Overview: iNaturalist is an app that helps you identify the plants and animals you see around you while supporting scientific data collection. It’s the perfect enticement to get your family outside to explore the world. It’s especially appealing to budding scientists and photographers. However, young kids may need help using the app, and it may trip parental control software filters.
What Is iNaturalist?
At its most basic, iNaturalist is a social network for the outdoors, something we all can use right now. App users document the flora and fauna around them as they walk through nature, and use the app’s network to identify the species.
Users can also browse through the database and see if there’s anything they recognize. Others will simply admire the photographs.
iNaturalist was built as a collaboration between the California Academy of Sciences and National Geographic. It was designed as a tool to share biodiversity information. The app has a passionate fanbase, and these reviews are a representative sample:
- “I just want to know what every creature’s purpose is around me and this has been the most fun way to do it.”
- “The projects and guides are cool, because I can see which species in a group are most commonly encountered based on how many times they’ve been observed compared to others.”
- “I have only been using it for about half a year and I can’t tell you how much joy my family has gotten out of simple moments like seeing a unique plant off the trail while on a hike and being able to know what it is almost instantly. The app works incredibly well for all life I’ve encountered so far, be it small or large, rooted, legged, or fungal, it really does a magnificent job.”
iNaturalist Lets You Contribute to Natural Science
iNaturalist is fun and informative, but it also serves an important purpose. Users are informing scientists and researchers on what they’re seeing around them and where, giving them valuable data to determine species range, diversification, and a lot more.
Users can follow other users, in their own backyards or anywhere in the world, to be informed every time they post comments or updates. This feature can be great for kids collecting beetle photos or looking for a shot of a rare flower. They can also post their own photos with a request to others to identify them.
The iNaturalist app is available on both iOS and Android, and you can log into the website as well to upload photos taken on a point-and-shoot camera.
Is iNaturalist Safe For Kids?
The iNaturalist app and signup are impressively privacy-oriented. When you first sign up, you will see three checkboxes — one that clears the data you collect for scientific use, one that allows limited collection of personal information, and the standard terms of service. All three are very clearly explained and easy to use.
They also don’t use any potentially risky social media shortcuts, like logging in with Google or Facebook, on their web portal (although you can use them in the app). The app only uses certain types of data, like general location, when it’s open. What’s more, it has no social feed, which is a drawback for some users but a definite advantage for families with young children.
The iNaturalist team has done a better job keeping kids safe than many child-oriented sites.
However, there is one important caveat for parents of younger children. As this is a scientific app, scientists sometimes upload content such as animal corpses in various states of decay or predation, asking for an identity. These are rare, but they can appear on the app occasionally. As such, you may choose to keep young family members away from identifying species in the app and stick to snapping and observing.
Is iNaturalist Easy to Use?
The app is designed for adults; officially, only people 13 and up can use it under their terms of service. So, parents will need to take the lead, which is probably better for kids anyway.
When you make an observation, you’ll need to take a photo and then fill out a brief form explaining what you’ve seen along with a few other details. Older kids will likely quickly get the hang of it, but younger ones will probably need to be walked through the app. That said, it does make using the app a fun family experience, as most kids will enjoy searching for specimens and snapping pics.
Is iNaturalist a Good Fit for My Family?
Ultimately, iNaturalist is ideal for families who want to support either a budding scientist or a child with an interest in photography. It’s also great for outdoorsy families who do a lot of hiking or nature exploration and excellent for homeschooling families. But for kids under 13, it should be used with a little supervision.