iNaturalist: citizen science in your backyard
I was going to write an article about the Encyclopedia of Life. It is a phenomenal undertaking, its goal is to create one web page for every living species. Right now they have 1,322,989 pages. That is 1.3 million living things. It is a herculean effort, and it takes the biggest institutions and the best people to do it, both professional and enthusiasts. We can all be members of EOL, but we can’t all be experts. So how can my observations and pictures help? It is ridiculously simple. Make an account on iNaturalist.org. Take pics of stuff. Identify as much as you can, and get help from others if you cannot (you can also use Flickr, but I hate Flickr). When a community consensus has been reached, your pictures will receive “research grade” quality, and EOL and other science projects can then use them. Also, you can help in identifying pictures from other people. You would be surprised that some people cannot distinguish a poinsettia from a llama, and it did not take me too long to learn the basics of swallow-tailed butterflies.
But you might think; everything I have seen is already there: there are dozens of pics of that butterfly. But of course, it is also a study in biotopes and reach. So since I live in Norway, my sightings here will help in visualising the spread of a species and spatio-temporal relations. This could indeed be very useful for ecology and life scientists – AND enthusiasts. Check out what living things people have found near you. And if you are going on holiday to North Greenland or the Bouvet island, you know what to do.
Now go out and bother the little life-forms around you. It is good for you, and good for science.
Two things though: please do not upload fuzzy images of a fuzzy dot at the bottom of your bathtub that may or may not be some kind of spider, or blurry greenery in the mid-distance. At least try to make the subject identifiable. And if you cannot identify something, try to get as close as possible. It is better to get the right order, family or genus than to post it as “something”. There are lizard-enthusiasts that will trawl the pages hunting for amphibians only. So at least stick that in there. The box where you input the ID will help you out. You cannot really go wrong.
Here are my observations. I am well pleased with some of my alpine species, and really looking forward to seeing my lemming photo on EOL: