Written by WRD biologist Anna Yellin

What are the weeds growing in my garden?  What is that interesting mushroom in the woods? These are some of the questions that can be quickly answered by using the very popular mobile phone app: iNaturalist.


Lily Shulimson iNaturalist

Lily Shulimson using the iNaturalist app to identify a tree species.

While social distancing efforts are in place, iNaturalist can act as your personal scientific guide, Botanist (plants), Ornithologist (birds), Herpetologist (reptiles and amphibians), and even your Entomologist (insects). This helpful app can assist you in identifying an unknown critter in seconds and keep a record of creatures you observe on your travels or in your own backyard.  It also simultaneously adds your observations to a database to help the larger community of hikers, students, teachers, and gardeners also curious about wildlife as they explore the outdoors.


How does iNaturalist work?

After downloading the iNaturalist app to your phone or signing up from your computer, you’re ready to get started.  Take a photo with your phone or upload an image to your computer.  With one click, you can query a database containing millions of pictures of different species.  iNaturalist uses artificial intelligence to suggest some possible species matches.  In the future, an expert in that particular taxonomic group will probably look at your photo and agree or suggest another species be considered.


Who uses iNaturalist?


Jarrod Shulimson using iNaturalist

Jarrod Shulimson using the iNaturalist app to identify a plant species.

Anyone with a curiosity about the natural environment and an internet connection or cell phone! Since sheltering-in-place began, my children have become regular users of the app. It’s a fun way for the younger generation to use their favorite tool (phone) to explore the diversity of nature.  For me, I no longer need to carry multiple ID guides in my backpack to feel like I’m prepared for questions on hikes.  For those gardeners out there, it is a good way to learn which insects may eat your plants and which are beneficial to keep a natural balance.  Teachers are also increasingly using iNaturalist to engage students in science outside of the classroom.


Do the observations contribute to science?

Yes! Observations have great value to ‘community science.’  Georgia DNR’s Wildlife Conservation Section (WCS) uses iNaturalist observations to search for more potential records of tracked species and to pinpoint the best time to conduct future wildlife surveys.


How is this Community Science?

The data is helpful to many organizations.  For example, Sandy Creek Nature Center in Athens, GA has held Bioblitz events using the iNaturalist app to record volunteer sightings.  Another example is the ‘City Nature Challenge’ that ‘celebrates nature in and around urban areas’ and has almost 800,000 observations! All of these observations are available for anyone to view.


Interested in learning more about iNaturalist? Here are some great resources.