How to use iNaturalist

Getting Location Data

  • Here’s a video from the iNaturalist team on geotagging your photos in the field

Identifying Observations

  • Article or video on identifying other people’s observations

Adding/Managing Projects

  • Article explaining the different types of projects and how create and manage them

Resources for Educators

  • Education toolkit from the CNC education working group. This has great info for teachers including detailed plans for integrating iNaturalist and the CNC into your curriculum.
  • Teacher’s Guide to using iNaturalist


  • What kind of observations should I add?

You can add photos or sound recordings on any wild thing – animal, plant or fungi. If you add any captive or cultivated organisms, make sure you tag it as Captive/Cultivated though. You can also add any evidence of the organism. This includes tracks, scat, shells, even a tree that has been gnawed by a beaver! When you make an observation, it needs to have a location and a date as well otherwise it won’t count.

  • How do I participate during COVID-19?

    – Look for insects, spiders, centipedes, etc in your own house
    – Look for wildlife, including weeds, in your yards or neighborhoods
    – Do a moth night in your yard or balcony
    – Record bird calls from your own house
    – Look at your security-cam/trail-cam footage for observations.
    – If you have a microscope or even a pocket one, make observations of microorganisms in rainwater, mosses, etc

    Get more detailed info from the folks at CNC Central with this handy PDF

  • Do I need to join the project for my observations to be counted? 

No, all observations made during the CNC within our area will automatically be aggregated into the project. You can still join the project to get updates and you will also see that your observation is part of the project if you join. But joining the project is not necessary and you won’t be able to add your observation to the project manually since it is a ‘Collection’ type project. 

  • I don’t see my observations on the project page. Now what?

Because of the large volume of data being entered during the CNC, it might take a while for your observation to be added to the project. You can also make sure that the dates and locations on you observation are correct. This is especially important if you are close to the border of our area. If the location is wrong, you can go back in and edit your location to the correct spot. 

  • Do plants in my garden count towards the CNC?

The goal of iNaturalist is to record wild organisms, so the focus for the City Nature Challenge is on wild organisms as well. But plants in your garden or street trees count towards the total number of observations for the CNC, but be sure mark them as captive/cultivated when you upload your observations. It’s more fun to find wild organisms and that’s what contributes to scientific research, so that’s what we want to emphasize.

  • How do I mark something as captive or cultivated?

When you upload your observations, there is an option to mark it as captive or cultivated in both the mobile apps and the website. You can also do so after uploading by clicking the “thumbs down” next to “Organism is wild?” in the Data Quality Assessment section at the bottom of the observation page on the website. Or on the mobile app, click on the pencil to edit the observation and check the box for captive/cultivated. 

  • I don’t know if something is captive or cultivated. What do I do?

If an animal is in a zoo or someone’s pet, it is captive. It’s a little harder for plants. If you know that the plant has been planted, it is cultivated. If it’s a weed or growing wild, it isn’t. Sometimes, it’s not always easy to tell, so use your best judgment. For example, if a plant pops up in places where it was not originally planted but came from a planted specimen, is it wild? Things like distance from parent plant, if it survives on it’s own without any human intervention, etc, can be used to make that call. 

  • What do Needs ID, Research Grade, and Casual mean?

An observation with a photo or audio recording will be in the ‘Needs ID’ state if it has a date, a location and is not captive or cultivated. The status will move to ‘Research Grade’ if more than 2/3 of identifiers agree on a taxon that is species level or lower. All other observations are Casual. Our goal is to get as many Research grade observations as possible, but ‘Needs ID’ observations will still count towards our totals.

  • Can I add multiple species to an observation?

If you have more than one species in a photo, just add a new observation with the same photo.

  • What if I don’t know what I saw?

That’s not a problem, just upload it to iNaturalist anyway. You can just pick the lowest level taxon you know. If you know it’s a plant, just pick that from the list. If you aren’t sure if the insect you saw is a fly or a bee, that’s okay, you can just choose insect. Other iNaturalist users can then help you identify what you saw.

  • What can I do if I cannot attend one of the scheduled events?

You can go out on our own armed with your phone or camera and upload your observations to iNaturalist. As long as it is within our challenge area and during the dates of the CNC, they will count towards Philly’s total. And if you cannot go out to a park, you can go out to your backyard and post observations of what you see there.

  • Do I need to upload all my observations by Monday, May 1st 11.59 pm?

