Last updated
INaturalist logo.png
Type of site
Citizen science
Available in56 [1] languages
Area servedWorldwide
  • Ken-ichi Ueda
  • Nate Agrin
  • Jessica Kline
Users Increase2.svg 3.2 million registered users (January 2023) [2]
Launched2008;16 years ago (2008)
Current statusActive

iNaturalist is an American 501(c)(3) nonprofit social network of naturalists, citizen scientists, and biologists built on the concept of mapping and sharing observations of biodiversity across the globe. [3] [4] iNaturalist may be accessed via its website or from its mobile applications. [5] [6] iNaturalist includes an automated species identification tool, and users further assist each other in identifying organisms from photographs. As of 24 February 2024, iNaturalist users had contributed approximately 172,751,520 observations of plants, animals, fungi, and other organisms worldwide, and around 350,000 users were active in the previous 30 days. [7]


iNaturalist describes itself as "an online social network of people sharing biodiversity information to help each other learn about nature", with its primary goal being to connect people to nature. [8] Although it is not a science project itself, iNaturalist is a platform for science and conservation efforts, providing valuable open data to research projects, land managers, other organizations, and the public. [8] [9] It is the primary application for crowd-sourced biodiversity data in places such as Mexico, southern Africa, and Australia, [10] [11] [12] and the project has been called "a standard-bearer for natural history mobile applications." [13] Most of iNaturalist's software is open source. [14] Scientists have published more than 4,000 papers drawn from iNaturalist data sets and observations, [15] including descriptions of species new to science and rediscoveries of species so rarely seen they were feared extinct.


iNaturalist began in 2008 as a UC Berkeley School of Information Master's final project of Nate Agrin, Jessica Kline, and Ken-ichi Ueda. [3] Agrin and Ueda continued work on the site with Sean McGregor, a web developer. In 2011, Ueda began collaboration with Scott Loarie, a research fellow at Stanford University and lecturer at UC Berkeley. Ueda and Loarie are the current co-directors of [3] The organization merged with the California Academy of Sciences on April 24, 2014. [16] In 2017, iNaturalist became a joint initiative between the California Academy of Sciences and the National Geographic Society. [3]

Since 2012, the number of participants and observations has roughly doubled each year. [17] In 2014, iNaturalist reached 1 million observations [18] and as of October 2023 there were 181 million observations (163 million verifiable). [note 1] [7]

On 11 July 2023, iNaturalist became registered as an independent 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization. [19]


Photographing Asclepias amplexicaulis at Nachusa Grasslands.jpg
Taking a photo of Asclepias amplexicaulis (clasping milkweed) for iNaturalist
Screenshot of an iNaturalist observation (cassi saari - Asclepias amplexicalis).png
Screenshot of an observation at with CC-BY photo license type indicated

Users can interact with iNaturalist in several ways:

Seek's home page, showing local species and the Challenge for November 2021. Seek-home.png
Seek's home page, showing local species and the Challenge for November 2021.

On the website, visitors can search the public dataset and interact with other people adding observations and identifications. The website provides tools for registered users to add, identify, and discuss observations, write journal posts, explore information about species, and create project pages to recruit participation in and coordinate work on their topics of interest. [22] [23] [24]

On the iNaturalist mobile app, registered users can create and share nature observations to the online dataset, explore observations both nearby and around the world, and learn about different species. [22] [25]

Seek by iNaturalist, a separate app marketed to families, requires no online account registration and all observations may remain private. [26] Seek incorporates features of gamification, such as providing a list of nearby organisms to find and encouraging the collection of badges and participation in challenges. [27] Seek was initially released in the spring of 2018. [26]


The iNaturalist platform is based on crowdsourcing of observations and identifications. An iNaturalist observation records a person's encounter with an individual organism at a particular time and place. [22] An iNaturalist observation may also record evidence of an organism, such as animal tracks, nests, or scat. The scope of iNaturalist excludes natural but inert subjects such as geologic or hydrologic features. Users typically upload photos as evidence of their findings, though audio recordings are also accepted, and such evidence is not a strict requirement. Users may share observation locations publicly, "obscure" them to display a less precise location or make the locations completely private.

