Source: Department of Conservation
Throughout the year we get people messaging, emailing and calling us up to help them identify different animals, plants and creepy crawlies they’ve found around Aotearoa. Requests come through our social media accounts, visitor centres and the DOC call centre. This increases over the summer period with more New Zealanders out and about exploring over their holidays, and some even coming across our native species in their own backyards!
We love seeing the photos and descriptions of your feathered and scaley finds. We often do our best to help identify species in question, however we don’t always have a scientist or species expert on hand to help identify your finds. So, our recommendation to all observers out there whether you are an expert or an amateur when it comes to our native wildlife, is to join iNaturalist NZ – Mātaki Taiao.
This blog covers the ins and outs of New Zealand’s ever-growing online forum for the nature community, previously known as NatureWatch NZ.
So, what is iNaturalist NZ – Mātaki Taiao?
Have you ever encountered a reptile, bird, species or plant that was unfamiliar to you? No matter the location, iNaturalist helps identify all sorts of different species both animal and flora. It is a simple process, you create an account, upload your images and become part of a close-knit online community.
A place where you can record what you see in New Zealand nature, meet other nature watchers, and learn about Aotearoa’s natural world. All while contributing to science. Every observation can contribute to our country’s biodiversity science. iNaturalist NZ – Mātaki Taiao was created and is managed by the New Zealand Bio-Recording Network Trust (NZBRN Trust), a registered Charitable Trust in New Zealand.
Mātaki Taiao is the Māori name for iNaturalist, which translates to watching nature. The word Mātaki means to gaze, watch, inspect, examine, or observe. Taiao translates to the natural world around us.
Before iNaturalist, NatureWatch NZ was launched in 2005. It incorporated the same aim as iNaturalist; however, users were unable to upload images. iNaturalist was created a few years later in 2008, in California, after three university students came up with the concept for their final project of their master’s degree.
It grew substantially, and became popular internationally in the following years, and iNaturalist now has 1.8 million registered users globally. It is also co-owned by the California Academy of Sciences, and the National Geographic Society.
iNaturalist is tailored for those who are both curious and knowledgeable, who want to be involved in nature that is available at their fingertips no matter their level of expertise. This site allows the user to:
- Keep track and record their encounters with other organisms on their account
- Crowdsource identifications, you can connect with experts who can help you identify the organisms you observe
- Learn about nature, the user can build their knowledge by talking with other naturalists and helping others
- Create useful data, help scientists and resource managers understand when and where organisms occur
- Become a Citizen Scientist, find a project with a mission that interests you, start your own or get started by recording observations
Don’t just take our word! Ecologist Jon Sullivan has earned the title of one of New Zealand’s most prolific users of the app and shares why it is important for the conservation of our native wildlife and flora, encouraging New Zealanders to continue to post their observations.
Jon Sullivan is an Ecologist at Lincoln University in Canterbury. Alone, he has recorded tens of thousands of pictures and audio recordings of the many different creatures found in Christchurch. This includes, birds, insects, plants, mould, and mushrooms he has observed.
Since its introduction, the app has helped keep track of pest populations, indicate the change in the climate and the cause it is having on the life cycle of different species.
It has also, been an important factor in rediscovering species that were thought to have been extinct and has even helped the discovery of some new species through the many experts within the community.
Jon Sullivan is the curator for the New Zealand branch of iNaturalist – Mātaki Taiao. Alongside the NZ Bio-Recording Network, Sullivan was instrumental in optimising iNaturalist for New Zealand users. In 2014, Aotearoa became only the second country in the world, to get our own regional network – Mexico being the first.
iNaturalist uses computer learning to give a quick indication of what species the user might have observed in the picture or audio recording. As well as being home to several different experts, who quickly weigh in on what has been captured through the images.
With over 40,000 entries observed, many New Zealand firsts, Jon Sullivan has also contributed to the app by identifying around 50,000 species for other users.
Tracking the spread of new species is important for biosecurity and stopping pests, while protecting what is already there. It is something anyone can help with.
“New Zealand nature is amazing, and we need New Zealanders to be aware of that and engaged in what’s around them…By everyone paying more attention to nature, we’re seeing more new things…It’s also great fun. It makes every day a bit more of an adventure.”
Several of Jon’s finds have even been made as close to home as his backyard! He has logged 591 species, including 209 plants and 119 moths or butterflies. Finding a new species in his Eucalyptus trees, a giant thrip, winged insect – the first encounter in the South Island.
How do you use iNaturalist – Mātaki Taiao?
No matter what level your expertise is, anyone can easily record their observations.
Go to https://inaturalist.nz/ or download the app from your app store on your mobile device.
Works on all your devices, you can always observe even without mobile reception or WIFI.
There are different components to the site, something for everyone. From observers to identifiers as well as different communities you can join. Projects is one of the many initiatives created on the site, where it allows you to pool your observations with other people. Whether you’re starting a citizen science effort of keeping tabs on the birds in your neighbourhood, Projects are the way to go.
iNaturalist NZ Guides, helps you learn about biodiversity all around the world. Wherever you’re exploring big or small, Guides can help you make sense of our planet’s range of diversity. The iNaturalist taxa guides are interactive online pictorial guides to assist in species identification. They can also be printed in various forms and enabled as offline guides available on mobile devices even when out of range of an internet connection.
Guides have a front page with images of each species, and taxon pages describing each species.
User guides may have ‘tags’ describing attributes of each species, e.g. colour, size, shape (generally macro features that help distinguish between them). On the front page of each guide, you can select the attributes you observe and see the species that match.
Taxa info is available if you are looking to observe a particular group of species, such as kararehe (animals), reptiles, manu (birds), arachnids, fungi, amphibians, plants and aitanga pepeke (insects).
There has been mass engagement since the introduction of iNaturalist NZ, our own special regional network started, with 2,087,728 observations to date, 18,701 species observed, and 50,671 people have signed up, these numbers continue to grow each day.
How to make an observation on iNaturalist:
- Open the app or webpage, click the ‘observe’ icon. Here you can choose whether you’d like to take a photo, record sound, or upload an older photo.
- Fill in what you saw – it’s okay to be vague like ‘duck’ or ‘mushroom’ if you’re not sure. The app can also use artificial intelligence to make suggestions.
- Add where and when you saw it. Make sure to use the ‘captive/cultivated’ slider if it applies to your finding.
- Press share. Experts will quickly weigh in to help verify your observation.
Before submitting your observations, make sure the photo is clear and showcases the species you are wanting to be identified.
To find different species in certain places around the country that have already been observed/identified go here. Places have been marked on the map of New Zealand; each place page displays all the species iNaturalist NZ knows about from that certain area. This includes information about the species abundance, conservation status, and who was the first to observe in that place on iNaturalist NZ. You can use filters to find what you are looking for base don taxonomic group, colour, conservation status, or just the full search option in the top right corner – which incorporates all of the above.
We at DOC strongly recommend our followers, as well as anyone who is interested in the many species our country has to offer, and the overall nature community, to download iNaturalist NZ. It is easy to make an account today. This site and app have been a huge help in the conservation of our land, species and nature since its introduction.
There have been species that have been rediscovered purely through an observation, where the location had been pinpointed, making it able to be identified from the experts onsite, these include our very own DOC staff. It is free to use, and we encourage you to have it available next time you are out and about as you do not need internet connection to be able to make observations making it accessible even out deep in the bush!
Make a difference and help preserve our native wildlife and flora this summer, by contributing to iNaturalist NZ today! And if you’re visiting Aotearoa this summer and want to continue observing in your own country, iNaturalist.org is your go to.