Media Monday: Apps for the budding naturalist

About this time last year, researchers from the UK and Brazil published an article lamenting the lack of great nature study apps. From their point of view, the powerful tools of phones and tablets weren’t being used to their best advantage for citizen science projects. The truth is, there probably are a million ways to take advantage of our devices’ abilities to measure location, light, altitude, and to take photos, videos, and audio—and there will be many new nature study apps in coming years. But right now, students of all ages can find a decent variety of apps to help us learn about the natural world.

There are apps for geology, astronomy, climate, zoology, botany—you name it. For this post, I’ve done a quick survey of some of the most fun and helpful apps for kids who want to study animals and participate in citizen science projects. Most are free—so give them a try!

WWF Together wins my vote for most adorable and irresistible of the animal apps. The app brings users stories about endangered species, with interactive features using origami and incorporating your own selfies. I used it on an iPhone, but I assume it would be even more stunning on a larger iPad screen.
FREE; iOS and Android

I was surprised to see how many apps in the app stores are labeled “Montessori.” Nature-oriented apps designed for little ones include two that look especially worthwhile: Montessori Approach to Zoology—Vertebrates and Montessori Approach to Zoology—Invertebrates. They include matching puzzles and help kids learn to categorize animals by characteristics.
$2.99-$3.99; iOS only (but other Montessori-based apps are available on Android)

Audubon, as you might expect, puts out a lovely range of apps for both iPhone and iPad, including its Audubon Bird Guide: North America, with stunning photos for over 800 species. Probably best for older kids, the app allows users to keep their own lists of sightings and listen to tweets, caws, and all kinds of other bird sounds.
FREE; iOS and Android

Merlin Bird ID is another great birding app, from the Cornell Ornithology Lab. It’s quite interactive, asking the user questions to help narrow down the type of bird, and includes bird sounds and photos.
FREE; iOS and Android

For kids, one of the first “citizen science” apps was connected to the online Project Noah, which allows users to share photos and video of plants and animals. Unfortunately, the app is only available via iOS and hasn’t been updated since 2012.

iNaturalist, on the other hand, also allows you to record what you see and share with others, and it looks great for older kids. What’s even better for Austin kids? The iNaturalist makers have also created Texas Nature Trackers, specifically focused on our state’s wildlife and plants. Check this one out for sure!
FREE; iOS and Android

Shelley Sperry