldwide, iNaturalist has nearly one million users and more than 32 million plant and animal observations. And Texas alone has over 2.5 million observations, with Bexar County boasting nearly 90,000 itself including 4,000 unique species to our county!

Also, if you’re keen on seeing San Antonio shine, consider participating in the 2020 City Nature Challenge! From April 24 through April 27, iNaturalist users from the world over will collaborate to observe as many different plants and animals as they can within their cities.

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