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Weird and Wonderful iNaturalist Projects

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One of the greatest features of iNaturalist is the ability to create and participate in projects. There are different types of projects, but in essence, Projects are collections of observations with a specific goal or that fall within certain parameters. Some projects are dedicated to a single BioBlitz event or to document general biodiversity in a geographic area but there are also many in the iNaturalist community that use the project feature to curate bizarre and fascinating organisms, life within unique locations, and as part of a wide variety of scientific studies. In this article we will explore some of the most creative and unique projects in the iNaturalist community that can inspire people of all ages to engage in Nature Stewardship.

 

This project is dedicated to documenting organisms with metallic or iridescent characteristics around the globe. Think of the qualities of an opal or the feathers of a mallard duck: different colors reveal themselves as the light hits its surface from different angles. Among the most observed species in the Metalloids project are multiple species of beetle such as the Cobalt Milkweed Beetle, Orb Weaver spiders, and birds like the Kingfisher.




Blue! is a collection of observations from around the world that captures organisms with beautiful blue characteristics. Blue is a biologically rare color and according to the University of Adelaide, less than ten percent of plants have blue flowers and even fewer animals are blue. This lack of blue color is partly due to a lack of true blue pigments. Instead, organisms like the Blue Morpho Butterfly achieve this color “by making structures that change the wavelength of light”. The top five most observed species in this project are all birds, but there are also many aquatic invertebrates, insects, and plant life!



UV fluorescence is visible light that comes from an object exposed to ultraviolet light, a form of electromagnetic radiation. Scorpions are well-known creatures that are fluorescent, however fungi and lichen are also among some of the most common observed species in this iNaturalist project. If you are interested in exploring UV fluorescence (which is now believed to be common in many animals), black lights emit a form of ultraviolet light that you can use when making observations at night.



How often do you look close enough to stare directly into the eyes of a butterfly or spider? The goal of this project is to “increase appreciation and respect for arthropods” by capturing their fine facial features. Arthropods are invertebrate animals with jointed limbs, segmented bodies, and exoskeletons which includes creatures such as arachnids, crustaceans, and insects. This project brings together humor, beauty, and the bizarre while providing scientifically valuable information about the physical characteristics of these small creatures.



Many species of animals are often attributed to creating art or art-like structures. The nests of the montezuma oropendola look like long teardrops dangling from trees. Honeybees create matrixes of hexagonal cells to near perfection. The focus of ARThropod is to document the physical remnants and artifacts left by arthropods, not necessarily the organism itself. Many of these artifacts are visually stunning, such as the meandering lines of leaf miners or the mandala-like webs of orb weaver spiders.





Have you ever walked along the beach and stumbled upon a mysterious blob? The intertidal zone is rich in a variety of invertebrate species (animals with no backbones) that sometimes look like amorphous lumps and globules. My favorite beach blobs are the beautiful and silly Dorids, a type of nudibranch. The most confounding, however, may be what is commonly called a “Sea Pork”. These animals are scientifically referred to as Tunicates and belong to the phylum Chordata and subphylum Tunicata. While some of these animals resemble sea sponges, others look like a slab of raw pork got dumped on the beach.


This project is full of bewildering observations that are in need of further identification. Found something but can’t figure out what it is? Add it to this project and join a community of curious and resourceful community scientists. Some of the most bizarre species that have been observed and identified in this project are the goose-necked barnacle, deer vomit fungus, and a large variety of wasp galls.






How does wildlife react when the built environment becomes abandoned? This growing project, created in 2023, is full of plant species and other organisms that have started to thrive in areas where people have left. Documenting animals and other wildlife in abandoned places is a very interesting subject. Chernobyl has become known as a wildlife haven. Recently it has been discovered that wolves within Chernobyl have developed cancer-resistant cells in response to the increased levels of radiation that remains in the area after the 1996 nuclear reaction explosion that prompted evacuation of all people living in the area. Watch PBS's episode "Radioactive Wolves" to learn more about these wolves and wildlife that have reclaimed Chernobyl.


How many species do you think live in and around your home? This is the focus of Never Home Alone and you would be shocked to discover the amount of biodiversity that can be found in the most urban settings. In 2020, three housemates in Queensland, Australia decided to occupy their time in quarantine by documenting as many species they could find in and around their home using iNaturalist and other resources such as museum databases. These three friends were not just nature enthusiasts but scientists including a Taxonomist, an Ecologist, and a Mathematician. Their original estimations were in the few hundreds. After one year, they discovered 1,150 species! Listen to this story on ABC’s nature podcast “What the Duck?!” with Dr. Ann Jones. 


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What a fun article. Thanks for sharing these inspiring iNaturalist projects.

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