Apps tap growing global pursuit of insect tracking

Katherine Roth
Associated Press

More challenging than birdwatching and not nearly as popular, insect-watching — noting and sharing exactly what one sees and where — is nevertheless on the rise.

Concern about dwindling native insect populations is one reason. And new technology has made it easier to log insect sightings and become part of wide-reaching “citizen-scientist” projects.

A worldwide project called “Never Home Alone: The Wild Life of Homes,” for example, aims to photograph and catalog the insects, spiders and other tiny creatures that share our homes.

In the equally global City Nature Challenge, meanwhile, cities compete for how many sightings residents can log. The idea is to see which city can make the most observations of nature (of any sort, not just insects), find the most species and engage the most people. The first year, it was just San Francisco versus Los Angeles. The second year, 16 cities joined in. Last year, 68 cities around the world took part. Over 100 cities internationally have signed up to participate this year.

Both challenges — and many others like them — make use of the ever-evolving iNaturalist app and, a joint initiative by the California Academy of Sciences and the National Geographic Society.

iNaturalist lets you log sightings of all kinds of plants and animals, and confirm other peoples’ identifications. A more kid- and novice-friendly version, Seek by iNaturalist (without the social networking component), helps identify species on the spot.

Both apps, inspired by birdwatching apps, have helped newcomers pay closer attention to insects.

“If you think about the roughly 2 million living things that are named, about half of them are insects. So if we really want to get a handle on the diversity in the world, and changes under way, we need to start paying closer attention to insects,” says Scott Loarie, co-director of iNaturalist.