Have you ever been out in the field and thought, “What the heck is this thing?” or had a customer ask you that exact question? Identification is one of the cornerstones of good pest management. This app may be able to help. It has an artificial intelligence program that gives you some guesses as to what an organism might be if you upload a picture. As more people add pictures and help identify species in the program, it makes better and better suggestions of what species you may be looking at by learning from the additional uploaded information. Human experts then weigh in and confirm or suggest another species at some point in the future. It takes two human confirmations to mark a picture as research grade and confirm the species. This app can identify (or attempt to identify) any living organism, including plants, insects, spiders, mammals, fungi, etc. iNaturalist can provide at least an educated guess as to a classification group, which can be really handy and useful for newbies or even seasoned technicians. Plus it’s just fun to use and learn more about the world around us!
Now for the bad news. It’s not all roses and sunshine for the app. There are some definite drawbacks. First, you have to be able to get a decent picture. That can be difficult, especially for fast moving, cryptic, or very tiny species. Second, it could be a long time until a human expert gets around to identifying the species you uploaded, especially if the picture isn’t clear. It may not be identifiable even by an expert without a good picture, but this goes back to number one. Third, it doesn’t always get it right, so don’t rely exclusively on it for identification by any means. This program still makes mistakes. Also, it relies on humans for research grade identification and let’s face it: humans definitely make mistakes too. Fourth, it is more targeted toward naturalists(the name might give that away), but pest species are part of nature too, so don’t think you can’t use it in the pest control world just because there are more uploads of butterflies than cockroaches.
The good news is as people continue to use it, it will keep getting better and better and it is a great learning tool. It also gives sighting graphs, which often correlate to the seasonality of the species, giving you an idea of when the species will be at peak populations.