Citizen Scientists, YOU, Can Use iNaturalist App

iNaturalist is now an independent organization! You may not know about iNaturalist, so let me tell you about this app that has encouraged my participation as a “citizen scientist” these past 4 years. The app is free, easy to use and you may wish to use it too.

I use the iNaturalist app to help me identify a plant or animal I do not know. I use my smartphone, take a photo of the unknown, and download the photo at the app. Once location and date are entered, the app provides suggestions of what it is I observed. I decide if the suggestion or the next suggestion in the list is best and then click on “share”. Others may agree with what I chose as identification or may disagree and offer another suggestion. Eventually my observation’s data quality is at “research grade”, meaning the community agrees on the identification. I now count it as one of my hundreds of observations. 

How it is that iNaturalist can have 1 million observations per year? This may explain that fact. I met a guy in California while he was taking photos of a number of plants. During our conversation he told me his observations were all going to the iNaturalist app. As an environmental educator he believed he was doing his part in adding his observations. The info allows researchers to use the collective info for their fields in ecology, conservation or where needed.

So whether you view yourself as a “citizen scientist” or part of “community science”, this app may be of interest to you. This app began in 2008 as a UC Berkeley master’s program and joined with CA Academy Sciences and National Geographic Society in 2014. It is now  an independent 501(c)(3) USA-based non-profit organization! The app team plans to keep the app free because “we believe nature is for everyone”. Fortunately iNaturalist receives generous donations and grants.

So … download the iNaturalist app … you’ll have it on your phone for the next plant or animal you wish to photograph, identify and share with others. Researchers will appreciate your effort and if it is a living thing new to you, now you’ll know what it is! Get outdoors and have fun!

Identified by iNaturalist: desert spiny lizard
iNaturalist app

I Found Cicadas!

Have you noticed when outdoors on a dry, hot day before monsoon season and hear buzzing sounds you never see one cicada? They are in the area yet conveniently stop buzzing and hide when approached. Those male cicadas are clicking a pair of hardened membranes on their underside to attract females with loud attempts to drown out other males.

The other day my goal was to locate a cicada. I walked back and forth in an area to narrow down their location. Upon closer look, I found two cicadas tussling with each other! (I might have interrupted something. Oops!) True to what I read, one scurried off to behind the tree branch, one of their tricks, and the reason why we do not often see them. I nudged closer to take a photo. They are a big bug but they do not bite, thankfully.

Caught before one scurried off!

Cicadas are only above ground for a few weeks to mate. Eggs are laid on a tree twig. Once hatched they fall to the ground to burrow beneath, feed on plant roots and mature. There are so many different species of cicadas in Arizona with different life cycles, thus we see some specie of cicada every summer. Some may be underground for years. When they surface and find a safe place, the juvenile skin is shed, and almost overnight will have an adult exoskeleton and wings to start their life cycle all over again.

Is it a scrub cicada?

I love the iNaturalist app. I mistakenly identified the cicada and now we are determining if it is a scrub cicada. Most common cicada in Arizona is the Apache cicada, but I do not think this is what I have photographed. It doesn’t matter; happy to have finally seen a cicada and have no need to interrupt their activity in the future.