On iNaturalist, other users add identifications to each other's observations in order to confirm or improve the identification of the observation. [22] Observations are classified as "Casual", "Needs ID" (needs identification), or "Research Grade" based on the quality of the data provided and the community identification process. [22] Any quality of data can be downloaded from iNaturalist and "Research Grade" observations are often incorporated into other online databases such as the Global Biodiversity Information Facility and the Atlas of Living Australia. [9] [28]

Automated species identification

In addition to observations being identified by others in the community, iNaturalist includes an automated species identification tool, first released in 2017. [29] Images can be identified via a computer vision model which has been trained on the large database of the observations on iNaturalist. [22] Multiple species suggestions are typically provided with the suggestion that the software guesses to be most likely is at the top of the list. A broader taxon such as a genus or family is commonly provided if the model is unsure of the species. It is trained once or twice a year, and the threshold for species included in the training set has changed over time. [30] It can be difficult for the model to guess correctly if the species in question is infrequently observed or hard to identify from images alone; or if the image submitted has poor lighting, is blurry, or contains multiple subjects.


Using the iNaturalist app Using the iNaturalist app in the field.png
Using the iNaturalist app

Users have created and contributed to tens of thousands of different projects on iNaturalist. [7] [31] The platform is commonly used to record observations during bioblitzes, which are biological surveying events that attempt to record all the species that occur within a designated area, and a specific project type on iNaturalist. [32] [33] [34] Other project types include collections of observations by location or taxon or documenting specific types of observations such as animal tracks and signs, [35] the spread of invasive species, roadkill, [36] fishing catches, or discovering new species. [23] In 2011, iNaturalist was used as a platform to power the Global Amphibian and Global Reptile BioBlitzes, in which observations were used to help monitor the occurrence and distribution of the world's reptiles and amphibian species. [37] The US National Park Service partnered with iNaturalist to record observations from the 2016 National Parks BioBlitz. That project exceeded 100,000 observations in August 2016. [32] In 2017, the United Nations Environment Programme teamed up with iNaturalist to celebrate World Environment Day. [38] . In 2022, Reef Ecologic teamed up with iNaturalist to celebrate World Oceans Day.

City Nature Challenge

In 2016, Lila Higgins from the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County and Alison Young from the California Academy of Sciences co-founded the City Nature Challenge (CNC). In the first City Nature Challenge, naturalists in Los Angeles and the San Francisco Bay Area documented over 20,000 observations with the iNaturalist platform. [39] In 2017, the CNC expanded to 16 cities across the United States and collected over 125,000 observations of wildlife in 5 days. [40] The CNC expanded to a global audience in 2018, with 68 cities participating from 19 countries, with some cities using community science platforms other than iNaturalist to participate. [33] In 4 days, over 17,000 people cataloged over 440,000 nature observations in urban regions around the world. [41] In 2019, the CNC once again expanded, with 35,000 participants in 159 cities collecting 964,000 observations of over 31,000 species. [33] Although fewer observations were documented during the 2020 City Nature Challenge during the COVID-19 pandemic (when the CNC became collaborative as opposed to competitive), more cities and people participated, and more species were found than in previous years. [42]


Users have the option to license their observations, photos, and audio recordings in several ways, including for the public domain, Creative Commons, or with all rights reserved. To encourage the sharing of information and to reduce costs, iNaturalist encourages users to license media with Creative Commons licenses. [43] The default license is CC BY-NC, [43] meaning others are free to copy, redistribute, remix, transform, and build upon the media as long as appropriate credit is given, changes are indicated, a link to the license is provided, and it is not used for commercial purposes. [44]

