City Nature Challenge 2018 begins!

Guest post by City Nature Challenge co-organizer Lila Higgins (@lhiggins) from the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County .

We’re excited to launch the third City Nature Challenge, which involves thousands of participants from 69 metropolitan areas around the world. And 64 of these areas will be using iNaturalist to document biodiversity.

Over the next four days, each city is in friendly competition to see who can get the most people involved to record the most observations of the most species. All 64 projects using iNaturalist are in the umbrella project for City Nature Challenge 2018 so you can see how the cities stack up in real time as the observations come in.

If you’re in one of these metropolitan areas, get outside and start observing biodiversity (preferably the wild stuff)!

Even if you aren’t, you can still help. We expect half a million observations from 10,000 people, so there will be plenty of new observations to identify and new people to welcome. If you’re logged in to your iNaturalist account, check out all of the City Nature Challenge observations that still need IDs. You can filter from there based on your interest and expertise. Here’s a short tutorial video for the Identify page to get you started.

Observations must be made by April 30th but can still be uploaded and identified during May 1-3. The final tally from each project will be recorded at 9 AM local time on Friday, May 4, with the results announced after the 9 AM in Maui tally is made. More detailed results will be shared on Monday, May 7.

How It All Started: Los Angeles Versus San Francisco

In 2016, Alison Young (@kestrel) from the California Academy of Sciences and I came up with an idea to celebrate the first ever national Citizen Science Day at our museums. We decided to turn the documentation of nature in our respective cities, Los Angeles and San Francisco, into a competition. We capitalized on our cities’ long-standing rivalry -- the Dodgers versus the Giants (debatable), which city has the best burritos (clearly L.A.), and which city has the highest rents (not funny) -- and encouraged Angelenos and San Franciscans to get outside and document nature.

In just 7 days, over 1,000 people submitted almost 20,000 observations to the challenge! Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti got involved and sent in his own picture of a common garden snail to the project. Other, more rare species were also documented. In Los Angeles, our famous yet elusive mountain lion, P-22, showed up on a camera trap in Griffith Park to be counted for the challenge. In San Francisco, two iconic endangered species were documented including the Mission blue butterfly and San Francisco Garter Snake. But, it wasn’t just L.A. and San Francisco residents paying attention, urban nature lovers all over the United States were following the challenge too. Many wanted to join in the fun.

(P.S.: Los Angeles won!)

And So It Grew

Capitalizing on the buzz, we expanded the challenge to cover the entire United States. In 2017, 16 cities across the country took part. From Miami to New York, from Dallas to Seattle, 14 new cities joined in, all trying to take Los Angeles down. In just 5 short days, around 4,000 people submitted over 125,000 observations of wildlife living in U.S. urban areas. Orcas were spotted off the coast of Seattle, a critically imperiled Bartram’s scrub-hairstreak butterfly was documented in Miami, and once again, mountain lion P-22 showed up for Los Angeles. A total of 8,629 species were documented, including 393 rare, endangered, or threatened species. There was one species seen in every single city -- that tenacious urban dweller, the pigeon! And in the end Dallas, Texas won for the most number of observations, with almost 25,000!

From the very beginning, we both said we were starting off with L.A and San Francisco, but that we’d go national in 2017, and international in 2018. Setting goals is something we’re pretty good at, but we didn’t necessarily believe it would expand as rapidly as it has.

This year the City Nature Challenge involves 69 cities, from 17 countries, on 5 continents, and organizers in each city have developed partnerships with over 300 organizations. Although we can’t be certain that we’ll meet this year’s projected 10,000 participants and 500,000 observations, we’ve been pretty good at predicting results in past years. What nature will we find in our cities this year? Will participants in Mumbai document the charismatic leopards that live in their city? How many rare, endangered, and threatened species will we document? Will kids in both Tokyo and London submit pictures of honeybees? Will pigeons be found in every city, just like they were in 2017? With people all over the world taking part in the City Nature Challenge this year, being curious and observant and documenting the nature that is local to them, we’re bound to find some surprises!

Join the challenge, help your city win, and most importantly help us better understand nature in our cities.

You can read more by Lila Higgins at the Nature in L.A. Blog.

Posted by carrieseltzer carrieseltzer, April 27, 2018 02:20


Wow! Lovely article. I didn't know Dallas won last time. Bet we win again. :)

Posted by rozzychan over 3 years ago (Flag)

I am confused as to how this is working. I can't add my observations to this Project. Is this something only project curators can do? How does this work?

Posted by jonathan2 over 3 years ago (Flag)

Any observations entered to iNat from the DFW area will automatically be in the project. Just upload and go.

Posted by mchlfx over 3 years ago (Flag)

Yes, these projects automatically add your observations if you are within a delineated geographic area during the time period stated. No need to add them manually. And what @nutcracker said: add cultivated plants by all means, but be sure to tag 'em.

Posted by stevejones over 3 years ago (Flag)

And it's somehow fitting that the Dodgers and Giants are facing off this weekend.

Posted by stevejones over 3 years ago (Flag)

I want to quit this project, but it won't let me leave.

Posted by ellen5 over 3 years ago (Flag)


Posted by juancamilorodriguezm over 3 years ago (Flag)

How do I load my pictures?

Posted by cathy79 over 3 years ago (Flag)

@cathy79, enter them as observations in iNaturalist, and if the observation is from within one of the geographic boundaries of this project it will automatically be added. I see you haven't made any observations yet, so that's where to start.

Posted by stevejones over 3 years ago (Flag)


I downloaded the app on my iPhone but it doesn't open beyond the initial first page that asks me to swipe right, but it won't swipe right.
Sorry to post this here...I was so excited about this app and the april challenge, but I can't use the app. Also, this website has no contact link to try and ask someone about this problem. That is why I am posting here. Help! Thx, Laurie

Posted by thefeld over 3 years ago (Flag)
You can also just take photos and upload them directly on this website if you can't get the app to work for you this weekend.

Posted by bouteloua over 3 years ago (Flag)

The thing is not adding my observations. I don't know why. The first one was added, and the next two not.

Posted by ellen5 over 3 years ago (Flag)

Although I am a proud Texan and have grown to understand why Dallas is the only city recognized by most people, I must beg to differ about the name of the area! Please call it DFW!! The FW part is the other city, Fort Worth!!! We have turned into the twin cities of Texas!

Posted by itsjoprairie over 3 years ago (Flag)

@ellen5 check in tomorrow. The project adder can take some time to add observations, especially when so many are being added by many users at once.

Posted by silversea_starsong over 3 years ago (Flag)

Days? Really? Lena's have gone in.
I strongly suspect it's the obscured locations. It's my policy. Nonnegotiable.
Anyway, a great deal of information will have been added for the region. Just don't look for it in the CNC project.

Posted by ellen5 over 3 years ago (Flag)

@tiwane @tiwane2 maybe you can check that obscured locations are not interfering with the automatic project adder?

Posted by silversea_starsong over 3 years ago (Flag)

I've received a private email about this matter from Chris Cheatle. It is indeed the obscuring that prevents observations from going into the project. One can test this by changing an observation from obscured to open, and it will pop in and out of the project accordingly. So the results of these CNC projects are incomplete.
However, you can just do an observation search for the project "place" and time frame, and boomo, you find everything, regardless of geoprivacy, and regardless of whether the observations are included in the CNC results or not.
A comparison between the two will be fun and informative for the leaders of this brouhaha, should they be so inclined.

Posted by ellen5 over 3 years ago (Flag)

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