It’s Not Always Easy To Recognise Plants And Animals. So How Do We Make Plant IDs Foolproof? This Article Explains How to Use iNaturalist to Identify and Record Plants and Animals. 



Some people prefer to use books to identify unknown plants and species. And books have their place. But they can be big and bulky to carry and and cumbersome to use. And if you want to ID plants, butterflies, birds and more, the weight of books is going to make your country walk more like a route march.

iNaturalist (iNat) is the answer for many of us. It is a species ID and recording system that can be used in the field to both identify and record. iNaturalist describes itself as  Community for Naturalists.


What is iNaturalist (iNat)? 

iNaturalist is a bit like magic. You can see the results but are not sure how  it performed the trick.

It works like this. You download and open an app to your mobile phone, take a photo and the app searches an international database to identify what you have photographed. I first used it in South Africa to identify a bontebok. 

Today I use it to identify plants and flowers in the Sid Valley and it was integral to the recent Citizen Science botanical survey that identified over 400 wild flowering herbaceous plants in the valley.

Once the identification is complete you can approve it and it will be posted onto the iNaturalist database and maps at the exact location you photographed it. Your ID is then available for online verification by a group of experts. Once that is done the data is available to researchers and those interested worldwide. 

Alternatively you can use a conventional camera to take photos and upload them to the iNaturalist website


How To Download iNaturalist?

iNaturalist is free and available for both iPhone and Android phones and some other devices such as iPads.  You can download it from wherever you normally download apps. Eg. The App Store, Google Play etc. 


How To Use iNaturalist on a Mobile Phone or Other Mobile Device 

  1. Open the app for the first time and you will be shown a welcome screen. You’ll  also be provided with other information about how to use the iNat app. 
  2. To better understand iNaturalist you can take tour and see observations in your area.  
  3. iNat will now give you the option to sign in or open an account. The new account message will say something like New to INaturalist? Sign up now!
  4. You’ll need to enter your name an email address, a User Name and a password. Once you’ve done this just click on the Sign Up button. 


How to Make an Observation on iNaturalist Using A Mobile Phone

1. Open the app.









2. Tap the “Observe” button .. it’s at the bottom of the screen .









3. Go to the bottom of the screen, click on the camera icon  and take one or more photos (or add photos from your camera roll) 









4. Select the “What Did You See” button 









5. iNat will now show you some possible IDs for your photos.  Beware, a piece of software is doing the “thinking” here. It’s usually right but can sometimes suggest some very silly answers. If observations have previously been made at your location it is much more likely to give the correct answer.







6. Click the observation you think is correct and click Share … which is at the bottom of the screen. (In this case it is Alexanders)








7. iNat now adds the observation to its database and displays it on the map. 

Experts can now check your observations and agree with your findings or suggest another ID for it. 






How to Make an Observation on iNaturalist Using A PC

  1. Take a photo with a camera or mobile phone … if you have GPS or other means of tracking your location it will save time later, but isn’t essential. 

2. Log in to iNaturalist on your PC.


3. Click onto your profile photo on the right hand side .. you’ll see a drop down box appear.

4. Click on Add Observations 




5. Drag or load photos on to the page






6. A new screen will appear with your photo and other info. eg, if taken on a mobile phone it will probably include time photo taken and location 


7. On the left go to Details/ Species name. Click and it will load suggestions.

Click the most likely answer. 





8. Go to the green box marked Submit one observation .. the system will save your observations.

Thats it. Two ways to identify what you’ve seen and record it onto iNaturalsit. 




Other Functionality on iNaturalist 

The range of iNaturalist functions is very long. You can see maps or lists of what has been found in any area of the world, have discussions with experts, check observation verification, add your findings to specific projects by geographic area … and that’s the tip of the iNaturalst iceberg.

We want to keep your introduction to iNaturalist simple so will not go into how to undertake all of the above on this page. But we will be adding more articles, hints and tips on new posts in future. Look out for them. 


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