Observations and media licensed with Creative Commons licenses are often shared elsewhere, including the Global Biodiversity Information Facility (excluding share-alike and no derivatives licenses), [45] Atlas of Living Australia, [46] and Wikipedia (excluding noncommercial and no derivatives licenses) [47] through regular imports [22] [46] or user scripts such as iNaturalist2Commons [48] and Wiki Loves iNaturalist. [49]

The iNaturalist website and mobile apps are open-source software released under the MIT License. [14] [50]


As of January 2024, more than 4,000 [15] research papers have been published that cite the iNaturalist research-grade observations hosted on the Global Biodiversity Information Facility (GBIF), often in the fields of ecology, conservation, and climate change. [51] Many articles focus on climate-driven range shifts and expansions. For example, in 2015, data from iNaturalist was used to show that the Hopkin's rose nudibranch (Ceratodoris rosacea) is moving northward. [52]

Other published research focuses on the description of new species or rediscovery of species previously considered extinct. For example, a species of snail, Myxostoma petiverianum , first described in the 1700s, was also rediscovered in Vietnam. [53] Additionally, in 2013, a citizen scientist in Colombia uploaded a photo of a poison dart frog, which researchers determined was a previously unrecognized species now known as Andinobates cassidyhornae . [54] [55] In 2023, a species of mantis first discovered with the aid of iNaturalist was named Inimia nat so that its abbreviated form, I. nat, would be a word play that pays homage to iNaturalist. [56] The Columbian weasel, the rarest neotropical carnivore, was seen for the first time in the 21st century when an iNaturalist user uploaded snapshots of the weasel exploring a privy. [57] Two teenagers in California used iNaturalist observations of unfamiliar scorpions as the first step in their eventual description of two new species. [58] The frosted phoenix moth of New Zealand, feared extinct, was "rediscovered" when a Swedish birder who was in town to see kiwis put up a light to attract moths and snapped a casual photo of an insect that had parked itself under a lawn chair on his hotel balcony; his upload to iNaturalist was the first time the moth had been seen alive in 65 years. [59]

Other research has focused on the morphology or coloration of species observations. For example, a study in 2019 assessed the relationship between wing coloration and temperature in the dragonfly species Pachydiplax longipennis. [60]



  1. 1 2 3 On iNaturalist, an observation is "verifiable" if it has no penalties in its Data Quality Assessment. Observations lacking a date, location, or media are automatically penalised, and users may grant penalties if they deem that the date or location is inaccurate, that there is no evidence or no recent evidence of an organism, or that the organism is not wild. Non-verifiable observations are hidden from view by default, unless expressly enabled.

Related Research Articles

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Biodiversity</span> Variety and variability of life forms

Biodiversity or biological diversity is the variety and variability of life on Earth. Biodiversity is a measure of variation at the genetic, species, and ecosystem levels. Biodiversity is not distributed evenly on Earth; it is usually greater in the tropics as a result of the warm climate and high primary productivity in the region near the equator. Tropical forest ecosystems cover less than 10% of Earth's terrestrial surface and contain about 50% of the world's species. There are latitudinal gradients in species diversity for both marine and terrestrial taxa. Marine coastal biodiversity is highest globally speaking in the Western Pacific ocean steered mainly by the higher surface temperatures. In all oceans across the planet, marine species diversity peaks in the mid-latitudinal zones. Terrestrial species threatened with mass extinction can be observed in exceptionally dense regional biodiversity hotspots, with high levels of species endemism under threat. There are 36 such hotspot regions which require the world's attention in order to secure global biodiversity.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">BioBlitz</span> Biological surveying event

A BioBlitz, also written without capitals as bioblitz, is an intense period of biological surveying in an attempt to record all the living species within a designated area. Groups of scientists, naturalists, and volunteers conduct an intensive field study over a continuous time period. There is a public component to many BioBlitzes, with the goal of getting the public interested in biodiversity. To encourage more public participation, these BioBlitzes are often held in urban parks or nature reserves close to cities. Research into the best practices for a successful BioBlitz has found that collaboration with local natural history museums can improve public participation. As well, BioBlitzes have been shown to be a successful tool in teaching post-secondary students about biodiversity.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Citizen science</span> Scientific research conducted, in whole or in part, by amateur or nonprofessional scientists

