iNaturalist is a great app and an online naturalist community, available for free at your smartphone store. iNaturalist allows you to quickly record your observation of anything that's ever lived (plants, animals, insects, cones, tracks, etc). Check out this 30 second video: Observe Nature with iNaturalist to learn more.
If you're not sure of the species identification, iNaturalist's artificial intelligence can help you by recommending species. This short video (1:30) is a great overview of How to Make an Observation on iNaturalist using our Mobile App. The closer you get to the correct species identification the better. Hardly any verifiers verify plants as a general category, but many people are interested in common milkweed and are likely to verify (or correct) it quickly.
Once you suggest an identification and save the report, that observation will become a part of the iNaturalist community, and others will review your observations, agree if they agree with your suggested identification or offer another suggested identification. If a species is agreed upon repeatedly (often with two corroborating identifications, but if there’s a lot of controversy it will take more agreeing identifications) it will become research grade. Research-grade identifications can then be used by researchers to understand species distribution, density, phenology and other important characteristics. For non-native species of concern, invasive species experts in Minnesota are pulling iNaturalist reports and adding them into the EDDMapS online database that invasive species specialists use.
A few pro tips about iNaturalists:
- Take good pictures and take several of them. It’s often impossible to confirm identification of blurry pictures and many species must be viewed from various angles to be able to confirm identification. How to Take Better Photos for iNaturalist is a short 1 minute video that is a great overview.
- Going iNatting for a day, be sure to take a portable charger. iNatting for a few hours at a time can drain cell phone batteries.
- If it’s a cultivated species, like a yard plant, please make sure you check the cultivated box. It’s very important that we understand if a species is naturally occurring or not.
One nice feature of iNaturalist is the ability to create a project, like your yard or woodland, and then observe and record all the species on your property.
While stuck at home because of COVID, I created an iNaturalist project of my yard and learned I have over 80 different species! (Somehow I didn’t manage to record any birds, although there are plenty and I didn’t think about recording insects until August - oops!) It was a great project and has inspired me to transition my urban yard to natives. Feel free to check out my Gupta Yard project. [Some of the points appear outside of my yard because of GPS (in)accuracy. I could correct that but haven’t; I assure you, they’re all in my yard.)]