No! As long as the observations are made by May 1st, 11:59pm, you can upload them all until May 7th. It’s better to add them as soon as you can though, because that will help focus efforts on species we still need. And the earlier you upload them, the better the chances that they will get ID’d by the May 7th deadline. 

  • Do observations have to be research grade for it to count?

No, the observations can be Research Grade, Needs ID or Casual for it to count. The results will be sliced and diced multiple ways though, so there is a category for most Verifiable observations (either Research Grade or Needs ID) and another for most Research Grade observations. 

  • Can I upload ebird checklists?

Yes! They will not be verifiable or become research grade because there is no picture or audio recording, but it will still count towards our overall total. It’s not straightforward to upload an ebird checklist to iNat though and there are some steps to follow:

    • Go to your checklist on ebird, and in the Checklist Tools dropdown, select Download. 
    • This will download a CSV file to your computer. Open it using Excel or some similar tool and edit it to match the format specified here: This needs to be followed exactly or the upload will fail. 

  • Can I add sounds to iNaturalist?

Yes! Check this tutorial for the steps involved. 

  • Can I use Seek to make observations?

If you login to Seek using your iNaturalist account, you can use it to make observations for the CNC. Seek does not collect any personally identifying information (including location) by itself, so it still needs to go through to iNaturalist for it to count towards the CNC. So if you want to use Seek, make sure to login to the Seek app first using your iNat account. 

  • What is the targets list? 

The targets list ( is a list of all species that has been seen in our area during the months of April and May and has been posted to iNaturalist previously but not during the current City Nature Challenge. This helps us to focus our efforts on the last day or so to increase our overall species totals. (it’s good to not pay much attention to the list on the first couple of days and instead focus on finding whatever you can).
You can filter the list by various taxa (iconic taxa as per iNaturalist). The list is updated only every 30 minutes or so to try to reduce the load on iNaturalist servers since the CNC is already a busy time for them. The species are organized by frequency of past observations in decreasing order. So if a species says 42 observations, it means that this species has been seen 42 times in our are in April and May before, but not during the CNC.
Clicking on the image or name of the species will take will take you to the taxon page on iNaturalist. Clicking on the number of observations of that species should show you all previous observations of that species recorded to iNaturalist. Both these should help you learn what to look for in the target species. This is only needed if you are not familiar with the species. 
The other city links at the top navigation should show you what other cities have seen but we haven’t yet. You can compare across CNC projects, across our project and another city’s total list for April and May, and more. This is mostly for advanced and power users and is outside the scope of this FAQ. 

  • How do I help ID observations?

You don’t need to ID everything down to species. Try to bucket observations into smaller and smaller buckets. If something is marked unknown, try to bucket it to plants, insects, mammals, fungi, etc. If you know that an insect is a beetle, mark it as beetles. If you know it is a tiger beetle then pick that and so on. You can also filter by your area of expertise, beetles for example, by typing ‘Beetles’ in the species box. To maximize the number of species we have, there are some strategies to follow:

    1. First ID all the Unknown observations
    2. Then ID all observations to that have an ID level of family or higher.
    3. Once that is done, you can ID everything that have an ID already to get them to research grade. 

  • What do I do if I find an injured animal during the bioblitz?

The Philadelphia Metro Wildlife Center is a non-profit, wildlife rehabilitation organization and a Philly CNC partner. If you have an injured or orphaned animal that needs help, you can bring it to the center located at 400 E Dekalb Pike, King of Prussia 19406 between 10 am and 4pm, seven days a week. If you are not sure that it is injured or orphaned (just because a fledgling is on the ground, doesn’t mean it is injured or orphaned), you can use this nifty little tool to find out:

  • How can I stay protected from Lyme disease? (courtesy of Fizz)

Cover up.
Remove the tick as soon as possible with tweezers.
Use insect repellents.Check your clothing, yourself, your children, and your pets for ticks.
Shower as soon as possible.

Early Signs & Symptoms
Fever, chills, headaches, fatigue, swollen lymph nodes, muscle and join aches.
“Bulls Eye” rash with red rings around the bite site. It might feel warm to the touch.

Later Signs & Symptoms
Severe headaches and neck stiffness
Rashes on other areas of the body
Arthritis with severe joint pain and swelling, particularly the knees and other large joints.
Facial palsy (loss of muscle tone or droop on one or both sides of the face).
Intermittent pain in tendons, muscles, joins, and bones.
Heart palpitations or an irregular heart beat
Dizziness or shortness of breath.
Nerve pain or shooting pains, numbness, or tingling in the hands or feet.
Problems with short-term memory.


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