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A Little Tech for Your Hike

By Rich Niccum, Education Services Manager

An app for your hike

With the recent 50th anniversary of Neil Armstrong’s first steps on the moon, I got to thinking about all the technological advances that have come out of the space program. Everything from scratch-resistant eye-glass lenses to dust busters to cell phones.  I love tech and I love nature, so I am always looking for ways to combine the two.  This month I want to share a piece of technology that can assist you in exploring the natural world, whether it be in your favorite park or right in your own backyard.

How many times have you been outdoors, and you come across a plant, insect, frog, or snake and you have no idea what it is, but you wish you did? It has happened to all of us. Unless you are a nature nerd you aren’t typically bringing along your library of identification guides to look something up. But don’t fret there is a handy tool for your identification woes. It’s a mobile application called iNaturalist!

iNaturalist is a joint program of the California Academy of Sciences and the National Geographic Society and has quickly become one of the most popular mobile nature apps among scientists, naturalists, and lay people alike. With iNaturalist anyone can connect to a growing community of 750,000 users who can help you learn more our natural world. In addition to a community helping each other identify everything from butterflies to plants users are also adding to a database of observations that is helping scientists better understand and protect nature.

Nature at your fingertips

You can download iNaturalist from either the Apple AppStore or GooglePlay. Once downloaded, in order to use the app you will need to create an account. After doing this you are ready to upload and share your observations with the iNaturalist community. iNaturalist can be used to just identify a plant or animal you observe, or it can also upload your observations to the database. To use the app click the “observe” icon and snap a photo on the spot.

The app will then walk you through figuring what it thinks the plant or animal might be. It usually comes back with several options to help you narrow your identification down. There is also an option to add photos that you have previously taken with your phone’s camera. If you decide that you want to upload your photo and observation just follow the prompts. The advantage of uploading your observations is that if you are unsure of the identification, the iNaturalist community can chime in and help confirm the identification or provide a different one.

Easy to use interface

For me this app is exciting because it gives people who don’t have formal training or experience a good easy to use tool to identify plants or animals while walking, hiking, kayaking, etc. Not only does this help people feel more at ease outdoors but it can also instill a greater appreciation of the natural world. So, if you haven’t already checked out the iNaturalist app give it a try today. I think you will have fun!

We’ll be using the iNaturalist app during our BioBlitz at Gallant Woods Park on Saturday, Sept. 7. Learn more about past BioBlitz events here and stay tuned for more information about the event coming soon. 


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