← Back to Activity Ideas

iNaturalist: An easy way to identify plants and animals

Harpswell Heritage Land Trust
June 8, 2020

By Gina Snyder

Recently I downloaded the iNaturalist app on my smartphone and have been having some fun with it. I found out about it from a blog about things to do during pandemic social isolation. I’ve always been curious about what I’m seeing in the woods, often tagging along with bird watching friends or people involved with local conservation groups. Now on my own, this app sounded like a helpful addition.

So far, I’ve mostly identified woodland plants that I didn’t recognize. I even put it through its paces on a few that I do know! The little woodland stunner Fringed Polygala (aka Gaywings) was an immediate match. Other species weren’t so easy.

Fringed Polygala (Gina Snyder photo)

To identify a plant (or bug, or even a jelly the other day), open up the app and tap the plus sign to add an observation. If you are standing next to the plant or animal you want to identify, you can choose the “take photo” option. If you want to identify a species you took a photo of previously, you can choose the “choose image” option.

On the next screen you can set your location (which helps iNaturalist identify your photo). Touch the pin/location icon to set your current location. You can also add notes. Then you can click on “What did you see? View suggestions.” The cool thing about this app is that it will show you identification suggestions based on your picture. The internet search can take a few minutes, especially in the woods around Harpswell! The app will tell you the genus and top 10 suggested species. You can tap each species to find more information and photos to see if you’ve found a match. When you’ve found a match, tap “select.” Then touch the green check mark at the bottom of the screen to save your observation.

If you can’t figure it out, you can save it without identifying it. You can go back in and edit later if you do figure it out or want to wait until you’re out of the woods!

Several times I’ve done an internet search when I got home and knowing what iNaturalist thought it might be has helped me narrow the search terms and find what I’m looking for. Often I find a match; sometimes I don’t.

The app has a number of features and options that I haven’t tried out for more science-oriented action. For now, it’s simply nice to have a handy option for learning more about what I see on a walk in the woods.