Why are people so afraid to poke things with sticks these days?
iNaturalist peeps want to know. . .
The iNaturalist app—the whole iNaturalist world actually—has become my sidekick for 2023. If you have a smartphone, a little extra time, and are curious about what you see when you go outside, I heartily recommend you download the free app. On a recent vacation, I had a great time photographing wildlife large and small and using iNat to help me know what species I was seeing.
My brief and elementary definition of how iNaturalist works:
A. Using your smartphone, you take a picture of something, say a grasshopper. You take a few pictures, actually, and try for a clear close-up. You upload the images to iNaturalist, and that makes you an observer.
B. A.I. is built into the app, and it will analyze your photo. A.I. will almost immediately suggest a species of grasshopper.
C. Later, in some but not all cases, a human—an iNat. volunteer who knows grasshoppers, most likely—follows up at the app interface and will confirm or deny the A.I. suggestion. The volunteer is your identifier.
D. If the whole process is completed and enough individuals weigh in on your observations, your observation is tagged Research Grade. That’s cool because now your image becomes available for professional researchers, and you have participated in community science.
More identifiers are needed.
iNaturalist now has nearly 3 million users around the world, as either “observers” or “identifiers.” And here’s the thing:
We need a lot more identifiers to make this system work.
Globally, the current ratio is 9 observers to every one identifier, which is not ideal since the system works best when several identifiers weigh in on a single observation. In many cases now, observers don’t get even one human identifier on their post especially in places where there are few users. In fact, the iNat website has special page that highlights “low-growth” countries and territories where there is a special need for identifiers.
I’ve been reading up on this problem, which is an obstacle for iNat because the quality of species identification is much improved if we have several humans weighing in. If you live in a place where there are few identifiers to begin with, it would be disheartening to rarely get feedback. The good news is that I’ve learned you don’t have to be a biologist, naturalist or big-time expert on any species to pitch in on the ID side of things. I’ll share this portion of an article from a iNaturalist forum page which is helping me feel more confident as I work to become a beginning identifier:
At its core, iNaturalist is about making observations and identifications. Anyone who can get outside and point a camera can make observations. But identifying observations does require some expertise.
Learning to identify organisms is a lifelong journey of slowly becoming better acquainted with more and more critters. Think of it like learning to recognize people in your neighborhood. We wouldn't expect you to know everyone's name, but there's no excuse for not knowing anyone!
So don't feel bad if you can't identify as many observations as well as you'd like, the important thing is to remember that everyone can and should get started learning how to identify organisms! Here are three different strategies that you can pursue in concert:
Also, I liked this detailed article that tells how to be comfortable with the iNaturalist website when doing identifications. One tip: use the iNat website with a computer (not the smartphone app) to more easily do identification work).
Current, experienced identifiers on iNaturalist discussion pages stress three things:
You can’t “break” anything at iNat with your mistake;
Even if you make a mistake, you’ll learn. This a huge crowdsourced effort, and it will likely “come out in the wash” at the end of the day.
You’ll be helping science. Multiple identifications on a single image are what helps get observations to Research Quality level data.
Before you go, let’s go over that “poking things” headline. . .
I should elaborate on my headline this week. It originates from a funny section in the iNaturalist forum pages I saw today. The iNat peeps were complaining about people who didn’t want to touch dead bugs, but the conversation seemed to evolve from there into just random old-man griping. An excerpt:
“I’ve seen a few observations of dead creatures recently where ID would have been made easier if the observer was willing to move the corpse about to show more features. People clearly have enough interest to want to know what it is but seem to be afraid to interact with something strange. I worry about the lack of nature skills made available to many people now, and how few grew up knowing the enjoyment of poking weird things with sticks.” — random comment on iNaturalist website.
I smiled at the crankiness of these words and some of the replies that followed it. It reminded me of what the late Jimmy Buffett is reported to have said:
“Don’t let the old man in.”
I told Fred the other day: “I’ll try not to let the old woman in if you try not to let the old man in.” He laughed then said, sure okay, he’d try. We agreed we’d poke things if we want to and not pass judgement if we didn’t want to.
Coming up. . .
Download the Monarch Watch mobile app today to participate in Monarch Watch community science projects and submit your monarch tagging, recovery and calendar data!
Bumble Bee Watch. This program from Xerces continues to be a pleasure. I’ve found a great way to get actions shots of bumble bees. Set your phone’s camera to the three-second timer, you know the automatic timer thing? Set the timer, then hold your phone out close to the bee and let the camera count down, 3-2-1. With trial and error (patience too), you can get amazing and clear close-ups. Using the timer reduces phone camera movement. Check out these ladies, both busy pollinators and both Common Eastern Bumble Bees, I think. I can now identify that species because of the black tear-drop shape on her thorax.
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