iNaturalist

If you saw our What’s in your garden? post, you may have downloaded some of the apps that you can use to identify plants. What about animals? Well iNaturalist is a really good solution for both plants and animals and it’s fun and intuitive to use. It’s a joint initiative by the California Academy of Sciences and the National Geographic Society. It’s completely free, and it’s supported by the scientific community. I signed up and found lots of well known zoologists and botanists using it and suggesting identifications. Like many apps, it uses recognition software to make a preliminary identification based on your photo. It recommends you 10 choices, and you can look those up and choose one. But once you share your photo and identification, others can see what you shared and make suggestions to you. So even if you make the wrong choice at first, someone will come along and improve the identification for you. Better still, it saves all the records that you make, so you can make an inventory of your garden, or favourite exercise walks (within 2 km of your house of course!). I tested it mostly on flowers (because they are easier to take photos of!) and identified lots of wild flowers on the NUI Galway campus, but I had a few photos of garden birds (check out how to make your own plastic bottle bird feeder here to attract them), and a couple of blurry ones of insects.

The birds were the most remarkable. There is clearly a large birder community out there. Within 5 minutes of uploading pictures, I had multiple confirmations of my identifications, which elevates my observations from ‘casual’ grade to ‘researcher’ grade, meaning that my observations might be used by the scientific community.

More interestingly, iNaturalist was able to identify my really blurry photo of a peacock butterfly (I couldn’t get close and it wouldn’t stay still!). Of course, the peacock is an easily recognisable species, but it suggests that the app can cope with my rather amateur photography which is great news! So check out the iNaturalist website, which has downloads for both the App Store and Googles Play, and see how many species you can record in your yard or garden. If you record a location with your photo, it automatically becomes part of the “Wildlife of Ireland” project.

Published by Louise Allcock

Professor of Zoology at NUI Galway

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