Better smartphone cameras have helped, as have inexpensive macro lens attachments and the ubiquity of wireless internet access.
Birdwatchers who have mastered some of the world’s approximately 11,000 bird species have been drawn to the global nature of iNaturalist, where they can also tackle the approximately 900,000 named insect species, for example, or 377,990 species of plants. Many users also joined at the start of the pandemic, when a virus that likely jumped from a bat to other wild animals to humans may have brought home the interdependence of species, and anyway, there wasn’t much to do except go out.
But other phone apps, including Merlin for birds, PictureThis for plants and Seek, a subsidiary of iNaturalist, identify a subset of the two million officially recognized species on the planet without the need for human fellowship.
The fact that people continue to use iNaturalist, said Adam Kranz, 32, is due to the shared sense of purpose that reminds him of the Rotary Club his parents belonged to in the rural Michigan town where he grew up.
An SAT tutor who has made it his mission to correct misidentifications of oak gall wasps on iNaturalist, Kranz also expressed concern about his own tendency to see those he disagrees with. politically as “you know, morally bankrupt enemies”. But iNaturalist “is where I feel like I’m interacting with strangers and working for the greater good.”
Like probably most iNaturalist users — judging by clues in profiles and chat rooms — Mr. Kranz is a political liberal. But in interviews, several of the site’s most prolific ids have described themselves as politically conservative. And the group projects on the site — “Florida Pollinators,” “Oklahoma Salticides,” “New York Slime Molds” — tend to cross the country’s usual divides.
Thomas Everest, 22, a registered Republican who is highly regarded on the site as a California shellfish identifier, said he’s come to appreciate a humility among iNaturalist users — even the most liberal ones — that stems of admitting ignorance in front of people you don’t know or necessarily trust.