Citizen science is research conducted with participation from the general public, or amateur/nonprofessional researchers or participants for science, social science and many other disciplines. There are variations in the exact definition of citizen science, with different individuals and organizations having their own specific interpretations of what citizen science encompasses. Citizen science is used in a wide range of areas of study including ecology, biology and conservation, health and medical research, astronomy, media and communications and information science.

The Cornell Lab of Ornithology is a member-supported unit of Cornell University in Ithaca, New York, which studies birds and other wildlife. It is housed in the Imogene Powers Johnson Center for Birds and Biodiversity in Sapsucker Woods Sanctuary. Approximately 250 scientists, professors, staff, and students work in a variety of programs devoted to the Lab's mission: interpreting and conserving the Earth's biological diversity through research, education, and citizen science focused on birds. Work at the Lab is supported primarily by its 75,000 members.

Biodiversity informatics is the application of informatics techniques to biodiversity information, such as taxonomy, biogeography or ecology. It is defined as the application of Information technology technologies to management, algorithmic exploration, analysis and interpretation of primary data regarding life, particularly at the species level organization. Modern computer techniques can yield new ways to view and analyze existing information, as well as predict future situations. Biodiversity informatics is a term that was only coined around 1992 but with rapidly increasing data sets has become useful in numerous studies and applications, such as the construction of taxonomic databases or geographic information systems. Biodiversity informatics contrasts with "bioinformatics", which is often used synonymously with the computerized handling of data in the specialized area of molecular biology.

Automated species identification is a method of making the expertise of taxonomists available to ecologists, parataxonomists and others via digital technology and artificial intelligence. Today, most automated identification systems rely on images depicting the species for the identification. Based on precisely identified images of a species, a classifier is trained. Once exposed to a sufficient amount of training data, this classifier can then identify the trained species on previously unseen images.

The Catalogue of Life is an online database that provides an index of known species of animals, plants, fungi, and microorganisms. It was created in 2001 as a partnership between the global Species 2000 and the American Integrated Taxonomic Information System. The Catalogue is used by research scientists, citizen scientists, educators, and policy makers. The Catalogue is also used by the Biodiversity Heritage Library, the Barcode of Life Data System, Encyclopedia of Life, and the Global Biodiversity Information Facility. The Catalogue currently compiles data from 165 peer-reviewed taxonomic databases that are maintained by specialist institutions around the world. As of September 2022, the COL Checklist lists 2,067,951 of the world's 2.2m extant species known to taxonomists on the planet at present time.

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<span class="mw-page-title-main">City Nature Challenge</span>

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<span class="mw-page-title-main"></span> Citizen science platform is a citizen science web portal developed by the Community Environmental Health Lab at the MDI Biological Laboratory in Bar Harbor, Maine. supports projects in the collection of observational data, primarily in environmental science, biology, and public health. Anecdata was founded in 2014 to provide a data management system for the citizen science projects run by the Community Environmental Health Lab and has since expanded to include more than 200 projects, where more than 8,000 registered users have contributed over 30,000 images and more than 50,000 observations. In addition to the desktop site, there is a corresponding mobile app that can be used to submit observations to existing projects. also acts as a data repository where data can be stored, discovered, and shared to other users.

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<span class="mw-page-title-main"></span> Website and apps for collecting, validating and sharing biodiversity observations is a worldwide platform of naturalists, citizen scientists, and biologists to collect, validate and share biodiversity observations. may be accessed via its website or from its mobile applications like ObsIdentify. The database holds 233 million nature observations and 79 million photos. It is published and hosted in the Netherlands under Dutch and European law by the non-profit foundation Observation International.


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