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iNaturalist and Animal Tracks

Published on January 19, 2015 under Articles
  • Have you ever found a track and wished there was an easy way to share it with other trackers, naturalists, and wildlife biologists?
  • Have you ever wished there was a way to get the best trackers in the country help you identify a track photo?
  • Have you ever wished there was a simple and easy way to contribute your tracking observations to wildlife research and conservation?

iNaturalist is an amazing tool for sharing observations of plants and animals with a community of experts and naturalists. The site is non-commercial and is run by the California Academy of Sciences. I created a project in iNaturalist called the North American Animal Tracking Database and it is designed to help trackers share observations while also contributing valuable information to wildlife research. The iPhone and Android apps make it incredibly easy to use in the field.

See recent observation from the North American Animal Tracking Database.


Here’s how it works:

First go to and sign up for an account. You can also sign up via the smartphone app. Homepage


Second, find something you want to record. It can be any form of life. iNaturalist is built around a taxonomic tree of all known life so it can be a plant, fungi, animal, whatever. Let’s pretend we’re going to record these raccoon tracks.


Raccoon Tracks


Third, take a photo. The easiest way is to use the iNaturalist app on your iPhone or Android, but a regular camera will work as well as long as you record the location. Smartphones automatically add GPS coordinates to each photo.

When photographing tracks, make sure to frame the photo so that you are looking straight down on the track. Also, if at all possible include a scale for size in the image. If you don’t have a ruler, use a penny or something else of a known size. I’m clearly breaking this rule in my sample photo. Your hand or foot will work as a last result. The screenshots below are from my iPhone, but there is an Android app as well.


Tap the camera icon in the upper right to take a photo.


Forth, identify the image. Enter the species name if you know it. In this case, raccoon. If you are unsure, just identify it the best you can. For example, if you are pretty sure the track is from a mammal, enter mammal. If you aren’t even sure if it’s a mammal, just enter animal. If you wan’t help identifying the track, you can always check “Need ID Help”.



Enter the common or latin name. IMPORTANT: After entering the name, tap the magnifying glass to search for the correct species.



Then click “Add” next to the correct species.


Once you’ve selected the species, the species name will be blue and show a thumbnail image.



Notice how the name “Common Raccoon” is now blue and contains a small image.


Then select “Choose Projects” and add the “North American Animal Tracking Project”. When done, tap “Save” to return to your list of observations.  You still have to sync your observation, so click “Sync 1 Observation, 1 Photo” at the bottom of the page.



Select “Need ID help?” if you’re uncertain about the species.


That’s it, you’re all done! Now comes the fun part. iNaturalist is a very active community, usually within a short period of time, you will receive comments and identifications from other users. You can view comments in the app, but the website is a bit easier to use. See the raccoon observation below.



Using iNaturalist has dramatically accelerated my learning about animal tracks and wildlife in general. I’ve met numerous naturalists in my area through iNaturalist and have marveled at what they are finding in my back yard. One of the best features of iNaturalist is that you can search for observations and learn what people are finding in your area. You can also “follow” other people on iNat and get notified of their new observations in you dashboard.

I recommend spending a bit of time getting to know iNaturalist and playing around with its many features. The website is extremely powerful and has many hidden gems.

As of the publication of this article, there are 4,814 track and sign observations from all over North America. The heatmap below shows the locations with the most observations.

iNaturalist Animal Tracks Heatmap

Here’s a link to my iNaturalist profile where you can see my nature observations.

I’ll see you on the site!



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