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New App Turns Colorado Park Visitors into Amateur Naturalists

Wildlife officials in Colorado are asking park visitors to document their observations on the trail using the new app, iNaturalist.

iNaturalist is a crowdsourcing app where users upload their observations on the trail and, in turn, help wildlife officials and scientists track certain species’ movements. Colorado wildlife officials are starting to request the use of this new app in order to help scientists track climate change in the state.

Officials have begun putting up notices at campsites and on trails asking that visitors upload certain new species of insects, plants, or animals they find on their outing.

Since officials have asked park visitors to share what they find, 300 observations have been uploaded. Most notably, hikers have reported flies, dubbed “hanging thieves,” that have long legs found near Walsenburg, a purple butterfly with fuzzy wings near Steamboat Springs, and a squirrel with ears like a rabbit photographed near Durango.

Steamboat Lake State Park administrator Julie Arington thinks the app is enticing for park visitors to explore more of Colorado’s trails and forests. She also believes that people love sharing what they see on their hikes.

“People like to share what they find, and this is a chance to share. They can also get help from other people identifying what they found,” Arington said.

If a Colorado iNaturalist user finds a protected species, like the lynx that was recently reintroduced in the Colorado wilderness, officials will obscure the GPS location from other users in order to protect the animals.

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iNaturalist as an organization has over 130,000 users that have already uploaded almost two million observations. The app has already proven to be a valuable resource. A snail was found by a hiker in California that was identified by naturalists in Australia as an invasive species. Due to this virtual identification California wildlife officials were able to act fast in removing the snail before it was detrimental to the native species.

iNaturalist is free to download on mobile devices; a user can upload and observe species on the trail, even without cell reception or wifi.

NEXT: GLOWING GREEN EEL IS THE FIRST FLUORESCENT FISH EVER RECORDED IN THE WILD

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New App Turns Colorado Park Visitors into Amateur Naturalists